“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.” 2 Corinthians 7:10-11
How Can You Identify True Repentance?
If a spouse has been unfaithful; if a spouse is “messing around” with meth and “sort of” promising to never touch it again, what is a faithful spouse supposed to do? How can a husband or wife know if their spouse has entered into real, biblical repentance?
It’s an important question. Counselors tell us that at crisis points in marriage, a spouse may make a few small changes in the right direction only until the sense of crisis passes. Then he/she goes right back to the offending behavior.
This is flat-out abusive. When you know that what you’re doing is frustrating your spouse or even making him/her miserable and you do just enough to keep the platform of living together alive so that you can ultimately continue to make him/her miserable, that’s spiritually sick. It’s malicious. “I’m not going to let you go but I’m also not going to change.” I can’t say this strongly enough: It is a spiritual disorder to treat anyone, much less your spouse, this way. This is about you and God before it is about you and your spouse. If this is you, it is a state of rebellion against God and He is simply using your spouse to help you see what you’ve become.
This is a high call for biblical counselors who must be sophisticated enough to bring an end to the evil (change needs to happen) rather than unwittingly offer a platform for the evil to continue (just try to do a little bit better so your spouse isn’t quite so angry and won’t separate from you).
Who Am I Really Resenting?
If I resent my spouse for calling me to become more like Christ, then ultimately who I really resent is Christ; it means in my heart of hearts I actually wish He were different, or that He didn’t call me to become like Him. This attitude needs to be confronted, not coddled.
If a marriage is going to be rebuilt after trust has been repeatedly broken, it has to be rebuilt on real repentance. The offending spouse has to demonstrate their horror at what they’ve done by going full speed in the opposite direction, not by taking a three-degree turn simply to show a tiny bit of “progress.”
This is true for major and minor issues, to a different degree. If my issue is being chronically late and I’m truly repentant, I start showing up early. If the issue is saying hurtful things, it’s not “repentance” to say hurtful things a little less often. Real repentance is stopping abusive language completely and intentionally saying kind, encouraging and praiseworthy things. If the issue is a lack of employment, I don’t settle for a part-time job. I work the part-time job and then spend just as many hours looking for a full-time job.
Real repentance reveals a real heart transformation; our spouse can see the change not just hear us say we intend to change.
Real repentance continues with the offending spouse owning his/her faults. It’s common for me to see a spouse who has acted deplorably start to resent having the spotlight put on him or her and thus respond by saying, “You know, he/she isn’t perfect either.”
The sarcastic part of me wants to say, “Really? I thought they were sinless. Well, this changes everything. We’ll forget about your deplorable wickedness until we get this person you’re married to to be a little more patient when you mess up.”
If I make a sinless spouse the requirement of repenting then I’m never going to have to repent and the marriage is going to stay miserable. Avoiding changing a grave failing because your spouse has a minor one is an arrogant spiritual trick that some spouses use to avoid having to change. It is a great offense against love.