Mea Culpa

Sometimes words or phrases from one language are adopted into the common usage of another language.  Often the adoption of such words or phrases occurs simply because the foreign terms are a more direct means of communicating a particular idea.  For example, the initials RSVP, that we often use when inviting friends to an important event, come from the French phrase which means “respond, if you please.”  Another phrase that has come into common use in English is the Latin term, mea culpa.  In the Latin it literally means “through my fault” and it is used when one is admitting his guilt in some matter.

Most of us are unlikely to use this phrase, unless we’re trying to impress someone, or if we’re having some fun with one another.  We have, however, heard it used, most often in the context of a news story about a prominent person who has been caught in some indiscretion.  Many times in such cases, the person involved will face the media in a public show of remorse over his actions.  A person in this situation will often admit to his or her wrongdoing, and will ask for the forgiveness of family, friends, teammates or constituents.

In the scriptures, the principle of admitting one’s wrongdoing is a fundamental element in how God expects us to conduct ourselves.  Both Old and New Testaments contain stories of individuals who were caught in some sin and were called upon to admit their guilt.  In each case we see that forgiveness of the particular sin is dependent upon one’s willingness to admit his sin.  This just makes sense because one will not repent of a sin that he is unwilling to admit he has committed.

Two Old Testament examples illustrate this truth.  In 1 Sam. 15 King Saul of Israel sinned against God by failing to utterly destroy the nation of Amalek as God had commanded.  Instead of killing every living thing in that nation, Saul and the people spared the king and the best of the flocks and herds.  When confronted by the prophet Samuel, Saul claimed that the animals had been spared to make sacrifices to God.  Finally Saul admitted his sin vs. 24 & 30; however, it is clear in these verses that Saul’s primary concern was looking good before the people.  Saul was not penitent, even though he offered a mea culpa to Samuel.  The proof in the pudding is that Saul continued to disobey God thereafter.

In 2 Sam. 24 King David of Israel sinned against God by ordering a census of the people.  When God brought pestilence against the nation because of David’s sin, David cried out to God, “Behold, it is I who have sinned, and it is I who have done wrong; but these sheep, what have they done?  Please let Your hand be against me and against my father’s house” (2 Sam. 24:17).  David was truly sorry for his sin and he openly admitted it to God with a sincerity that cannot be questioned.  The proof in this case is that David went on obeying God and is called a man after God’s own heart.

The lesson for us is that God still requires a mea culpa from each of us when we sin.  In 1 Jn. 1:8, 9 John says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  The beginning point for forgiveness is to admit one’s sins.  Then, in godly sorrow, we must ask the Lord to forgive us for those sins.  His gracious promise to His people is that the blood of Jesus His Son continues to cleanse us from all sin.  May we always have tender hearts that say, “Mea Culpa,” to God and that ask Him to forgive our sins.