Is There Forgiveness Without Repentance?
Is there forgiveness without repentance? “Should we forgive one who has wronged us but has not repented?” is the question we should ask when there is a transgression against us.
It is a common misunderstanding, particularly in the Christendom, that a Christian must forgive regardless of the absence of repentance from the guilty part, he should forgive even in the stone-cold face of the transgressor.
This understanding, which has become a mainstream doctrine in the Church, is derived from the verse in Matthew 18 when Kefa (Peter) came to Yeshua and asked,
‘Master, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Yeshua said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven*. (Mat 18:21-22)
*… unto seventy-seven times, Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, by George Howard, Mercer University Press, 1995
As read and interpreted outside of the entire context of the Scripture, it appears that Yeshua told the disciples, ‘Forgive whoever has sinned against you, even if he has sinned many times’.
However, is this what Yeshua taught His disciples? And should we interpret the Messiah’s teaching outside of the overall teaching of the Scripture and the Torah of His Father in particular?
And what does the Torah of YHVH say concerning sinning and forgiveness?
We find a very similar expression in Leviticus 26 concerning a repetitive sin against Elohim. We read thus,
And after all this, if you do not obey Me, then I shall punish you seven times more for your sins. (Lev 26:18) … And if you walk contrary to Me, and refuse to obey Me, I shall bring on you seven times more plagues, according to your sins, (Lev 26:21) … And if you are not instructed by Me by these, but walk contrary to Me, then I also shall walk contrary to you, and I Myself shall strike you seven times for your sins. (Lev 26:23-24) And if in spite of this, you do not obey Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I shall walk contrary to you in wrath. And I Myself shall punish you seven times for your sins. (Lev 26:27-28)
Does the Righteous One sound like He will give forgiveness without repentance from His people? Not at all!
What He asks from His people is, if they do not hearken “all this” (the punishment named in Lev_26:16-17), and if they persisted in their disobedience, even though the judgment has reached to them, He will add a sevenfold chastisement for their sins to break down their strong pride (see Lev 26:19).
Here, seven, as the number of perfection in the works of Elohim (the Absolute One), like the seven days of Creation, denotes the strengthening of the chastisement, even to its full measure. We read in Pro_24:16.
Do not lie in wait, O wrong one, against the dwelling of the righteous. Do not ravage his resting place, for seven times a righteous man falls and rises, but the wrong one stumbles into evil. (Pro 24:16)
The proverb continues to say that the righteous one should not exult when the wrong one is repaid and his heart rejoice when he is punished. Lest YHVH see and the rejoice of the righteous one be evil in His eyes, and He turn away His wrath from him. (Pro 24:17-18)
In other words, when YHVH punishes the wrong-doer for the transgression he has done, the victim must not be glad in his heart when he is punished, because the punishment may turn against himself.
The wrong-doer is punished, but does that mean that the righteous one should not seek forgiveness without repentance from him? Is the forgiveness so cheap that it should be given away without repentance? Has the Transcendent Son of Elohim suffered and died, so that we may not repent?
So, what is repentance, and should we forgive without repentance?
Let us learn from the Yosef story here, although it deserves its own study, whether there is forgiveness without repentance. The Yosef story is the first recorded moment in history in which one human being forgives another. And when something appears for the first time in the Scripture, there is much we can learn from it.
Yosef put his brothers to several tests to see if they had overcome their negative traits when they sinned against him.
First comes Reuven’s repentance. In his repentance we see the two components of the first stage a true repentance: (1) admission of sin and taking responsibility (Gen_42:37) and (2) regret, but regret not towards oneself, but towards the victim.
Next, Josef has a silver cup planted in Benyamin’s sack and judged him to stay as a slave. The brothers’ reaction is in Gen_44:16: the second stage of repentance: confession. But the brothers do more here: they admit a collective responsibility, since they all collectively transgressed against him.
Finally, at the climax of the story Yehudah himself says, So now let me remain as your slave in place of the lad. Let the lad go back with his brothers! Yehudah , who sold Yosef as a slave, is now willing to become a slave so that his brother Benyamin can go free.
This is what is defined as complete repentance: behavioral change, when circumstances repeat themselves and the sinner has an opportunity to commit the same crime again through tests, but has refrained.
The brothers have changed. And this is what the Hebrew word teshuvah (repentance) means: to turn back. If there is no turning back from sin, there is no true repentance, and therefore, forgiveness.
And here is the inconvenient truth to some: there is no a sincere repentance of sin, if one is not tested again and again to do the same transgression in a re-enactment the earlier occasion: the tests.
And Yosef put them in the same situation to commit the same sin, this time against the youngest brother. The brothers passed the test and now Yosef can forgive, because his brothers have gone through all four stages of a true repentance: (1) admission of guilt, (2) confession and (3) behavioral change. And finally (4), the test.
Yosef learned much about his brothers through the tests, he get his brothers through: (1) Yosef learned that his brothers have become honest men; (2) the brothers were united in the trial and did not abandon their brother as they abandoned him; (3) his brothers were no longer envious and jealous; and (4) his brothers had become humble men.
So, what we learned in our story? Should we forgive without repentance?
When we have sinned, we are expected and will go through all these stages of a true repentance, and the tests will show whether we have truly repented. If we fail the test, another one will come. If we fail again, more tests will come until we pass them and be forgiven, because the tests and trials are like a litmus test. They show whether our repentance is genuine or fake.
When we forgive and are worthy of being forgiven, we are no longer prisoners of our past, and this is what Yeshua taught Peter: ‘Forgive and be worthy of being forgiven!’
But is there a verse that will prove that there is no forgiveness without repentance in the so-called “New Testament“?
We will quote the very words of the Messiah Himself.
Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him! And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day comes back to you, saying, ‘I repent’, you shall forgive him. (Luk 17:3-4)
If he repents, forgive him!
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.