Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Saul – A Case Study in False Repentance

As anyone familiar with the mentality and tactics of the abuser knows, false repentance is a common ploy of such people.   They can be very convincing.  They have changed.  What they did was wrong, but they are finished with it forever.  If their victim will only forgive them, all will be well.  So it is vital that all of us – victims, Christians, pastors, counselors – become wise and discerning rather than naive and foolishly trusting.
King Saul was an abusive man.  I think that is safe to say.  Anyone so jealous that he would launch a spear at one of their most loyal subjects certainly qualifies for the abuser label.  And Saul played the “repentance” card very well.  It didn’t work, of course, because he was trying to deceive the Lord Himself by deceiving the prophet Samuel.

Trying to fool God is never a really good idea!   Here is the account of just one of Saul’s attempts at convincing everyone he was really, really sorry.  For the full account, read the entire 15th chapter of 1 Samuel.  Also, you will find another very similar event in 1 Samuel 13.

1 Samuel 15:7-9 “And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. (8) And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. (9) But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction.” 
1 Samuel 15:13-15 “And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the LORD. I have performed the commandment of the LORD.” (14) And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” (15) Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the LORD your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.””
1 Samuel 15:19-25 “Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the LORD?” (20) And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the LORD. I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. (21) But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.” (22) And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. (23) For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.” (24) Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. (25) Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may worship the LORD.””
1 Samuel 15:30 “Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the LORD your God.”” 

“I have sinned.”  I find it very instructive that King David used the very same words when he was confronted by the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12).  In David’s case, these words flowed from a truly repentant heart.  But this shows us that words alone are not enough.  Saul whipped off the same phrase – “I have sinned.”
How can we discern the difference between true and false repentance?  While ultimately, only God can know the human heart, He has given us some very good traits to watch for when evaluating a professed repentance.  What do we see in Saul in these verses?

  • Saul’s ACTIONS revealed the counterfeit nature of his “obedience” – not his words. Saul claimed he had obeyed the Lord’s command.  By his actions, he showed that he had no intention of doing so.  We need to look at the hard data. What does it show?  By their fruits you will know them, not by their words.
  • Saul’s supposed “obedience” to the Lord was entirely motivated by indulging his own selfish desires.  He kept the best of the spoil for himself.  He destroyed what was worthless.  Self, self, self.  It will always be evident in spite of the abuser’s emotional and pitiful expressions of supposed repentance.
  • “Blessed be the Lord” were his words to Samuel.  Pathetic!  The abusive person who is using religion as his facade loves to use “Christian-ese” talk.  Praise the Lord!  May the Lord bless you!  Amen!  It is nauseating.  Saul had no intention of blessing the Lord.
  • Saul had no problem re-writing the facts of the case.  No matter that the evidence was “bleating” noisily.  Oh, no.  Saul insisted that he had done God’s will.  Abusers, especially sociopaths, do this all the time.  Black and white, objective facts are no problem to them.  We can be hearing and seeing plain and obvious evidence to the contrary of what the abuser is claiming, but he will still insist that we believe his interpretation and NOT believe our own senses.  This is part of the crazy-making tactic.  Of course, Samuel didn’t go crazy!
  • Saul is a liar.  He claims that the only reason they spared the best of the spoil was to sacrifice it to the Lord.  Hogwash!  Once more we see the abuser hiding behind religion.  Without conscience, such a person can lie to the Lord Himself.
  • And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the LORD. I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. (21) But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.”  Once more, Saul is lying.  No amount of facts are going to make him tell the truth.  He is working hard to make Samuel think that Samuel is the one who is wrong here.  Saul is playing the victim – “Samuel, you are falsely accusing me!”  And notice now the blame-shifting.  It’s the people’s fault.  They did it.   All of these tactics betray the truth – Saul is in NO WAY repentant. He will once again blame the people – he did this all because he was afraid of the people.  Poor Saul.

And now the really obvious and common evidence of false repentance –

(25) Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may worship the LORD.”
1 Samuel 15:30 “Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the LORD your God.””

See it?  Coupled with his supposed confession of his sin, Saul insists that Samuel get him out of the consequences.  Saul is only concerned about Saul!  “…yet honor me now before the elders of my people…”.   Real repentance never uses this kind of language.
Notice also how Samuel deals with Saul.  He is firm.  He doesn’t buy any of Saul’s claims of sorrow or repentance.  He looks to Saul’s actions, not to his words.  He demands what the Lord demands – real obedience to God’s commandments.  Where that is lacking, there is no repentance.
When an abuser claims he is sorry, you will often hear these kinds of additions to his “repentance” –

  • I’m sorry, I was wrong, but….
  • I’m sorry.  Now you must forgive me.
  • I’m sorry.  I am really changing.
  • I’m sorry.  I am really changing, and it is very cruel of you not to admit it.
  • I’m sorry.  But you are making me out to be worse than I really am.
  • I’m sorry.  But you really don’t understand why I did it.

Real repentance shuts its mouth.  Real repentance has nothing more to say in addition to “I have sinned.”  Real repentance makes no demands.  Real repentance accepts the consequences.  Real repentance is only evident over time.  Words are cheap and easy. Tears can be turned on quite readily.  Gifts are not that hard to purchase as peace offerings.  We must insist that abusers bring forth fruit in keeping with their claimed repentance.  Until they do, we best assume that they remain a brood of vipers.  John the Baptist would say “Amen” to that.


