Own your part
I can always count on the Holy Spirit to graciously expose my fallen nature when I get ready to write on a topic and today was no exception. God knows I cannot change unless I put into practice (Philippians 4:9) His principles. A hurtful offense by a friend was His gracious provision for me to be a peacemaker and resist resentment. With His help (and only by His grace) the offense provided an excellent opportunity to change my attitude and behavior allowing me to find true freedom and peace in His love and provision.
The log and the speck
Get the log out (Matthew 7:3–5).
When conflict happens, Jesus teaches us to take a radically different approach than what culture tells us. He commands us to first address our own sin. I admit, this is not usually where I start but Matthew 7:3–6 is clear that this is where I am to begin. This can be hard.
Because of our sinful and self-righteous nature we need the Holy Spirit's help so that we self-examine, repent, and confess our own sins first. Praying Psalm 139:23–24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” begins this process.
A radically different approach
Jesus calls those who prefer to begin with how they have been sinned against rather than beginning with their own culpability:
The text is clear; even if someone sins against me I am a hypocrite if I do not begin with my own heart. Why?
Because sin blinds. We need to constantly self-check. We check our attitudes (critical, negative, or oversensitive), our words, and our actions.
Do any of these common sinful “log” examples surface in your conflicts?
Slandering the other person, grumbling or complaining, gossip, exaggeration of the truth, withholding affection, withholding mercy and forgiveness, denying intimacy, avoiding, being argumentative, not fulfilling your responsibilities, resisting godly advice, being lazy, or breaking things.
I am so grateful for the spiritually mature friends I can go to for help in spotting my failings (Proverbs 19:20) and to ask for prayer to have strength to respond to offenses with a godly attitude.
Take real responsibility for wrongdoing: confession
Taking “real” responsibility means when we sin we need to make strong specific confession and then ask for forgiveness. Specific means that we don’t conceal, deny, rationalize, cover up, or minimize the sin. We don’t shift the blame to others or justify our actions by saying they made us act the way we did (finger pointing).
Confession brings freedom (Proverbs 28:13)
The Seven A’s of a Good Confession
In the counseling room, as well as with my children, I have found that a good confession is one of the most critical aspects in reconciliation, but as a whole we have weak confessions. Weak evasive confessions are toxic. Cheap phrases and forced apologies rarely bring people back together. Our confession is critical to reconciliation.
Let’s learn to admit our wrongs honestly and absolutely. Ken Sande states that one way to do this is to follow the pattern laid out in the Seven A’s of confession.
Not every confession needs all seven steps, but the more serious the offense the more important it is to do a thorough confession using all seven A’s.
All sin is against God first and foremost, so our confession must always start with Him.
Address everyone involved: Admit your sin to everyone directly impacted by it. Note: a sin that takes place in your thoughts and doesn’t directly affect others only needs to be confessed to God. The scope of confession is as great as the scope of offense.
Avoid “if” “but” and “maybe:” Don’t use “if,” “but,” or “maybe,” as well as, “perhaps, possibly, and I guess.” Give an unqualified confession. Do not excuse your wrongs. Tagging on one of these words shifts the blame to others or minimizes/excuses your guilt and is the quickest way to wreck a confession. A common example of this is; “I’m sorry if what I did got you upset.”
Admit specifically: Both attitudes and actions. There is a big difference between, “Hey, by the way, sorry if I stressed you out, ” compared to, “I know I hurt you when I had a very negative and condescending attitude when I walked into the room last night. I had no right to snap at you and I have no excuse. It was especially wrong of me to say what I said.” Be specific and acknowledge what you did wrong.
Acknowledge the hurt: Make sure you show that you understand how the other person felt as a result of your words or actions. Acknowledge the hurt you caused them and others. Express sorrow for hurting them. If you are not sure how they felt, then ask.
Accept the consequences: Accepting any penalty your actions deserve, which may include working to pay for damages you caused to someone’s property, makes it easier for others to believe your confession and be reconciled to you.
Alter your behavior: Change your attitudes and actions. Sincere repentance includes explaining to the person you offended how you plan to alter your behavior in the future, by God’s grace. Tell the offended person how you plan to change, what you will say, how you will act, or the attitude you will convey. Find someone to hold you accountable and acknowledge you will be depending on God, “With God’s help, I plan to work on my anger.” Put all this in writing.
Ask for forgiveness (allow time): If you talk through each of these steps many will readily say they forgive you. If that person has not expressed forgiveness, you can ask, “Will you please forgive me?’ Your question now signals that you are awaiting their move.
Do not pressure someone into forgiving you. Some can forgive quickly, while others need some time to work through their feelings. If they are a Christian they may need help understanding what forgiveness means.
We will unpack the details of forgiveness in another post, but if you sense the person is not ready to forgive, it may be helpful to say something like this: “I know I have deeply hurt you, and I can understand why you would have a hard time forgiving me. I hope that you will soon be able to forgive me because I want very much to reconcile. I will pray and do my best to repair the damage I caused and with God’s help I will work to overcome my ________.”
Sometimes forgiveness is inhibited because a confession was inadequate. In this case, you may need to go back to the person you wronged and cover some of the elements of confession more thoroughly.
Again, remember that removing these logs involves more than just confession; we must also change the way we think. We renounce our sin and turn to God, depending on Him to forgive us and change us—always remembering the Gospel. It is the Gospel that frees us and empowers us to do the impossible things.
After you get the log out of your own eye, you will be better prepared to “gently correct and restore others.”
About the author
Karen McMahon is passionate about helping others apply biblical truth to every situation in life. She is the Director of Discipleship Counseling at First Evangelical Free Church in Maplewood, Minnesota and a certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). She has a MA in Theology from the University of Northwestern – St. Paul and is completing her MA in Biblical Counseling from Faith Bible Seminary-Lafayette, Indiana. Karen loves Jesus Christ, her husband, their three children and their 12 year old yellow lab...and sushi too.