Forgiveness Without Repentance?

Even if you loathe reality TV as heartily as I do, you will have struggled not to notice the many headlines surrounding this year’s “I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here”.

Forgiveness Without Repentance?

The participation of Matt Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, has ensured the show has been one of the most talked about of 2022. There has been much speculation as to what would possess the disgraced former Heath Secretary to take part in a competition where the general public vote for which contestants are to be exposed to grotesque and gruesome trials. The answer, it turns out, is a quest for forgiveness. A video clip reveals Hancock tearfully telling the others,

“What I’m really looking for is a bit of forgiveness, that’s what I’m really looking for . . . We all make mistakes. I made a pretty big one.”

The clip goes on to show several of Hancock’s fellow-celebrities embracing him and praising him for his honesty. Reaction from the general public, however, has been less charitable. One Twitter user stated,

“The world will never forgive or forget what he did.”

Forgiveness, it seems then, is no simple matter. Yet the Bible is full of the idea of forgiveness and of wonderful examples of people who made colossal mistakes yet were fully forgiven by God. Mr Hancock’s predicament reminded me of an illustration of forgiveness in the book of Isaiah:

“Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18 NLT).

The picture is of a cloth turned red by the strongest of dyes being returned to its initial snowy state. Even for those of us whose mistakes are less well-publicised than Mr Hancock’s, this sounds an incredible offer – the stains of sin, no matter how glaring, removed to give a fresh start. However, the preceding verses introduce us to another biblical concept which must always accompany forgiveness:

“cease to do evil, learn to do good” (Isaiah 1:16,17 ESV).  

Wanting forgiveness, however desperately, is of no use at all if we are not prepared to stop our bad behaviour and turn and go in a new direction. The Bible calls this repentance and Merriam-Webster helpfully defines the verb “to repent” as “to turn from sin”.

This, I fear, is where Mr Hancock has gone awry in his quest. He desperately wants forgiveness for his mistakes, which I assume include the dereliction of his duty as an MP and Minister for Health during the Covid crisis and abandoning his wife and children in a very public and humiliating fashion. Yet here we see him deserting his constituency and his seat in parliament and humiliating his wife further by defending his love for another woman on television. Is it any wonder that the response to Mr Hancock has either been furious vengeance from the public or half-hearted forgetfulness from his campmates?

The forgiveness the Bible guarantees in response to repentance is radically different. There is no need for vengeance, because God’s wrath has been fully satisfied by the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, on a cross. There is no risk of past mistakes being raked up again because God does not casually “forget” our sins but promises,   

“I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34 ESV).

Whether our failures are epic or seemingly inconsequential the Bible tells us we are all sinners who require forgiveness from God. Thankfully He does not make us jump through hoops to earn it, for we never could. Instead, if we repent from our old ways and turn to Him in faith, He graciously and freely offers to fully forgive us and wipe the slate clean.

“Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19 NLT).