Robert Jeffress - Why the Words I'm Sorry Are Highly Overrated - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. We've all experienced those agonizing moments. When someone violates our trust, maybe you've been embarrassed by a slanderous rumor, or perhaps you're still reeling from an unwanted divorce. How does God expect you to process your deep feelings of resentment? Well, today I'm going to share a message of hope and healing for those of you who are waiting for an apology. My message is titled: Why The Words "I'm Sorry", Are Highly Overrated on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Megan desperately sought relief that can only come through forgiveness. She had wrestled for many years with the pain and the guilt that had come from an incestuous relationship she had had with her uncle that began when she was five years old. And went on through her teenage years. She has been divorced twice. She has been in counseling for more years than she even cares to remember. But recently her pastor was preaching a series on forgiveness. And in one of those messages, he explained what he called the forgiveness transaction. He said there are three steps in the forgiveness transaction. Number one, the offender and the offended acknowledge that a wrong has occurred. Step two, the offender repents of his wrongdoing and number three, the offended party voluntarily releases the offender of his obligation.
That all made sense to Megan, except for one fact, her uncle was dead. How could a dead person ever acknowledge the wrong that he had committed? How could a dead person ever show remorse, repentance for that wrong? Did the fact that her uncle went to his grave without ever saying, "I'm sorry," did that condemn Megan to a lifetime of guilt and suffering? That scenario illustrates one of the greatest myths about forgiveness. Perhaps you've heard it before, perhaps you've embraced it before. It's the idea that I can never forgive an unrepentant person. I can never forgive somebody who is not at least willing to say, "I'm sorry".
Is the Bible, does the Bible really teach that repentance is a prerequisite for forgiveness? Can we honestly, and effectively forgive somebody who is unaware that he has hurt us? Is unmoved by the pain he has brought into our life, is an able to ask for forgiveness either because of illness or even death. The forgiveness experts are divided on this issue. Many would say it is absolutely impossible to forgive somebody who demonstrates no repentance or remorse. Why do people make such an assertion? Well today, we're going to talk about three reasons people say you can never forgive the person who won't say I'm sorry. And see what the Bible really says about this issue.
First of all, some people say forgiveness has to be earned. When somebody wrongs us, they create a debt that they owe to us. Many of you can recall right now, somebody who has wronged you, the moment they hurt you, they owe you for what they've done. We all understand that, wrongs create an obligation. When we sin against God, we add to the debt that we owe God. It's the same thing when we hurt another person, when somebody wrongs you, they owe a debt. So, some people would say to simply absolve somebody without their ever showing any repentance or doing anything to earn that forgiveness. Well, that makes the equation in equal. There's this great cosmic debt out there that has to be satisfied. And it is fundamentally wrong to simply let somebody off the hook without ever hearing the words, "I'm sorry".
Now, people who insist upon that and are Christians often use a familiar story in the Bible to prove the point that repentance is necessary for forgiveness. And it's the story of the prodigal son. If you have your Bibles turn to Luke chapter 15, you know the story well. A son, a younger son in the family went to his father one day and said, "I want my share of my inheritance. And I want it now". Now what the son was really saying to his father was, I wish you were dead so I could get my money. But since it looks like you're going to be kicking around a while longer, I want to go ahead and get my money now so I can get out of this place. Well, you can imagine how such the request hit the father. He was heartbroken over it. Nevertheless, he relented and he gave his younger son the portion of the estate that belonged to him. And Jesus in telling the story said that the boy left and he dissipated his wealth very quickly on wine and women. And who knows what else?
One day he was reduced to doing nothing, but being able to slop the hogs in order to gain a living, a livelihood, one can hardly imagine a task, more degrading for a Jewish man than to be feeding the swine. And yet the Bible said, while he was slopping the hogs, he was coveting the food that they were eating wishing he could eat it as well. Then one day he said to himself, you know what? This is ridiculous. My father's slaves have more than I do. And Jesus said, the boy came to his senses. He awakened and he made this decision in verse 20. "He got up and he came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'father, I have sinned against heaven. And in your sight, I am no longer worthy to be called your son'. But the father said to his slaves, 'quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet and bring the fattened calf and kill it and let us eat and be merry. For this son of mine was dead and has come to life again. He was lost and has been found'. And they began to be merry".
