Forgiveness Without Repentance? 

 

The sensitive brother or sister will recognize that we are often forgiven without specific forsaking of sin- and therefore this must feature in our reaction to the sins of others. The following are proofs of this:

- David prayed for cleansing from " secret faults" (Ps. 19:12)- things which we do not specifically repent of, and yet which are still sinful in God's sight. All sin is sin- sin is not definable according to our awareness of it (as witness the Mosaic trespass offerings). If we disagree that we are forgiven for sins which we do not specifically repent of and forsake, then we must conclude that we actually know every one of our sins; and that just one sin, unrepented of, will keep us from salvation. None of us has the self knowledge, nor the appreciation of God's  righteousness, to be confident that we do know each of our sins. It is only the self-righteous who claim that they have confessed every one of their sins. So we are driven to rely on salvation by grace- believing that we will be forgiven for sins we commit, which we do not recognize. If we hope for any amount of forgiveness without specific repentance, then we ought not to make it a principle that we will never forgive our brother unless he outwardly shows his repentance. For we all somehow hope for forgiveness without repentance.

- Many sins for which we are forgiven cannot be forsaken. If a brother murders another brother, that cannot be undone. He cannot promise never to murder brother X again- that sin cannot be forsaken. David's sin with Bathsheba was forgiven on account of his confession of sin- there is never a word from either God or himself about not doing it again (Ps. 32:5; 2 Sam. 12:13). Why not, if forsaking is so vital? Because we are saved in prospect by being in covenant with God, this emphasis on confession is understandable. We confess that we have marred God's glory, that we have acted out of character with the Christ-man that dwells in us. God does not then send forgiveness down to us as if it is a parcel that drops out of the sky. He gladly recognizes that His grace towards us in Christ, granted at baptism, was not in vain, because we recognize our sinfulness and God's righteousness.

- The Father offered forgiveness without repentance to the prodigal son before there was any direct evidence of repentance- just a sign of general regret. Indeed, it would see that the very fact the son wanted to return to the Father’s house was quite enough to warrant his acceptance there- and the killing of the fatted calf.

- We must bless / forgive those who persecute us (Rom. 12:14; blessing and forgiveness are closely linked in Scripture). This is clearly to be done without waiting for the persecutor to stop or repent. Forgiveness without repentance has to be offered.

- The Lord saw a connection between the way the sinful woman kissed Him much, and the way she “loved much” (Lk. 7:45,47 RVmg.). He then told a parable about her and Simon the Pharisee. His point was that they both owed Him money and He had forgiven the debt, but He was looking for an appropriate response from them. Yet there is no evidence that Simon had repented before receiving that forgiveness.

- We are to forgive the person who ‘repents’ 490 times / day for the same sin. Clearly enough, their repentance wasn’t sincere. Yet we are still to show forgiveness without waiting for repentance. The parable of Mt. 18:28-30 implies that forgiveness involves us not requiring of our brother that which we could legitimately demand of him. That surely is saying that we are to forgive our brother without demanding full repentance in terms of 'putting things right'. We are to follow God's example of frankly writing off the debt.

- Marriage out of the faith is a terrible sin- a child of God joining themselves in covenant with a worldling who is alienated from God. The sin is not just committed as the couple stand before the Registrar and have their names inscribed on the marriage certificate. The sin was going on all through their courtship; a saint of God was loving an enemy of God. And after the wedding, the sin continues. There is no proof that after the believer repents, the marriage is then recognized by God on the same basis as that of believing partners. God does not automatically join the repentant believer with their worldling partner- as shown by God's command to those who married out of the Faith in Ezra's time to separate from their partners (Ezra 10:17-44). But when a believer repents of their marriage out of the Faith, we accept that God will tolerate their sinful situation, which does violence to His principles of separation from the world. But we do not insist on the erring believer forsaking the wrong relationship. Any who insist that repentance and forgiveness requires a public forsaking of the action ought logically to insist that those who marry out of the Faith must separate if they repent.

- Christ prayed that the soldiers would be forgiven [without repentance] because " they know not what they do" . The fact He asked for their forgiveness shows that they were guilty of sin, although they were ignorant of it- and had therefore not repented. How could they repent of crucifying Christ while they were actually doing it? They may well have regretted doing what they were forced to do by reason of the circumstances in which they found themselves. Thus Christ knew that forgiveness was possible without specific repentance and forsaking. The reply 'But that only applies to sins of ignorance!' is irrelevant- Christ's attitude still disproves the hypothesis that forgiveness can only be granted if there is a forsaking of sin.

- God forgives men on the basis of their faith in the blood of Christ, and association with it by baptism; " not by works of righteousness, which we have done" (Tit. 3:4-8). God's basis of salvation is not works. We must be careful not to insist on 'forsaking' sins in physical terms to the extent that we too preach justification by works. Just one sin deserves death. No amount of forsaking that sin can change that sentence. God's way of escape is for us to be in Christ, so that He looks upon us as if we are Christ, imputing Christ's perfect character to us. Therefore forsaking sin is not in itself the basis of salvation; rather is it faith in Christ. Of course, true faith shows itself in works. But none of us has the degree of faith which we ought to have, and therefore none of us does the amount or type of works which we should. To insist that someone shows their faith by specific works, e.g. certain changes in their marital status, is to insist that there is a direct, definable relationship between faith and the precise type of works which that faith leads to. Yet we are not so strict with ourselves. The faith and works of each of us are far from complete. Surely one of the greatest expressions of faith in the work of Christ is to desire to break bread. Yet this is what has been refused to those who profess themselves to have a struggling faith in their redeemer.  

- The man of Mt. 18:26 was forgiven his debt due to his desire to repay it, even though in fact he couldn't repay it. Sin can, in a sense, never be put right, it can only be covered over. And the man was expected to reflect his experience of forgiveness in how he dealt with his brother. 

- " Sin is the transgression of the law" . Each of us, therefore, lives in sin to a certain extent, looking for forgiveness without repentance. A brother may smoke; he may feel that each smoke is a sin, because his conscience condemns him. But this does not affect whether we overlook his weakness, and tolerate him in fellowship. Again, it is inconsistent to tolerate a brother who admits he is living a way of life which is in one aspect 'sinful', and yet not to tolerate a brother with an ongoing spiritual problem in another area. Can we prove that we are supposed to recognize degrees of sin in each other? And how can we prove that e.g. loss of temper is better or worse than any other area of failure?

From the above points it should be evident that the equation 'Forgiveness= repentance + forsaking' is just incorrect as it stands. It is not true across the board. Even if this is true of God's forgiveness of us, does it hold true for our forgiveness of others? And where is the proof that we must withhold our fellowship from someone whom we cannot forgive?

Although Israel’s heart was not right with God, “He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity… for he remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passeth away” (Ps. 78:38,39). The impression is that God forgave them not because they repented- but because of His compassion, His remembering of His covenant with them [‘remember’ is often used of God in a covenant context], and simply because He recognized the frailty of their humanity. In other words, He forgave them because of His grace. We dare not allow this wonderful fact to work in us any sense of ease with sin, nor any shrugging off of the importance of repentance. But all the same, the grace of God is wonderful, and this grace is what we must show to others. And this means, forgiving without demanding specific repentance. Family life is full of the lesson that this is how we have to live if we are to live in peace with both God and men.