Words can be cheap. Actions can be convincing. When a person says he’s changing, how do you know he really is? Do his actions support his words? Here are eight ways you can know if he’s telling the truth.
Have you ever watched one of those investigative crime shows and thought you had it figured out before the show was over? You were pretty certain you could solve the case, until … a new piece of evidence was presented or another witness came forward. The testimony and admittance added an unexpected twist to the story.
The facts you thought you clearly understood are now seriously challenged. There were missing details not shared initially, so now you’re not sure what to believe. Your certainty of “who done it” is suddenly uncertain.
Trying to help a marriage in jeopardy can be like that. One spouse says one thing, while the other says something completely contrary. Let’s say for instance you’ve been meeting with a husband for the past few months that is seriously struggling in his marriage. He continually expresses how he is trying to change and insists he is repentant about his sin against his wife.
He acts remorseful and seems sincere as he pours out his heart to you (2 Corinthians 7:10). Then you meet with his wife. She emphatically says “it ain’t so.” Hmm. So at first the husband seemed right until you heard from his wife (Proverbs 18:17).
In the article, How to help the domineering husband and doormat wife, the disicpler is cautioned to not be fooled. It takes wisdom and discernment to sort through conflicting accounts of what’s really taking place in a marriage.
When trying to help them, how can you know if what they’re saying is true? How can you tell if they are actually changing? Are their words enough (James 2:17)? Their tears? Their dejected demeanor when they talk with you? These things, while not bad in and of themselves, are not credible evidence of a truly repentant person.
Talk is cheap. There has to be more. There should be tangible indicators that accompany the claims (1 John 3:18). Here are eight identifying marks of a person that is truly changing.
1 – Humility
The repentant person will be a humble person. If they are not humble, they will not think they need to change (Luke 5:32). Actually, it is impossible to change without this characteristic (James 4:6). There’s no such thing as a proud (self-righteous) repentant person. The two cannot cohabitate in the same heart at the same time (Matthew 6:24).
A humble person will focus on themselves in regards to their sin and what they are responsible for. They will be keenly aware of the enormous log protruding from their eye, not the speck in their spouse’s (Matthew 7:3).
2 – Responsibility
There will be no finger pointing or talk about the other person’s sin. There won’t be any excusing or justifying. They won’t water down what they did and try to minimize their actions. In fact, they will specifically label and call their sin what it is, e.g., adultery, lying, abuse, self-righteousness (1 John 1:7-10).
Their confession means they are in complete agreement with God about their sin (Psalm 32:5). They will take full responsibility for what they have done and make no qualms about it.
3 – Other-centeredness
They will be more concerned for the person they sinned against than the unpleasant consequences they are reaping as a result of their actions. The husband (or wife) will be grieved they hurt their spouse and offended their Savior. They understand their sin is ultimately against a holy God (Genesis 39:9; 2 Samuel 12:13).
4 – Contriteness
The repentant person will show remorse and have a contrite spirit (Jeremiah 31:19, Psalm 51:17). They won’t just be sorry for what they’ve done; they will commit themselves to doing what is right (2 Corinthians 7:10-11).
5 – Active obedience
They will be actively putting off (stop) the old sinful behavior, and putting on (start) the new right behavior (Ephesians 4:22). They will not only say they desire to do what is right but will take action to carry it out (Matthew 3:8).
They will look for ways to practically serve and love their spouse and then like the Nike slogan says, they will “just do it.” You should be able to positively identify specific fruit being manifested in their lives. Things like joy, peace, patience, and all that other good stuff (Galatians 5:22-23).
6 – Patience and perseverance
The person that was sinned against has been hurt. A trust has been broken. The repentant person will factor that into their thinking. They will not place demands on the offended person to instantly reconcile. They may even feel like they don’t deserve to be forgiven and restored to their spouse after what they have done.
They will display patient endurance as their spouse works through the layers of their heart and hurt. The changing person will persevere and do what is right, regardless of what their spouse does in response (Galatians 6:9). Their aim is to glorify God, even if they don’t get what they want (1 Peter 3:13-14).
7 – Transparency
There will be an openness and honesty about the details of their life. Things like their whereabouts, what they’re watching, how they’re spending their time, their money, and such will be disclosed. Instead of covering up, being vague, and hiding their secrets, they will be forthcoming with information to the questions you ask them (Proverbs 28:13, James 5:16).
8 – Seek Help
When a person caught in sin is walking through the process of repentance (see the The Doctrine of Repentance), they will want to have other trusted Christian friends help them in the process.
They will see their need for guidance and input for their decisions. The repentant person seeks advice and accountability and then, here’s the kicker, they submit themselves to it. They readily do this because they know their heart’s propensity to self-deceive (Proverbs 12:15).
A personal story
A little over 18 years ago, my husband was caught in sin. Our marriage was broken and I wasn’t sure if it could be fixed. But God was kind to us in that through a series of unfortunate events that only a sovereign, omniscient God could orchestrate, He led my husband to repentance (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
All eight of these characteristics were clearly and undeniably displayed in him as he submitted himself to God and the process of change. He did not do all of these things perfectly, but there was no doubting their presence in his life. He was changing and it showed!
Mercifully, God had gotten hold of me and prepared my heart beforehand, and so I was in a place where I could freely forgive him and reconcile. None of this was accomplished overnight. It took a period of time and dedication on our parts as God brought healing and complete restoration to us.
Wrapping it up
Trying to help the couple in a struggling and damaged marriage can be a challenge. While you want to listen to what is shared with compassion and concern, you don’t want to be foolish and deceived either.
While you want to look for evidence of these eight marks, be careful not to expect perfection. The people you’re helping are sinners, just like us. They aren’t fully sanctified and will fail at times. You must never forget that.
Don’t be like me watching a crime show thinking you’ve got it all figured out. There is always more evidence and missing pieces to the story that you don’t have.
But not to worry. God is not expecting you to be a know-it-all. He wants you to bring His truth and care to those that are hurting and in need of help. His Gospel has the power to change anyone! If our community can help you with any of these things, you can learn more about that here.