What Does the Bible Say About Making Amends?

Making things right with others is an important part of the Christian faith. When we have wronged or hurt someone, God calls us to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. The Bible has a lot to say about confessing our sins, repenting, and doing our best to undo the damage we have caused.


As Christians, one of our primary duties is to love others as God has loved us (John 13:34). But despite our best intentions, we mess up and hurt people. We say things we don’t mean in anger. We act in selfish or thoughtless ways. We allow bitterness and unforgiveness to take root in our hearts.

Whatever the case, we are called to take responsibility for our wrong actions and make amends when possible. The Bible offers us many examples of God’s people seeking forgiveness and working to repair broken relationships. By studying these stories, we gain wisdom for navigating relational rifts in a godly manner.

Key Takeaways:

  • God desires reconciliation, not retribution, when we wrong others.
  • Making amends requires humility, repentance, and commitment to change.
  • We must apologize and seek forgiveness from those we’ve hurt.
  • Restitution should be made for crimes or sins with tangible consequences.
  • Even if the other person refuses to forgive, we must release bitterness and animosity from our hearts.
  • Ultimately, reconciliation comes down to trusting in God’s grace and timing.

The remainder of this article will explore what Scripture teaches about making amends in different contexts and relationships. My prayer is that these biblical principles will guide us in becoming more merciful, forgiving, and reconciled people for God’s glory.

What Does the Bible Say About Making Amends?

Seeking Forgiveness for Personal Sins

Many passages address what to do after committing personal sins and moral failures before God. When our actions have violated God’s holy standards, He calls us to repentance and seeking forgiveness.

King David wrote Psalm 51 after the prophet Nathan confronted him about his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah. David confesses, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). He goes on to plead, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1-2).

David understands that his first priority is setting things right in his relationship with God. He needs to humble himself, repent of his sin, and seek God’s mercy. Only after receiving forgiveness from God can he then go about making amends with people.

The apostle John assures believers, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). As Christians, our sins are washed away by Christ’s blood. But we still need to continually confess our failures, return to the cross, and receive God’s offered grace.

Key Takeaways:

  • Our first priority after sinning should be repenting to God and asking His forgiveness.
  • We need to approach God with humble, contrite hearts, recognizing the gravity of even our “private” sins.
  • While God freely grants forgiveness, we should still hate our sin and strive against it with the Spirit’s help.
  • Believers must walk in continual repentance and willingness to confess sin.

Apologizing to Fellow Believers

At times we can wrong or hurt fellow Christians through our words or actions. James 5:16 instructs believers, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” While we don’t need to confess every minor offense, seeking forgiveness is vital for unity in the church.

Jesus Himself taught in Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Reconciliation should come even before worship.

The early church provides a powerful example of apologizing to fellow believers and making things right. In Acts 15, a dispute arose over whether Gentile converts must follow the Mosaic law. Both sides made their case passionately. Ultimately, the apostles and elders decided not to require circumcision for the new converts.

They wrote a letter to the Gentile believers saying, “We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said” (Acts 15:24). The leaders took ownership for the confusion caused and sought to make amends.

Paul also makes reconciliation a priority in his letters. In Philemon, he appeals to a slaveholder to forgive his runaway slave Onesimus, writing, “So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me” (Philemon 1:17). Paul does not downplay Onesimus’s wrong but pleads for mercy.

As believers, we must humbly apologize when our mistakes affect the church. We should seek both God’s forgiveness and that of our brothers and sisters.

Key Takeaways:

  • Christians must seek forgiveness from fellow believers we’ve wronged, not just God.
  • Unity and reconciliation within the church should be prioritized.
  • Leaders should set an example and take ownership when conflicts arise in the church.
  • We must humbly apologize while allowing others to extend grace in their timing.

Confessing Sins Publicly

In cases of especially egregious sin, public confession and apologies may be warranted. This is modeled for us by Old Testament figures like Nehemiah and Ezra.

After rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls, Nehemiah discovered that the Israelites had intermarried with foreigners against God’s law. He rebukes them saying, “I purified the priests and the Levites of everything foreign, and assigned them duties, each to his own task” (Nehemiah 13:30).

Rather than downplaying the people’s sins, Nehemiah acknowledges their error publicly and seeks to correct it. He knows compromise hinders Israel from fulfilling its unique calling among nations.

When Ezra learns that the returned exiles took pagan wives, he confesses publicly, tearing his garments and pulling hair from his head and beard (Ezra 9:3). His posture of repentance spurs the Israelites to confess as well: “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us” (Ezra 10:2).

Because of the public nature of their sin, God’s people must make public confessions. Their examples remind us that communal sins may call for corporate repentance. Of course, wisdom is needed to apply this principle in modern churches.

The New Testament also contains a powerful example of public apology. In Acts 19, a riot breaks out in Ephesus over Paul’s preaching against idolatry. The town clerk eventually quiets the crowd, urging them to handle matters lawfully. Luke records that he then “dismissed the assembly” (Acts 19:41).

In publicly acknowledging the people’s unjust actions and ushering them to disperse, the clerk sets an example of de-escalating conflict through humble leadership. Admitting wrongs can defuse tension and promote peace.

Key Takeaways:

  • For especially grievous or public sins, confession may need to be equally public.
  • Leaders should set an example of corporate confession when needed.
  • Public apologies should be handled with wisdom regarding timing and proportion.
  • Acknowledging communal complicity in wrongs promotes justice and healing.

Seeking Forgiveness from Non-Believers

As Christians, our witness also depends on making amends with non-believers we have wronged. Colossians 4:5-6 instructs, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

We see this modeled in the book of Acts. After being imprisoned in Philippi, Paul and Silas are released and discover their jailer prepared to kill himself, thinking his prisoners escaped. Paul cries out, “We are all here!” reassuring the jailer they didn’t flee (Acts 16:28).

While the jailer unjustly imprisoned them, Paul prevents him from harming himself. This demonstrates Christlike grace and wins an opportunity to share the Gospel. As a result, the jailer and his whole family believed and were baptized (Acts 16:33-34).

Similarly, when Paul is arrested, he gives his defense before the Sanhedrin with respect. He acknowledges, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day” (Acts 23:1). Although the Council condemns Paul, he seeks to make his case honestly and diffuse conflict.

Like Paul, we should aim to live at peace with unbelievers as much as it is in our hands. We must guard our witness by avoiding unnecessary disputes and making amends when appropriate. Our care for justice should be motivated by love.

Key Takeaways:

  • Christians must be gracious and forgive those who persecute us, just as Christ did.
  • We should be quick to apologize and make restitution if we have wronged nonbelievers.
  • Our conduct should be beyond reproach, guided by integrity, honesty and care for the vulnerable.
  • Reconciliation requires humility and willingness to overlook personal offenses for the Gospel’s sake.

Restitution for Crimes or Debts

In cases where sins have tangible consequences, making restitution is essential for reconciliation. Exodus 22:1 says, “Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.” The principle of repayment applies to many wrongs today.

Zacchaeus provides a dramatic example of restitution in the New Testament. As a tax collector, he exploited the people, likely overcharging them. After encountering Jesus, “Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount’” (Luke 19:8).

Though no one demands Zacchaeus to make reparations, his conscience compels him to. Jesus affirms his decision, declaring “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9). Seeking to undo our wrongs can demonstrate true repentance.

Of course, not all sins have calculable damages. Even when specific restitution isn’t possible, we should adopt a spirit of generosity. Paul counsels, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28).

Our desire to make amends will be evident through working diligently, serving others, and giving graciously in all areas of life. It flows from a transformed heart.