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  1. Riley

    Thank you for this. All the abusers I know do this. Seems to be a theme among megachurch-high profile leaders/pastors as well.
    And I think it’s instructive for us as well. If we are apologizing, don’t say “but” and don’t make excuses. I think this is an especially important thing to model for our children.

  2. IamMyBeloved’s

    Repentance is a changing of one’s mind to agree with God 1) of their need for a Savior and forgiveness of their sin or after salvation, 2) that their behavior is ungodly and then they seek to change their behavior accordingly, to line up with God’s Word and His desires. This is why only true believers are able to truly repent and change. Otherwise, you simply have self-will or mind over matter at work. Lasting change only happens when our thoughts line up with God’s will.
    Repentance is not “I’m sorry” or even groveling over their sin, it’s changing their mind about their sinful behavior. So when an abuser ushers in all his “I’m sorry” agenda, the real proof of his sorrow and repentance comes in the form of changing his mind and behaving in a way that reveals that change of mind. Example: a repentant abuser will not continue to oppress his victim mentally, financially or otherwise. He will not continue to seek to destroy his victim or blame her for his actions, because he has changed his mind and agrees with God that HIS behavior is sinful and unacceptable. He won’t focus on his victim’s behavior. If he loves God, He will seek to be as God would have him be in his actions. Even though these changes may take time, no one should believe his words until his actions begin lining up with his words. If his mind has really changed (repentance), then his actions will follow.
    When we change our minds, our actions and behavior will line up, because what a person thinks and believes dictates their behavior and actions.

  3. Seeing it

    I have and am experiencing this very thing. The abuser has delivered numerous assaults and still professes his unquestionable devotion to and similar love as the Lord, his innocence, and his standup conduct as a self-righteous believer – as he pulverized me in the divorce caused by his abuse, stalked, had people lie to the DA and also follow me. More heart wrenching is the church body that turned on me, stood by the abuser’s lies and him as I have spent years trying to heal, surgery included, from his abuse. I had forgiven the abuser over and over again only to have his physical assaults become more violent and his concealment and public “show” tactics become more blanketed by his choice to deceive. The tactics are so old, and effective. The veil is lifted and I am seeing their deception works on those who refuse to stand firm.

    • Jeff Crippen

      People who support these evil abusers participate in that evil – just as your church has done. You are very courageous. Stand firm and may the Lord protect and bless you.

  4. walkinginlight

    I remember way back my anti-husband would scream “I’m sorry” at me and actually think I should accept it as a true apology! His screaming at me just showed that he felt he had to be in charge, and put me as low man on the totem pole. I did not accept his so called apology when he did that. I also told him I would not accept a glib “I’m sorry” either. I let him know that he would have to acknowledge what it was that he did to me, and say “would you please forgive me”? Of course they were all just words to him. His actions never lined up with his professions. After awhile I saw him for the liar and manipulator that he is. True sorrow will always show fruits of repentance.

    • Innoscent

      I also got those angry ‘I’m sorry’ from the abusive ex-husband, which are only empty words to shut down any reproof from you. I’m glad you saw through his manipulation.
      When I challenged him to show fruits of repentance, his argument was that no matter how hard he tried because when he’d fail at some stage, I’d be at him again. Hence he made me look like I was exacting and so responsible for his chronic failures.

  5. Innoscent

    “I’m sorry” in abusers’ mouth is only a magic formula, and no wonder king Saul ended up visiting a witch. If truly sorry Saul would have showed true contrition when being reproved, specifically stated his wrongs (pride, lack of faith, harshness, denial, blindness, etc.) and then demonstrated genuine fruits of repentance.
    Before failing this test of obedience to God’s requirements during the battle against the Amalekites, he had already failed the previous tests. And this is what the church doesn’t factor in about abusers, that their perversity is an ingrained mindset and behaviour.
    Church leaders/folks refuse to take into account the years of horror victims have gone through and minimize it all preferring a scenario of forgiveness towards abusers for a ‘happy ending’. But Samuel didn’t get fooled by Saul. And so shouldn’t the church be by Sauls among them.
    In a phone conversation, one elder told me about my then-husband who reported to him how he (husband) was obviously very upset about our difficulties and crying. The elder was fooled by crocodile tears and whatever I’d say to expose the abuse had no weight.
    Thank you Jeff for being like a Samuel among us.

  6. JKR

    I’m always blown away by how EFFECTIVE the tearful, sometimes sobbing “I’m Sorry!” performance can be with so many people.

    Then, if it’s not the “You need to forgive your wife because WE’RE ALL SINNERS” guilt trip thrown at the victim immediately after, then it’s also the “love covers a multitude of sins” exclamation point to drive home the strong suggestion that “You just need to forgive and forget and move on already!”

    Why is it always the victim that has to show their forgiveness of the abuser IMMEDIATELY or else but not the abuser who has to show the victim their changed behavior IMMEDIATELY?

    That being said, I’m curious, HOW LONG is “long enough” to wait and see if there are true and lasting fruits of genuine repentance?

    I realize that every person and each situation is unique and different given the circumstances, but is there any data at all that sheds some light on roughly how long a victim should wait before determining if they’ll ever see changed behavior from the abuser following their “I’m so sorry! It will never happen again!” claims?

    Heartbroken, Numb, & Tired,

    • If you want to know what your future with such a person is going to be like just look at how it is now and in the past. In other words these kind never repent and never change.


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