“Say you’re sorry.”

When little Johnny hits his sister, a well-meaning adult may tell little Johnny to, “Say you’re sorry.” If the junior gladiator says those magical words, the onus shifts to the other person.

“Say you forgive him.”

Reluctantly, the offended may mumble some modicum of forgiveness.

That’s a familiar script we’ve all seen acted out in front of us — by children and adults acting like children.

But is this what repentance and forgiveness is really about? A coerced confession, a feigned forgiveness and then move along as if nothing ever happened? If you’re the offender, that sounds like a sweet deal. Clean and painless. If you’re the offended, it feels like a travesty of justice. As a parent, I know: the struggle is real.

God is a parent, as well. Not only is He grieved when His children hurt each other, He is grieved by our sin against Him. The question is, are we grieved? Or are we just annoyed that we’ve been caught? Seems like most of the time it’s the latter.

We’re quick to offer superficial sorries while expecting real forgiveness a few second later; that’s how our culture has conditioned us to respond to offenses against one another. It’s the same old song and dance.

For those who are willing to read some different music, God has revealed a very different way of responding. King David committed some monstrous offenses in his day, including adultery, murder and lies. Today we would call his actions a public relations nightmare, and we would expect a leader mired in this kind of scandal to spin it to his benefit.

When David was confronted with his sin, He didn’t fight the media. Instead, He wrote the song we know as Psalm 51 — which begins with the unexpected title, “A psalm of David, regarding the time Nathan the prophet came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.”

No spin there. Just honesty. The king freely admits his faults and pleads with God to “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleans me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:2)

No question, David was guilty.

And no question, we’re guilty, too. Perhaps we haven’t sunk to depths David did but we’ve all had our moments of mistake. We’ve hurt. We’ve lied. We’ve taken what didn’t belong to us. We’ve disowned the God who made us, breathed life into us, and given us an eternal soul. Our offenses can’t be erased by a superficial “Sorry” to which God is automatically obliged to say, “I forgive you.”

What, then is God after? A guy like David, publicly exposed in scandal, recognized that God didn’t want religious zeal or empty words. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

Admitting guilt? Accepting responsibility? Now, that’s a refreshing twist.

Repentance is more of a u-turn than a stop sign. Repentance is more than just “saying sorry.” It’s an understanding that we have hurt someone else. Instead of crafting excuses, we accept responsibility. We ask for forgiveness. We commit to changing. It’s is costly and sacrificial, not cheap and easy.

Forgiveness is the same way. Jesus sacrificed Himself to pay for our forgiveness. He doesn’t just say, “I forgive you.” He gave His life to create new life inside of us — one that is free from guilt and bitterness.

No spin. Just real repentance and true forgiveness. This is what God offers us.

That may be a different song but it sounds much better than what we typically sing.

– Gregg Madsen is the Lead Pastor of

Steadfast Gretna

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