Just about all of you have heard an abuser claim to “have changed,” or “I have repented and the Lord has forgiven me and now you must also.” We have had pressure put upon us by the abuser’s allies to “forgive” and reconcile because, after all, he said he was sorry. Yada, yada, yada.
Real repentance is a gift from Christ and it is a rare jewel (emphasis on rare). There is no salvation and no forgiveness from the Lord Himself where there is no genuine repentance. The “grace on steroids” crowd thinks that repentance is easy and cheap. But if you want to see the real article in action, let’s take a look at true repentance evidenced in a man named Zacchaeus. Here he is:
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)
He was a CHIEF tax collector. He was RICH. Power and privilege were his in enough abundance to counter the people’s hatred of him (tax collectors working for Rome, ripping people off were not exactly well thought of). Small in stature and yet he was a “big man” and he liked it.
This day was an appointed day in Zacchaeus’ life. The Lord had decreed that this day this man at this particular place would meet the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. Jesus came to “THE” place. His gaze goes right to Zacchaeus and he NAMES him! “I MUST stay at your house today.” These are the words of divine decree declared in eternity past.
Zacchaeus’ response was a miracle. He hurried and came down. He received Christ joyfully. AND HE PAID A HUGE PRICE —
- The entire focus and goal of his life changed. Christ now was precious to him, not money.
- Without anyone telling him to do so or compelling him, Zacchaeus spontaneously bears the fruit of repentance by announcing he is going to give half of his goods to the poor (who he had no doubt disregarded or despised before).
- He knows he has defrauded many people and he is going to now set those crimes right by paying them back four times what he took from them (far in excess of the Old Testament requirement by the way).
JESUS makes the announcement — “Today salvation has come to this house.” He declares Zacchaeus to be a true son of Abraham, no longer lost. If the Son of God declares that a man’s repentance is real, you can count on it being real.
THIS is the kind of response we MUST see in people (specifically in abusers) who claim to be repentant. Zacchaeus’ response was the fruit of a heart truly regenerated by Christ, and we must settle for nothing less. No coercion to make things right. No telling victims they MUST forgive him. None of it. Only a radical transformation into a brand new person who delights now in Christ and of their own volition and accord are willing to give up everything.
You are NOT being too narrow if you insist on this kind of evidence. You are NOT an unforgiving person if you will not reconcile with a person in whom these evidences are absent. You are, in fact, wise.
“Alright, Mr. Abuser, you claim you are a changed man. You insist that you are sorry for what you have done and that the Lord has forgiven you. Well then, what has your ‘repentance’ cost you? In what ways are you actively working (without someone else telling you to do it) to make things right with your victim?”
Don’t accept halfway measures. Be very suspicious of someone who claims repentance but is asking “well, what do you want me to do to prove it?” Answer: “go away and leave me and the children alone. Provide for us even if a court doesn’t order you to, and leave us alone.”
Zacchaeus didn’t ask. He didn’t have to. He knew. And he knew because he was a new creation.