Some people say, although the father was more than willing to forgive his son, he didn't forgive his son until he heard the words I have sinned, I'm sorry. And only after that, did he put the robe and the ring, on his son. That's the story people use to say, well, you cannot forgive somebody until they say, I'm sorry. Now there are two problems with that interpretation of a prodigal son. First of all, that violates the story that Jesus told himself. You see Jesus said in the text, he made it very clear that the father forgave the son before the son ever said, I'm sorry. Look again at verse 20, the son got up one day, lifted himself out of the pig pen. And he started going toward his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him.
How did that happen? How did it just happen? The day, the hour that the son started to come home, the father saw him. This was a wealthy landowner. He had lots to do. How did he just happen to see his son the moment he appeared on the horizon? I'll tell you how. Every morning the father got up, he went outside on the front porch and he started scanning the horizon to see if there were any sign of his son. Day, after day, he went to bed, disappointed, sad that it hadn't happened. But on a day that began like the thousand before them. He went outside once again and started scanning the horizon looking for his son. And in the distance he saw just a little dot. He couldn't make it out at first. Hope begin to well up in his chest. And he saw that dot get larger and larger until he recognized the outline, it was his son. His son was coming toward him. But while the son walked, look at this, "The father saw him and he felt compassion for him. And he ran and then he embraced his son and he kissed him". The son walked, the father ran.
In the Middle Eastern culture, a wealthy man, never ran for any reason. It wasn't dignified to do so. This father had no interest in dignity. His son was coming home and he ran to meet him and he embraced him and he kissed him. He felt compassion for him before the son ever uttered the words, "Father I've sinned against you". Oh, the father like God, always made the first move. But you know, beyond a misreading of this story, those who say you have to earn forgiveness, they fail to understand that there is always a deficit between what our offender owes us and what he's able to actually pay us. See, that's the basic problem with insisting that the person who's wronged you, earn your forgiveness.
There's always a deficit between what he owes you and what he's actually able to pay you. Didn't we see that last week in the parable of the king and the unforgiving slave? Remember he was a king, he had a slave who owed him what turned out to be $16 billion, 10.000 talents of gold. And there was a huge deficit between what the slave owed the king and what the slave was actually able to pay the king. The slave bowed down and said, "Oh, be merciful on me. And I will repay you everything". And this hardened king suddenly felt compassion for the slave. He forgave him and he released him. And then you remember that slave went out and he found a fellow slave who owed him a debt of $16. Now, surely this slave owed an amount that could be repaid. I mean, couldn't anybody scrap together, $16 if they had to, it wasn't 16 billion. It was only $16. It might as well have been 16 billion because the second slave didn't have the assets either to repay it.
You see this king and the first slave were different in so many ways. But there were like in this way, they both were owed debts that couldn't be collected. The only difference was the key recognized he was holding a debt that was worthless. And so he chose to forgive the first slave, to write it off, to take the loss himself so he could get on with his life. But the slave who was owed $16, he didn't understand that. He thought I'm going to throw this guy into jail and I'm going to have him tortured until he repays me everything. It didn't matter how long this guy was in jail. He'd never be able to repay the measly $16. When you insist that somebody repay you for what they did to you, you don't realize that you're holding an account receivable that is worthless. And it's certainly one that cannot be erased by simply hearing the words, I'm sorry.
You know, we think, well, if that person who's wrong me, at least if they would say, I'm sorry, I could forgive them. You know, hearing the words, I'm sorry. They may bring momentary relief, but they don't satisfy the debt you're owed. Those two words cannot repay the debt that you're owed. Any more than those two words can repay the debt we owe God. I mean, think about it. Do you think saying, I'm sorry to God is enough to erase the stain caused by an affair or an abortion or a divorce or a broken vow to God? I mean, how foolish, how prideful to think if we just say, oh God, I'm sorry, that suddenly we can become forgiven? I'm sorry, is not enough to earn God's forgiveness. You see, many people are hung up on this. They think repentance is the way we're saved. We are not saved. We do not receive God's forgiveness by repentance. I'm sorry, I'm sorry won't do the trick. Isn't that what the scripture says? How are we saved? Ephesians 2:8.9, it doesn't say by repentance, you are "Saved through faith". It says by what? "Grace are you saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast".
