True Repentance: It’s Obvious!


“What happens with leaders often in these situations is that they give you one paragraph of acknowledgement of wrong, and 6 paragraphs of how they are a victim. If I’m counselling an adulterous man, and he sits in front of me and all he talks about is his wife, I know that man is far from confession and repentance. Because once he sees his sin it is devastating and you cry out for God… You think about your future, you don’t think about how to manage it. Until you get to that level of brokenness, what you do is manage a crisis, instead of dealing with the deep personal sin at the bottom of the crisis.”

Dr. Paul Tripp re: Mars Hill Church leadership problems (for full context click here), emphasis in original

Is the cheater really repentant?

The quote is an old statement from a time when Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington still existed. As that now defunct church and its former leaders pop back into the spotlight, I was reminded of this statement. In particular, this quote from Tripp caught my attention. It was a very succinct statement of how to know a cheater is unrepentant.

Essentially, if the cheater keeps blame-shifting and pointing the finger at the other spouse, one can assess such a cheater as not at a place of repentance yet.

-If one is still working to get the cheater to take full responsibility for cheating, the cheater is not repentant.

-If it is a struggle to get full disclosure of the facts from the cheater, the cheater is not repentant.

-If the cheater is not actively seeking to repair and make restitution for what he or she destroyed, the cheater is not repentant.

-If the cheater is more concerned about how they look than what they did to their victim(s), the cheater is not repentant.

A repentant person is not in the business of putting their needs first over their victims’ needs. They accept reality that what they did was truly wrong and awful. Minimization or blaming someone else for their choices and actions are not on the table for this individual. They own their actions and the ruined reputation those actions created.

I think faithful spouses and many Christian leaders alike are so hungry for marriage resurrection stories that we ignore reality. We choose to take less than the necessary and obvious signs that a cheater is repentant. The red flags of blame-shifting and resistance to full disclosure of the truth regarding what took place are ignored to obtain that “holy grail” of marriage resurrection.

This is not good or godly.

Is a cheater really repentant? Look at their actions.

Are they humble or proud in their interactions? Do they walk in the light or seek to manage their image by hiding in the darkness?

It really ought not to be a difficult task to see. But it does mean taking a sobering and open eye look at the situation with a willingness to acknowledge the truth that some people prefer the darkness over walking in truth and repentance (see John 3:19-21).

4 thoughts on “True Repentance: It’s Obvious!”

  1. Could you please elaborate sometime on the idea of “repair and restitution”? I read that Martin Luther once said adultery is one of the worst sins because there is no restitution that can be made to the faithful spouse. Sadly, everyone reading your blog knows this to be true. Yet if it’s true that God can ‘resurrect’ a marriage destroyed by infidelity, then surely there are practical, tangible steps a cheater can take to show good faith toward earning back trust and changing their poor character so that they would be better able to guard and protect their marriage in the future?

    I’ve spent (sometimes I’m concerned that I’ve wasted) over a year waiting on my husband to want to fix the damage that his affair caused and hopefully ask God to ‘resurrect’ our marriage. I know that it’s not something that I can do for him, but in this time that I’ve been waiting he has changed direction – repented – on most things. The gaslighting and blameshifting and mental cruelty have ended. He seems genuinely remorseful and acknowledges full responsibility for choosing adultery over honest communication about his marital unhappiness. I *think* he’s been honest regarding full disclosure (but how would I ever really know?!) and he’s humbled himself and stopped managing his image – with the notable exception of his work environment, because transparency there would mean loss of income for our family.

    But when it comes to the idea of “repair and restitution”…there’s only words, no deeds. I’ve been exceedingly clear about the ways in which I would like him to earn my trust back and put safeguards in place (individual and marriage counseling, finding a spiritual mentor, etc.) but all I get is empty promises that he will and then excuses why he didn’t follow through.

    It is truly wonderful that his attitude has done an about face. I’m not at all ungrateful for his repentance in that sense. I’m just afraid that without some form of ‘penance’ to help him make the change practical and demonstrate to me that the change is permanent, well I’m afraid that his repentance is just a fleeting desire to get along for our kids’ sake until the next opportunity for adultery presents herself.

    1. I should clarify that he’s met all of my demands when it comes to having ended the affair and being transparent to me. The affair has stopped, he acknowledges it as wrong, he is honest and forthright about his whereabouts/communication/etc, and his heart seems sincere and kind toward me. He is absolutely repentant in that regard.

      1. If you are looking for a rebuilding plan, I would look to the Resource page here. Dr. David Clarke has a book outlining a tough path forward…for the cheater particularly (BOOK–“What to do when he says, ‘I Don’t Love You Anymore'”). Also, I would add that it would be a wise thing to limit your risks. Get tested for STDs (he should have done that already and shared the results with you) and get a generous Post-Nuptial agreement so that you are not taking all the financial risk in this. It isn’t needed if he doesn’t cheat again, after all.

    2. I’m confused. He claims he should have chosen differently regarding being unhappy in his marriage (i.e. not cheated) but is not going to therapy? That does not seem very sorry to me. Also, the unhappy response sounds like blame-shifting. Just some initial thoughts….

Comments are closed.