By Hoyt Houchen
Question: What do the scriptures teach concerning so called “If I have offended” . . . confessions?
Reply: The expression, “If I have offended,” which is sometimes employed by brethren is not an admission of anything. This statement is usually made by those who have been charged with some sin or sins. The person who is confronted and charged should know whether or not he is guilty. If he does not believe that he is guilty, then he has no confession to make. If he is guilty, then he should forthrightly admit his guilt and repent. But to say, “If I have done so and so,” is nothing short of a dodge. It is true, any of us may be guilty of sins of which we are not aware. But if a person has been charged with some sinful act, and the guilt is proven, the “if” kind of a statement does not in any way confess the misconduct. Sad as it is, this statement is often made when the guilty party is in trouble and is looking for a way out.
As a case in point, suppose a brother has lied to several members of the congregation and it was proven that he had lied. When he says, “I am sorry if I have done anything that has offended you,” he has by no means confessed that he has lied. He may mean by the word “anything” something other than lying. In fact, it is known in cases such as this that a person has been asked if his use of the word “anything” includes the specific sin or sins of which he has been charged and his reply was in the negative. This is not hypothetical, because some of us know of instances where this has occurred.
Some brethren contend that the “if” type of confession (7) is acceptable and that Luke 23:34 requires us to forgive a person whether he repents or not. The petition of Jesus upon the cross does not prove this contention. When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” He was not praying for their unconditional forgiveness. On the day of Pentecost, some of those very ones were present and heard Peter’s sermon as recorded in Acts 2. He indicted them of having, by the hands of lawless men, crucified and slaying the Son of God (v. 23). They were convicted, and inquired of Peter and the rest of the apostles as to what they should do (v. 37). The conditions of forgiveness were declared in v. 38 to be repentance and baptism. The enemies of Jesus were not forgiven without complying with these conditions. Furthermore, Jesus said in Luke 17:3, “Take heed to yourselves: if thy brother sin, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.” Please take note of the condition for forgiveness: if he repent. Language could not be plainer in showing that forgiveness of a brother who sins against another is extended upon the condition of repentance. We have no right to offer forgiveness on less terms than does God. God has stipulated conditions for forgiveness. It is He who has decided this, not man. To assume that we are to forgive another whether he repents or not is an assumption without scriptural authority.
This reply does not argue that one must itemize and name each individual sin that he has committed. But in such cases as the one we have illustrated, acknowledgment and repentance is required if one is to be forgiven. When what is supposed to be a confession, is prefaced with the condition “if,” it is not really a confession at all. I have never been in sympathy with that kind of a statement.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 6, p. 166
March 17, 1983