When we’ve sinned against someone and offended him/her, the response of choice when we realize our fault is often “I’m sorry”. Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to say “I’m sorry” than to actually ask for the person to forgive you? Why is this? I think it’s because “I’m sorry” requires no response on the part of the person you’ve offended. You can simply say “I’m sorry” and that’s that; you can both move on. There’s less humility involved with “I’m sorry” than with “Will you please forgive me?” because forgiveness is dependent on the person you’ve offended actually granting you forgiveness. With forgiveness, you have to rank yourself under another person and wait for him to declare you “forgiven”.
Forgiveness is the pattern in the Bible. We needed Jesus’ forgiveness, and to receive it we had to come to him confessing our sins and pleading for him to give it to us on the basis of his life, death, and resurrection. This same approach must be taken when we’ve sinned against another person. We must humbly come to him/her in order to seek forgiveness. In their study guide for the teaching series, How People Change, Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane break down how we should go about seeking the forgiveness of someone we’ve sinned against. Here it is:
When I ask for forgiveness, I admit my responsibility for a sin against you, without any justification, excuse or blame. Here is what it sounds like: “I was wrong for __________. Please forgive me. I am sorry for the pain I caused you.” The three parts of this request define what seeking forgiveness is all about. First, seeking forgiveness means coming to someone I have wronged with an attitude of humble honesty. (“I was wrong for______.”) Second, seeking forgiveness acknowledges that I have sinned against the other person, and I therefore need to ask him to be part of the forgiveness process as well. (“Please forgive me”) It is not enough to say you are sorry. When we do this, we deny people the blessing of actually granting us forgiveness. Third, a request for forgiveness always should include a compassionate acknowledgement of the pain my sin caused. (“I am sorry for the pain I caused you.”)