How to Turn Repentance Into a Non-Apology Apology by SAM ALLBERRY for The Gospel Coalition
It seems to be an almost daily occurrence on the news.
A public figure has done or said something that crosses a significant moral line for many people. They try to make a statement that expresses contrition (to satisfy those feeling aggrieved) while not actually admitting any wrongdoing (thus retaining their public credibility). This solution is the non-apology apology, or the faux-pology, the posture of “sorry not sorry.” They’ll say, “I’m sorry that people were offended by what I did,” or “mistakes were made.” There’s a sense of sorrow, but not anything coming close to acknowledging concrete wrongdoing.
It’s such a common response to accusations of wrongdoing that we may even start doing it instinctively. It can be a reflex any time someone raises a grievance with us. And therefore it can be a reflex when it comes to God, too. Inevitably, spending time in Scripture will expose us to God’s call to repentance. Jesus himself said the proper response to his coming was to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). A non-apology apology seems to cut it with many people; might it also cut it with God?
But if we’re trying to express contrition, while actually remaining defensive in our heart, we are actually failing to repent. True repentance is deep sorrow, not an appearance of sorrow that doesn’t lead to any genuine change. A non-apology apology might defuse a situation with someone else; it will do nothing to get God off our case.
King David gives us a clear example of this. He had sinned seriously by summoning Bathsheba to sleep with him, thus sinning against her and her husband (whom he later had killed). David comes to terms with this in Psalm 51.
If we want to avoid true repentance and hide behind a non-apology apology, then we’ll need to do the opposite of what we see David doing here. We’ll need to do four things.
1. Don’t call sin sin.
David admits what he’s done is sinful. Not just unideal or imperfect, but actually wrong. A real ethical line exists. and David knows he has crossed it: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Ps. 51:3).