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The word 'apology' doesn't appear in the King James Version of the Bible, although there are references to "confessing" our sins and being forgiven for them.

The problem with the modern understanding of apologies is that they most commonly involve no hint of confession. "I'm sorry that you were offended by my remarks," is pretty close to what constitutes an apology. In fact, it is often followed by an immediate declaration of one's innocent: "My intentions were only to help."

Such apologies have the effect of making the apologist feel that he/she has done the right thing, for which absolution must be the automatic response. "After all, I apologised," they think. "What more can anyone expect?"

This assumption that forgiveness must always follow an apology does not seem to follow true Christian teaching. So much of our debate with the "false grace" teaching of the churches revolves around their claim that God absolutely must overlook every sin on the part of someone who has performed a religious ritual. Here the ritual usually DOES involve some reference to confession. And yet something still seems to be missing.

"Lord, I am a sinner (but then, so is everyone else)," hardly seems to qualify someone for forgiveness more than others who have not learned to recite this secret formula.

From my understanding of the gospel, even tearful dramatic apologies/confessions may not qualify one for forgiveness. The reason I say this is because any apology/confession which starts with an assumption about forgiveness being the necessary (and required) outcome is built on "law" rather than "grace" to begin with.

True grace is something which cannot be earned or demanded. It comes totally at the discretion of the one offering it. Theology which teaches that God (under ANY circumstances) is obligated to forgive is heresy. And I don't care how many proof texts can be produced to argue that God must do anything. God makes the rules, and he can break them too if he so chooses.

It is the nature of theologians (and religionists) to disect God and package him up for mass distribution. But they are only kidding themselves if they think he will play along with their games. About the only thing we can say with absolute certainty about God is that we cannot say anything with absolute certainty about him. He always has the last word.

So the question remains: How does one find forgiveness? If apologies and confessions of sinfulness are not enough, what is? My response is that apolgies and confessions MAY work, but only when we stop taking the position that they MUST work. It is the legalistic, mass-produced "formulae" of salvation that are least likely to work.

And when we understand that there are no glib guarantees, then our apologies and confessions should take on a kind of humble desperation that is closer to what God really wants. A word which comes closer to this is "repentance". The Bible says that Jesus went everywhere preaching "Repent! For the kingdom of God is at hand!" The word literally means "turn around". It implies a change in behaviour. More than that, it implies a deep spiritual change... going to the core of the individual.

John the Baptist called on people to repent, but then when some religious leaders came asking for his blessing, he had the cheek to demand that they "bring forth fruit appropriate for repentance". In other words, a quick dip in the water, or a statement of faith was not enough. They needed to show some change in their lives.

Someone has said that the best apology is to stop doing what one has apologised for. No one is perfect, but that is no excuse to stop TRYING to be perfect. Gandhi said that he didn't just want to be FORGIVEN for his sins; he wanted to be able to STOP SINNING. And I believe that this attitude was closer to true repentance than what happens in thousands of churches every week.

Until we so totally abhor sin that we turn away from it (i.e. repent) our apologies will be meaningless. In the rush to gain absolution (presumably so we can go out and sin some more) many of us have missed what is really required to obtain it. God is looking for a fundamental change in our attitude... a recognition of our unworthiness, and deep remorse about our sinfulness... an overhwelming desire to CHANGE (i.e. repent).

We may need to cease talking (and thinking) about forgiveness before we will ever receive it.

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