I do not teach my daughter to apologize for sinful behavior.

I’ll give you a second to start breathing again… And, then I’ll explain.

Nowhere in Scripture does it say that we are supposed to apologize for our sin. Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to say “I’m sorry.”

And, yet, many of us have come to equate an “apology,” or an “I’m sorry,” with the biblical paradigm of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and true reconciliation.

I did.  I grew up thinking they were one and the same.

I was married before I began to understand the difference between simply saying “I’m sorry,” and truly confessing, repenting, and seeking forgiveness for my sin(s) against another person.

As parents – as mothers – do we know what we are really saying when we instruct our children to “apologize” for their actions?

To apologize is:

to offer an apology or excuse for some fault, insult, failure, or injury; to make a formal defense in speech or writing

Of course, to fully understand what it means to “apologize” we must understand what it means “to offer an apology”:

“a written or spoken expression of one’s regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another; a defense, excuse, or justification in speech or writing, as for a cause or doctrine.”

The word apology comes from the Greek word apologia, meaning “a speech in defense.”  This is where we get the word “apologetics,” which is the branch of theology concerned with defending the Christian faith.

When one apologizes for a wrong done, yes, they may recognize some fault or failing on their part.  But a true “apology” is a defense.  And, it usually includes the word but.  “I’m sorry, but…”  “I feel bad about what happened, but…”

Excuses, excuses.

All an apology does is dump one person’s bad feelings about an event on to the other person.  While, at the same time, also explaining to the injured party why the offender was not really at fault.

It does nothing to truly resolve, or reconcile relationships that have been broken by sin.

Please do not misunderstand me.  There is nothing wrong with feeling bad about sin.  There is nothing wrong with saying “I’m sorry.”  I want my daughter to be sorrowful over her sins.  But, I don’t want it to end there.

Remorse and sorrow over sin is a good thing…when it leads to repentance.

“For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” ~2 Corinthians 7:8-10 (ESV)

But, Scripture does not call us to merely “feel bad” about our sin.  And, it certainly does not call us to defend it.

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” ~2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)

No, we are called to humble ourselves.  To confess (James 5:16, 1 John 1:9).  To repent (Romans 2:4).  To seek forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15, Luke 17:3-4).

This is the biblical model.

This is what leads to the restoration and reconciliation of relationships broken by sin (Matthew 18:15).

This is what we should be teaching, and modeling for our children.



Veronica is pastor’s wife, a homemaker, a homeschooler, a mommy…and above all, a sinner saved by grace.  Amid the chaos and clamor of life, it is her desire to have a quiet heart. One that is passionately obedient to God’s Word, and content in the roles, responsibilities, blessings, and trials that our Heavenly Father, in His infinite wisdom, has seen fit to give… Veronica blogs at A Quiet Heart, challenging herself, and others, to think biblically, obey passionately, and live contentedly. She can occasionally be found on Facebook and on Twitter @AQuietHeart.

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Madame Wildflower September 16, 2011

These are some excellent thoughts! I don’t think I had thought about a true difference between being apologetic verses having true regret, sorrow, and remorse for sin. I believe that you are correct in stating that these two concepts do get intertwined to mean the same thing. You’ve provided excellent examples in this post of how they are not related. I appreciate this clarification, and I thank you very much for this great post. It has truly given me much to think about as well as remember.

megan September 16, 2011

Ha, it’s good you said I’ll give you a minute to start breathing again:) I love the idea found in the mom’s notes presentations from Joey and Carla Link (and it’s probably found elsewhere but this is where I heard it). They taught their kids to first say “I’m sorry” then ask if the person will forgive them, then ask what (if anything) they can do to make it better. I think that is a great example. It’s good to teach them sorrow for sin without excuse, then to seek reconciliation, then to see if there is anything they can do to “turn around” which is the definition of repent!

