We talked in the sermon on Sunday about what repentance is. By way of practical suggestions, I'd like to offer the follow thoughts for when you need to go to someone and repent. When you repent, ask yourself these questions:
1. What did you do wrong?
You should always be specific. Do not say, "I'm sorry about earlier." Be very clear on what you did that was wrong.
2. Why was it wrong?
The answer here is not because it hurt the other person's feelings. Was it wrong because you disobeyed God? Was it wrong because you served yourself and not the other? Was it wrong because you did not think before you spoke? Was said in anger? To hurt?
3. What does the other person deserve?
Yes, people are sinners, but they are made in God's image and deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. You need to acknowledge that the one against whom you sinned deserves better. Husbands deserve to be honored, not because they are perfect, but because Christ says so. Wives deserved to be cherished, because Christ has cherished us. Children deserve kindness, patience and gentleness. Parents deserve honor. Remind the person that you did not sin because he deserved it, but because you failed.
4. What do you want to do?
If you say "I will never do it again," you are not repenting, you are bargaining. You are asking for forgiveness in exchange for your future good works (oh, and you are also lying). Be honest. You want to work on it. You will work on it. But you will probably fail again and that ought to lead you to humility and brokenness.
5. What do you want from the other?
When you have confessed what you did, why it was wrong and what you want to do, you need to ask for forgiveness. This is what you want (or should want). The sad reality is that we have made people afraid to offer forgiveness. Grace is the only thing that can cover sin. If you are truly repentant, there is nothing you can do to fix what you have done. Asking for forgiveness admits that you have no rights, only brokenness. It also frees the offended person to offer forgiveness without fear that they will be attacked as being "holier than thou."
And that leads to the question of, how do you respond when someone repents. The Lord commands us to forgive those who repent because he has forgiven us. Matthew 18:21-35 is a wonderful passage about this reality. But how you respond to someone who repents is as important as how they repent. Do not respond with "it's okay" because it's not okay to sin. Don't say "don't worry about it" because that just says he should feel free to do it again. The other person has repented, not asked you tell him it is okay. He is asking for forgiveness. That is what you need to respond with. Respond with "I forgive you." That is how God responds to us when we repent and how he calls us to respond to others.