Secondly, some people argue for giving an unrepentant person invites further abuse. If a wife forgives her Philandering husband of all of his affairs, and he never shows any remorse, any repentance isn't she giving him permission to continue the affairs? That's what some people would say. Imagine that you have a teenager who breaks curfew at home and you confront him about it. And he's absolutely unmoved and unwilling to admit that what he did was wrong. Can you forgive him without expecting him to continue abusing the curfew if there are no consequences? Don Carson, a professor at Trinity university tells about confronting a student of his, who was a Christian. The student was having an affair with somebody else, even though he was married. And professor Carson confronted him and said, "What do you think God thinks about what you're doing"? He said, "Oh, God will forgive me. God will forgive me. After all forgiving is his job".
That's what a lot of people think. They think God forgives me, that's his responsibility. And that illustrates the danger of forgiving somebody who shows absolutely no remorse. Well, what's the answer to that objection? Can we really forgive an unrepentant person? Doesn't that encourage further abuse? You know, such an objection doesn't take into consideration that there is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. You can forgive somebody without ever being reconciled to that person. We're going to take a Sunday and actually explore the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. But just listen to this. You can forgive somebody without their ever saying, I'm sorry, but you cannot be reconciled with somebody until they say, I'm sorry.
See, forgiveness is simply a way that we say I am surrendering my right to settle the score with you. I'm leaving that to somebody else. When I forgive somebody, I'm giving up my right to hurt them for hurting me. I'm saying, God, you or somebody else take care of it, but I'm not going to do it. I'm going to get on with my life. You can forgive somebody without ever hearing the words, I'm sorry. You can never be reconciled with somebody until you hear the words, I'm sorry. Thirdly, some people say, well, forgiving an unrepentant person that is just un-biblical. And perhaps that's the strongest argument. They would say, as you look through the Bible, repentance seems to be instrumental. It seems to be absolutely necessary to receive God's forgiveness. And not only that, it seems to be a prerequisite for forgiving other people as well.
Now I'll have to admit at first glance, that does seem to be the case. Repentance appears to be the condition for being forgiven by God. Just Mark down these scripture passages, Mark 6:12. "And they went out and they preached that men should repent". That was the message of the disciples. Luke 13:3, "I tell you no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish". 1 John 1:9. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". Or acts 2:37 and 38. The sermon night on Pentecost after Peter had preached it. The Bible says "When they heard this," verse 37, "They were pierced to the heart. And they said to Peter and the rest of the apostles 'Brethren, what shall we do'"?
Remember Peter's reply in verse 38? It's the favorite verse of the church of Christ, and Peter said to them, "Repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you shall receive the Holy Spirit". I say that because those who insist that baptism is necessary for salvation, they use this verse. It was the message of the apostles. Now I don't want to go chasing this rabbit trail, but let me tell you what Peter is saying here. He is not saying that we are saved by baptism, but he is saying that baptism is the natural result of being saved.
Sometimes Baptists and other evangelicals in trying to answer this charge that baptism is prerequisite for salvation they'll say: oh, well, no, no, no, we need to underemphasize the importance of baptism. No, Peter said, the message is you need to repent, receive the forgiveness that comes from the grace of God, and if you've received that, you will be baptized. You can't point to one person in the New Testament from the book of acts on - one person who was ever saved without being baptized. It's not the baptism secured their salvation. It wasn't the baptism was a link in a long line of responsibilities to earn salvation. But it is the natural result for anyone who has been truly saved just like those four people we saw just a moment ago. To be baptized is a public profession of faith. And if you're unwilling to be baptized, it's a good sign you're probably not saved.
Repentance, faith, baptism go hand in hand. There's no reason for us to downplay that at all. That was the message of the apostles, repent and be baptized for the remission, the forgiveness of your sins. But notice that first word, Peter preach. You must repent. Man, it seems like that is a pretty strong case for demanding repentance for forgiving. It also seems like repentance is necessary for forgiving other people. And Luke 17:3.4 "Be on your guard". Jesus said, "If your brother sins rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him" verse four, "And if he sends against you seven times a day and returns to you seven times saying, I repent, forgive him".
Now, the argument seems pretty air tight, doesn't it? First of all, if God requires us to repent before we receive forgiveness. And secondly, the Bible says we're to forgive others in the same way that God forgives us, Ephesians 4:32. Doesn't seem logical that we can only forgive those who are repentant, remorseful of their sin against us? Case closed. Well, not so quickly. Because such a conclusion, stay with me on this, fails to take into consideration the difference between receiving forgiveness from God or other people and granting forgiveness to others. There's a big difference in receiving forgiveness and granting forgiveness.