Right now my kids are too young to understand a lot of that, but I still work on them getting into the habit of it. Maybe that is where we differ. I just think it is a good idea for them to get into the habit of reconciliation (which I think is what you are talking about here) even before they really know what it means. Eventually they will get to a point where they understand those terms and we can talk about how there is nothing we can do to make things right with God. We need Jesus!

Veronica September 16, 2011

@Megan – No, I agree with you! All I meant was that in our home, “I’m sorry” doesn’t “fix” the problem. We try to teach her to include the “I was wrong/I sinned when I….(fill in the blank), will you forgive me?” She is only 6, so I don’t think she always completely understands this yet either.

But, exactly like you said, even if she doesn’t always “get it” I want her to start developing a habit of dealing with sin biblically – even when she is young. I only wish this was a habit I had established earlier! It is never easy to humble yourself, but I have to think it would have made such a difference in so many relationships if I had learned this earlier. 🙂


shine September 16, 2011

OK! Now I get it! I wondered what you did then if your child hurt someone or did something and they needed to acknowledge the wrong. Yes, we do the same as Megan said, “I”m sorry, Will you forgive me”. I will be adding, “I was wrong/sinned, Is there something I can do to make it better?” FABULOUS thinking!

Too many “I’m sorrys” get thrown around in our culture just to end arguments or stop debate or simply allow the sin to continue yet make people feel peace about it. Good info here! Thanks for sharing.

Kirsten September 16, 2011

Veronica- thank you for this reminder, and making this clear. I know that teaching them to apologize is not the same as teaching them what it means to truly confess and repent. But, I didn’t see how teaching them to say “I’m sorry” could get in the way of their understanding this! I would love to hear more about how you help lead your daughter to repentance. I know this is something only God can do, and I know my prayers are the most important part of helping my daughters in this area, but if there is anything else you do (or anyone else reading this!) I would love to hear it. Thanks!

Robin September 16, 2011

In my church we call it Godly sorrow vs. worldly sorrow.

Godly sorrow is with repentance. Worldly is mere words.

Christin September 16, 2011

This is awesome and something I’ve thought of in the back of my mind. My children will sometimes say, “I’m sorry” only when they’re caught and it’s not a real form of repentance. Oh thank you so much for redirecting my thinking! We will be adopting a new practice.

Danielle September 16, 2011

Great reminder! Thanks!

Jennifer @ Schooling Three Sisters September 16, 2011

I’d love to hear more about how you actually go about teaching this to your daughter! A bit more practical application……..great post!

P.S.- I’m in TX too!

sara September 16, 2011

Good luck with that.

Maybe you’re just going for a great headline, but it seems that the first portion of the definition is ignored in order to land squarely on the second half.

All apologies don’t have explanations or conditions attached. You’ve assumed, perhaps based on your own experience, that an apology always has an excuse attached. Further, you’re apparently unwilling to accept that wrong actions could simply be an honest misunderstanding not a sin – which can be cleared up if the offended one can offer grace to the offender long enough to hear what was going through their head. Maybe you’re talking about situations that are much bigger than what goes on in my house.

Teach your daughter what you will. Our choice has been to raise our children to offer an apology when they’ve hurt someone, or done something wrong, and to freely offer forgiveness when asked. We also think it’s important to hear each other out. If there is a misunderstanding, we work through the explanation (we don’t call it an excuse right off the bat) so that we all have genuine understanding about what happened. We also try not to be self-righteous.

Lisa Grace September 16, 2011

Love this! We have been trying to figure this out in our home, too. So glad you shared it.

Hannah September 16, 2011

Excellent points! As my parents were raising us (and still are!) they taught us to always say, “I am sorry; will you forgive me for [fill in the blank]?”

And we certainly are not supposed to say, “I am sorry; will you forgive me for getting angry when you did such and such …”!

Thanks for sharing 🙂

Ron September 16, 2011

A thought provoking piece, to be sure: To confess, repent, and seek forgiveness, followed by heartfelt, God directed restoration, in all humility. And it is worth remembering that these are all impossible for us to do, apart from the love of Christ and the work of His Spirit in our hearts. Another factor in all this is time. I have never found a Biblical time table for this formula to work itself out in the heart of the sinner and then be displayed to the aggrieved party. The sooner it happens, the better, but that usually depends on how much time is needed for God to tenderize the heart of the offender. Thank God for His grace in dealing with us all. Keep thinking and writing.