Key Takeaways:

  • Making tangible restitution demonstrates the sincerity of our repentance.
  • We should do all we can to repair damages, even beyond legal requirements.
  • In some cases, specific repayment may not be feasible but a spirit of generosity remains key.
  • As we seek God’s mercy, we must extend mercy and grace to others.

Overcoming Bitterness and Resentment

Not everyone we’ve hurt will be ready or willing to extend forgiveness. Even after apologizing and trying to make amends, reconciliation may not come quickly—or ever. What should we do when faced with an unwillingness to forgive?

Jesus addresses this in Matthew 5:23-24. He commands us to leave our gift and pursue reconciliation with a brother or sister. But what if they refuse to be reconciled even when we initiate it?

We gain insight from Christ’s response to being rejected. 1 Peter 2:23 describes how Jesus “continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” and “did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats.” Though despised unjustly, Jesus trusted God with the outcome.

Similarly, we are called to release bitterness, retaliation, and demands for justice to God. As Stephen demonstrated while being stoned in Acts 7, we can pray for the Lord to forgive those who persecute us. Our job is maintaining hearts willing to forgive and making every effort to live peaceably (Romans 12:18).

Joseph provides one of the greatest examples of this. After being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, Joseph endures many wrongs. When given influence in Egypt, he could have executed justice. Instead he reassures his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

Rather than demanding vengeance, Joseph leaves judgment to God and forgives. We too must relinquish resentment and desire for retribution to the Lord. Forgiveness is always our responsibility; reconciliation depends on others’ response.

Key Takeaways:

  • We should continue pursuing reconciliation gently even when met with resistance.
  • Like Christ, we must refrain from vengeance and bitterness when wronged.
  • Our forgiveness must be unconditional; trust may need to be rebuilt over time.
  • By releasing others’ debts, we too will be released from resentment’s bondage.
  • Judgment and justice ultimately belong to the Lord.

God Works for Redemption

No broken relationship is beyond God’s redemptive work. Paul’s ministry exemplifies this beautifully. The same man who once persecuted Christians fervently later gave his life to serve Christ and His church. Paul testified in 1 Timothy 1:13-14, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man… But I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.”

By transforming Paul, God displayed immense grace and proved no one is beyond forgiveness. Paul later modeled the same grace by working alongside John Mark after he deserted during a difficult mission (Acts 15:36-40). Paul also forgave and affirmed the runaway slave Onesimus as a “dear brother” in Philemon 1:16.

Like Paul, we must believe God can redeem broken relationships. With man it may seem impossible, but through humility and faith, reconciliation can come. We may need to persevere in love for years, as God may use the timing for greater purposes.

But it all begins with taking responsibility for our part. Though we can’t control others’ responses, we can confess our own sins sincerely and turn from them through the Spirit’s power. We can pray blessing over those who have hurt us. And we can remain open to however God desires to restore what was lost.

Key Takeaways:

  • No rift is too deep for God’s redemptive grace to bridge if both parties are willing.
  • Reconciliation may take time, but we must hold on to hope and avoid rushing the timing.
  • Continuing to love others, pray for them, and live at peace is crucial, regardless of their response.
  • Our humble repentance and faith in God’s grace can set the stage for restored relationships.


The Bible contains invaluable guidance for making amends when we wrong others. From personal sins to public offenses, Scripture gives principles for confession, repentance, restitution, and reconciliation. Ultimately, the goal is restoring people to right relationship with God first, then with one another.

While seeking forgiveness can be difficult, it is necessary for individual and communal healing. Through taking ownership of our mistakes, making apologies, and working to undo damages, we can walk in integrity as followers of Jesus. Our repentance must lead to changed behavior by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Most importantly, we must remember that reconciliation is not about perfection or performance. It flows from embracing God’s grace and forgiveness ourselves. We can only extend mercy because God first extended it to us. And we must release those who hurt us to God, trusting that He is able to redeem any situation for good.

As we make every effort to live peaceably with others, God will use our humble repentance to bring reconciliation in His timing and for His glory.

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