Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Don't Fall for the Abuser's "Repentance" — Lessons from Zacchaeus

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.


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  1. walkinginlight

    I was just reading this in Luke 19 last night reflecting on the “fruits of repentance”. Two of my abusers did not think that they needed to “do” anything to restore the relationship with me. They stole from me and slandered me yet looked away as if nothing happened. And then one of them after a year actually said to me “what can I do to make it up to you”? I said read Luke 19 and then get back with me. Never heard from him since. That was nine months ago. I DO know that if someone is truly sorry, they would not need to ask “what should they do to make it right”. If they are truly a born again Christian the Holy Spirit would place it on their heart what the “right thing” to do would be. Thank you for this Pastor Crippen.

  2. Aubri

    Yes, abusers always think that just by saying something like “I have changed” they have then done all they need to. Great to hear from this perspective to be reminded that repentance is turning away from the sin completely and making amends not spouting false promises or statements — true repentance exists in obvious changed behaviour and a genuine desire to follow Jesus instead of the old ways.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Yep! And a real repentance doesn’t require being told or pressured by people to do right. Lots of “Christian “ counseling is totally botched at this point.

      • Hmmm…
        Could you make the case that Zaccheus was an abuser of his countrymen?. Certainly a financial abuser.
        Not sure of all of the implications of that thought, but I’m going to think on it.

  3. no one down here

    Thank you so much. Again… really great timing.
    James exhorts his readers to go ahead and show their faith without works… kinda like a dare… because faith without works is dead. If faith is made evident and obvious by a person’s works, then repentance will be the same. If there was no faith in the beginning, which is known because of the abuse… then true, genuine, repentant, saving faith will have to show up in order for true repentance to be possible.
    Clarity and discernment are precious gifts.

  4. Change Agent

    This also reinforces your previous post on forgiveness . Forgiving doesn’t mean returning to the relationship, particularly when there’s no evidence of repentance. J

    • Jeff Crippen

      Arrogance is at the root of so many of these false teachings. As Paul said in Romans- “are we to continue in sin that grace might abound?” And yet that is exactly what so many preachers are teaching.

      • Stormy

        Thank you Pastor Crippen the false Christian leaders,—abusers —that were so abusive to me have never apologized, even when they had ample opportunities to do so in private conversations with me.
        It never once has crossed their mind over many years.
        No self reflection. No humility, No willingness, no compassion, no empathy—nothing—nada—zilch!!!
        What are they doing to their children? What do they do to their spouses? Their coworkers? Their parents? Their neighbors?
        I believe they wreck havoc every where they go. They stir up divisions, they triangulate, they manipulate, they rob, steal and destroy the peace of all those they come in contact with.
        They are of their father the devil.

  5. Change Agent

    Those of us who have suffered through spiritual abuse among other types recognize our attackers and their deception. However, our focus is on healing while theirs is assault. We don’t judge our worth by our circumstances or other’s opinions.

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