Head Ant September 16, 2011

My son loves to say he’s sorry after doing something wrong; but it almost feels like he’s using it as an excuse to something wrong. Maybe I need to start approaching it biblically.

Jennifer Ross September 16, 2011

Perfect Veronica! I agree 110% !!! I require my children to seek forgiveness from siblings and others that they have wronged. Saying I’m sorry just gets them off the hook, so to speak. I cringe every time I hear parents say “tell her you’re sorry.”

Does being sorry matter? No, her forgiving you matters. Excellent post!!!

Natalie September 16, 2011

Wow… excellent thoughts written concretely! I also have had issues with the “say your sorry” behavior. Over the years, I have attempted to teach my children the principles you so eloquently expressed. Thank you for sharing this.

Andrea September 16, 2011

But in Luke 15:17 the son was on his way to apologize.

Luke 15:17-24  “17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many hired men of my father are abounding with bread, while I am perishing here from famine! 18 I will rise and journey to my father and say to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Make me as one of your hired men.”’ 20 So he rose and went to his father. While he was yet a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was moved with pity, and he ran and fell upon his neck and tenderly kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Make me as one of your hired men.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quick! bring out a robe, the best one, and clothe him with it, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened young bull, slaughter it and let us eat and enjoy ourselves, 24 because this my son was dead and came to life again; he was lost and was found.’ And they started to enjoy themselves.”

Courtney September 16, 2011

Andrea, I have to disagree with you here slightly. The son in this famous story was not seeking an “apology” and that’s what Veronica is pointing out…He was seeking confession, repentance and forgiveness because he realized he was “without excuse” for his sinful behavior. What this post is challenging us to do is reevaluate when we teach our children to “say your sorry.” She’s saying if we used it correctly, ‘I’m sorry’ should always be followed with a “but…” because it is a defense. This is the definition of the word. Like Veronica says, it’s where we get the word “apologetics” from. Our culture likes to package things up in nice little boxes, and the term “I’m sorry” has been mislabeled as such. Intended as Confession, repentance and the desire for forgiveness, that’s what we should be explaining to our children. Having young ones say they are sorry is fine, but they need to do what some of the wonderful comments have suggestion; the children need to understand they need to have remorse for their offense against someone; be it intentional or not. Children should ALWAYS ask forgiveness as they seek to correct the situation by doing something to make the offended party happy again. (Which admittedly doesn’t happen sometimes) It can be broken down simply for young minds. I agree with Veronica and many of the comments here; we need to ensure our children are not simply sorry for getting caught, but sorry for their sin and go through the step for righting the wrong correctly. We know how sin was atoned for on the cross, and we need to teach our children not only through our words, but through our actions as well. Does that help to clear it up? I’m trying to help. 🙂

Marisol September 17, 2011

Perfectly conveyed Courtney!! I agree 100%!

Amy September 16, 2011

This is such a good point. I hadn’t really thought about the difference before, but I think you’re right about there being a difference between words of defense and actual repentance and restoration of a relationship. I think “I’m sorry” can be used for both of these – I suspect that it is what comes next that will show the intent of the speaker.

Veronica September 16, 2011

@Amy – Exactly! 🙂 As I said, there is nothing wrong with saying “I’m sorry.” It is precisely what comes next! Is it followed by excuses? Or is it followed by humble confession and repentance?

Bethany September 16, 2011

Amen! I think we’re basically doing the same thing as you. If there’s any difference, it might be that we’re trying to teach our kids that this is what an “apology” truly should be.

My kids are 3.5 and 2 years-old, and in our family, we do apologize to express our sorrow and regret for any wrongdoing. We also ask for and offer forgiveness, make amends (restitution) whenever possible, try to console or comfort the injured party if he or she needs or desires it, and we recommit ourselves to do our best to avoid making the same mistakes again in the future.

