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Scripture Tells Us How to Ask for Forgiveness

By Dr. Don Dunlap
Pastoral Counselor
Here are the questions that we must consider before we ask someone for forgiveness. -

Has anyone ever refused your request for forgiveness? Many times we do not receive forgiveness from someone because we fail to understand how deeply we have hurt him or her. In the 5th installment of a 19-article series, Dr. Dunlap reminds us of Psalm 51:17, “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” He stresses the importance of communicating sincere humility and genuine repentance to the people we have offended.

When we commit an offense against someone we must consider certain questions before we go to him or her to ask for forgiveness. First, we must think of how the offense occurred and then we should seek to relive the hurt through the eyes of the person that we offended. We should ask God for the ability to sense the feelings that he or she experienced. We must also determine whether or not we need to make any restitution as a consequence of the offense.

Is there any behavior that we must change before we ask for forgiveness?


Next we must decide on any changes in our behavior that may be necessary before we approach the person we offended. Part of biblical repentance is turning away from our sinful behavior and walking in the opposite direction. If our behavior has not changed since the offense occurred our repentance is insincere.


Before we approach the hurting person we should be certain that we have identified the issues that offended him or her the most. When we repent for lesser offenses while failing to address the greater ones, we multiply the offense. It is important to make sure that the wording that we have planned for our apologies implies no blame whatsoever to the other person.

We should resist the temptation to justify our offenses.

  • If we plan to defend our motives, we are wasting our time.

  • We must determine that we will not try to “preach” to the offended party.

  • Additionally, we should not plan any indirect attempt to use our apologies to get him or her to change.

We must plan exactly what we will say before we ask for forgiveness.

  • It is important to choose the right wording for our apologies thoughtfully and carefully.

  • When the prodigal son in Luke 15 decided to return home to ask for his father’s forgiveness, he carefully worked out his apology in advance.

  • When he met his father he repeated, nearly word for word, what he had planned to say.

  • Many people ask for forgiveness and do not receive it because they fail to understand how deeply they have hurt someone.

We ought to make an effort to put ourselves in the other person’s place and relive the offense. First, we think of all the harm, the hurt and the disappointment that our offenses caused him or her. Next, we let the offenses break our hearts.


The writer of Psalms 51:17 assures us that God does not despise a broken heart. We must see to it that we identify not only the wrong actions of which we are guilty, but also any underlying attitudes such as ungratefulness, disrespect, dishonesty, self-centeredness, pride and laziness.


We should be prepared for the possibility that he or she might not forgive us.

After we have humbled ourselves before the other person we should be prepared to respond in the right way even if he or she does not grant us the forgiveness that we seek. We ought to plan to sincerely thank him or her if he or she does forgive us. We must think of a gracious way to respond if he or she says something unkind, such as, “I hoped you would finally come to your senses and realize how wrong you have been.”

We need to decide whether or not we will ask him or her to reveal to us any further blind spots that he or she is aware of in our lives. However, we must be willing to receive these comments graciously if we believe that God has led us to ask for them.

As soon as we decide to go to someone to acknowledge the wrong that we have committed and ask for forgiveness, our pride will rear its head. We must not heed such thoughts as,

You weren’t so bad after all. The other person involved was just as guilty as you were.

Instead, we should follow through on our commitments and pray that as we go, we will communicate sincere humility and genuine repentance.


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