Ashlie O. September 16, 2011

I’ll admit when I read the first few lines I was like….whhhhaaat? 🙂 But I totally see what you’re saying and completely agree. Reminds me of the verse regarding David, “Man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart. Repentance truly is a matter of the heart. We can say “sorry” all day long and still never have the work of true repentance in our hearts! Like Robin, I’ve come to think of it as “Godly sorrow” (that brings true repentence) or worldly sorrow that are mere words so that we’re off the hook.

Thank you for this, wonderful post!

Veronica September 16, 2011

@Ashlie – Yes, the first few lines, admittedly, were for the “shock value.” 😉

Homeschool on the Croft September 16, 2011

I am so glad to have read this. I found myself at a ‘lone’ mum throughout my children’s childhood because I didn’t say to them when they’d done something to a sibling/another child: ‘Say you’re sorry’…. I used to hear mums say this again and again, and then the child would (usually mumble) and say, ‘I’m sorry’… and that was everything okay! Uhhhh – I think not.

As you say, sin must be *repented* of, and we can’t give a heart repentance – that is the Holy Spirit’s job. And to teach a child, even inadvertently, that saying ‘I’m sorry’ makes everything okay is leading a child in a dangerous direction.

Great post
Anne x

Naomi September 16, 2011

Living a life with a godly approach to repentance and forgiveness and restoration done in humility and true remorse is a difficult task to do but if we do it, the Lord is faithful to bless us and turn our eyes back on Him and not on our selves. Easy, no. Healing, yes. We teach that when the offender apologizes he is not to follow it with a “but” because we believe that puts it back on the offended. Example: “I’m sorry BUT you shouldn’t have….or you made me do it….or if you had just…” rarely does a BUT after sorry ever convey anything other than making the offended the cause of the dissension. That to me is not a true apology. We teach that a true apology is followed by a FOR. Example: “I’m sorry for ….hurting you with my words….or yelling at you in anger….or teasing you.” We believe in recognizing what it is you did in your apology makes it more apparent to both people the sin involved in the hurt caused. I have seen in our family when one person apologizes for his sin with a sincere remorseful heart, it seems to stir the other to apologize for his sin in the situation as well, if it applies. There’s nothing wrong with saying “I am sorry”….just make sure your loved ones know that it is MORE than three words. It involves the heart…a heart that desires to please the Lord in all things unto His glory.

Carol September 16, 2011

Amazing – love this post!

Stephanie September 16, 2011

Like Naomi, we teach our children that *I’m sorry* isn’t enough. We’ve taught them to be specific about what they did wrong & WHY they are sorry. But that’s not enough either ~ that MUST be followed up with asking for forgiveness. This shows not only the repentant spirit, but humility in acknowledging the wrong & ASKING for forgiveness. We’ve taught them that no matter how sincere they are in realizing wrongdoing, not everyone WILL forgive them. The Bible doesn’t say we are responsible for someone refusing to grant forgiveness. We are responsible ourselves to forgive others (whether they ask for it or not).
Matthew 18:21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Matthew 18:22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
BTW, it doesn’t say that forgiveness is contingent upon the offender asking for forgiveness or even being repentant. It could even be considered that someone believes a brother/sister in Christ *sinned against them* and the offender doesn’t even know/realize it. Babes in Christ grow at varying rates & the Lord convicts us individually about sin.

Courtney September 16, 2011

I Love reading your encouraging words here Veronica!! Thanks.

Bonnie September 16, 2011

Excellent how this post provoked so much thought on the subject! I loved how each person contributed more depth to the conversation. And I am pleased with the initial shock of the piece… although not at first. At first I was yes, “shocked” and disappointed.
May I add another word to the mix? When I read this the word “contrite” flooded my thoughts. Psalms 34:18 says, ” The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as of be of a contrite spitit.” The dictionary defines “contrite” as ; feeling repentant and “contrition” as 1)remorse for having done wrong 2) theolgical sorrow for having offended God: perfect contrition is such sorrow arising out of pure love of God.
We offend God when we hurt or offend one of his little ones. An apology would be instant and immediate when we hurt one of God’s little children. We are all one of his little children.

Karen September 16, 2011

Thanks Veronica! This was an amazing post! I really appreciate your insight, and I think you are on to the truth of the matter here. Thanks for sharing!

Heather @ Desires of My Heart September 17, 2011

You know I never really thought of it this way. This definitely gives me something to think about. My heart is for my kiddos to surely be authentic in their repentance, so this post really speaks to me. Thanks!

Dawn September 17, 2011

This is a great post and I really like all the perspectives of the other ladies as well! If you think about it this is summed up in the second greatest command to love our neighbor as ourselves. When one of my children has offended/hurt another, either on purpose or unintentionally, I always remind them of this command that the Lord Jesus gave us. I ask them, “Are you loving your neighbor as yourself as the Lord has commanded us to do?” Then they think it out and I ask them what they think they should do about it. For the younger children I have to explain to them what the Lord would require them to do about it. Like one of the other posters said it’s not an easy thing to do, but so worth the diligence it takes to do it. Obedience to the way the Lord would have us live and treat each other will only bring blessings to our families!

Amanda September 17, 2011

This is a great post and great discussions! I think “I’m sorry” gets tossed around so easily, whether it is coming from adults or children. We have always taught our children to say what they are sorry for and ask for forgiveness (a plain I’m sorry doesn’t mean anything). If it’s from disobedience, they need to tell us what they did wrong and how they will make the right choice the next time. Then, whether it’s after talking with their sibling or with us, we give hugs. It’s a process, but it has worked with us. If the kids aren’t ready to talk about it with the other person, then they take a break until they are ready. I’ve had them sit for a while and then they’ll say they are ready and go talk with them. I think it’s important that they recognize what they did wrong and how it hurt the other person, not just say “sorry” and everything’s okay. Thank you again!

Gianna September 18, 2011

Amen Sista! Amen and Amen!
When I talk to my kids about their wrong-doings, I try to explain that they need to take responsibility for their actions. Even if it IS an accident. I try to focus on the fact that our choices, no matter what they are, affect other people and if we hurt someone (even unintentionally), the best way to show them love like Jesus is to take responsibility and apologize–that’s what I say and I’m not using it in the correct sense of the word–i’m using the connotation and not the denotation!

Deanna September 19, 2011

We teach our children to acknowledge what they did “I was wrong when I…will you please forgive me?”
That way our children don’t just throw out an angry or not meant “I’m sorry” that doesn’t bring about a restoring of fellowship.

Thanks for addressing this issue!

Ashley September 19, 2011

Hi Veronica,

I too have noticed apologies seeming like excuses with my children and of course with myself. So many times it’s more for the person apologizing than it is for the person on the receiving end…. to assuage our own guilt. But that’s not the gospel, is it! 🙁

I have two little ones and was wondering if you might be able to give a real life example of you using these principles with your kiddos? I would love to know how you explain it and how they respond to you and each other?

Thanks so much!

farmermom September 23, 2011

The “but” makes all the difference; rather, its placement makes all the difference.

“I’m sorry, but . . . ” is merely an excuse disguised as repentance. As in: ” I’m sorry I yelled at you, BUT I’m really tired and you were making a lot of noise when I asked you to be quiet.” See? It’s not really my fault; it’s yours.

On the other hand, “I’m really tired and frustrated that you were still noisy, BUT that doesn’t make it okay for me to yell at you. I’m sorry,” is the beginning of reconciliation. My behavior is about me, not you. Then the comes the request for forgiveness.

Lisa November 5, 2011

Thanks for this comment – this makes so much sense to me!!

Kat hervey September 29, 2011

What a blessing to read this post today! Thank you for your words of Truth!

melika! March 7, 2012

my name is melika!
nice too meet you!
Im from Iran!
I like your website

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