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  ESV)

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?”

Zacchaeus didn’t ask. He didn’t have to. He knew. And he knew because he was a new creation.

[July 25, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to July 25, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to July 25, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to July 25, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (July 25, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


Further Reading

Zacchaeus Knew What to do — And so Will a Truly Repentant Person

Checklist for Repentance

Contriving a test to probe whether a hardened heart has repented (Is it always sinful to tell an untruth? — Part 3)

A sign of false repentance

How can I know if my abuser is changing?


UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.

45 thoughts on “Don’t Fall for the Abuser’s “Repentance” – Lessons from Zacchaeus”

  1. Jekyll’s just on honeymoon again, he’s such a romanticist: Why, he has had zillions of them, in between his spouse’s house of horrors nightmare in dealing with his alter-ego….

  2. Exactly right. He would (husband) apologize and ask what could he do, like I had to spell it out. Oh I fell for that for years. He’d try for a week then nothing really ever changed. But my heart did. I forgave and forgave because that was what I was taught. I was schooled well on being a victim and to never judge anyone. It’s only been here that I’ve been able to learn the truth. I never trusted myself and my own heart like so many women here. If he was really repentant he would have searched out himself what to do, not ask me for a formula. Good guidance here. Thank you.

  3. The first time I left my husband my baby was about 2 months old. He found me. He actually had someone call the number where I was saying to say that he was having a heart attack and that I needed to go to him, because it was very serious. I had heard that line before so I didn’t bite. He had a pastor call me at work and tell me that I was harming my husband by my unwillingness to reconcile, because he was ready to hang himself. This was on the night shift 12a.m. to 8 a.m.) No lie. A random pastor who knew neither he nor I, but had listened to his tale of woe. Then he found me, at the house where I was staying. He knelt down in front of me and sobbed with his head head on my knees, begging for forgiveness, telling me that other than his father, I was the only one who ever loved him, and he couldn’t go on without me. He promised to get whatever help he needed, go to a psychiatrist, that time I went back to him. I truly believed something good had happened. And I wanted to believe he had changed. The pastor that he had gone to told me that my husband had been forgiven and saved, and I had an obligation to accept that, with reconciliation. When I tried to tell the man what my husband had done, he said “sister, he has repented of that and it is forgiven. You must not talk about it. God doesn’t see that anymore. You have to let it go.” Again I was questioning myself. My own church (where he had told me I had to go, and said it was the only place he would never come with me), was supportive of me. This didn’t set well with him. They had said if I felt I needed to go to protect my children, then I could go, but I couldn’t consider remarriage, and that if it was just me he was abusing, that I could stay if I wanted to, to honor the covenant. (I already knew I didn’t matter. That sounded fair at the time.) He insisted that I go to his newfound church. “You need to submit to your husband.” So I went to the new church. The pastor was supposed to come to our house and give Bible lessons to my husband. I baked and got things ready for a Bible study, but the pastor forgot. He never did come by. Eventually I ended up in a shelter for the 2nd time. This time I did not return to him. But the sobbing, and the pleading made me think he had truly repented. Zaccheus had fruit. Now I know we have to look for the fruit meet for repentance.
    The kicker is, I really loved him, but he couldn’t give that back. I wanted to believe him.
    Thank you for this article, Pastor Jeff. I know I’m not the only one who’s ever taken in by this. His performance was Oscar winning. Really. Thanks for the warnings, so that others might be aware of tactics that never would have crossed their minds except for this web site.

    1. Once the vows of love are broken by a husband, the wife is not obligated to return to him, regardless of his repentance; his repentance is between him and God. Death of the marriage occurred with the breaking of the vows; it does not necessarily mean a physical death.

      1. TruthSerum – You stated in another comment that we did not publish (due to it being unclear) that lying is grounds for divorce. We need to be careful however about making statements like that without more clarity and qualification because that is just the kind of statement that the “permanence view” anti-divorce for any reason people will jump all over. “You people call everything abuse and encourage divorce for most anything.” That kind of thing you see. At ACFJ we maintain that abuse is grounds for divorce (along with adultery and desertion) and we VERY carefully define abuse (see the main page of our blog). Abuse is not one single sinful act like telling a lie. Abuse is ongoing. It is a mentality and it habitually uses evil tactics to control and punish its victims.

  4. Yes! I knew I needed to see true repentance which is demonstrated by true change, but my former pastor, his cronies on the consistory, and the counselors we went to, totally fell for the fake “I’m sorry now you have to forgive me, and even tho I won’t make any changes you have to pretend it’s all alright now” junk.

    1. Many church leaders are naive / lack wisdom / or are downright foolish in that they cannot or will not recognise and resist the tactics of abusers, especially the tactics abusers use to recruit them as allies. The boy’s club plays a big part here. So does the automatic presumption of male privilege (the double standard: one standard for men, another for women). Also the way Christians have been reading the Bible with blinkers on, viewing Scripture through a grille.

      Here is a post about this:
      The perspicuity of Scripture, and how some put a grille on the view

      1. This is what the biblical counseling courses promote. It is not just that we imagine that we can’t trust ourselves–we are taught that our heart is too sinful to trust, even after we become Christians. Once you can’t trust yourself and you know instinctively that you can’t trust others–your spouse or the pastor–where do you go? You pray, but God often doesn’t rescue you.Then you stuff the feelings–until they someday come out in some form, like depression. Then you will get an extra dose of condemnation because someone is sure to remind you that Christians are supposed to be joyful and you are dishonoring the Lord. Someone once told me that my life would have been better if I hadn’t been a Christian. I don’t agree–but I will say that others have been able to use the Bible to beat me up often!

  5. Hearing things like, “Who are you to judge a man’s heart?” or “Aren’t you trying to play Holy Spirit here?” is really hard to take. Forgive and forget…been there, done that. So tired of it.

    1. My husband says that a lot or will say “I’ve forgiven you. It’s easy for me. That’s the gospel”. I’m left thinking I’m an unforgiving, hard hearted person but then battle not accepting his abuse.

      1. When your husband says “I’ve forgiven you. It’s easy for me. That’s the gospel”, he is

        a) Lying and hiding his true state of mind. He is still harbouring secret grudges against you and those grudges will show their ugliness again when he chooses to let them show. His grudges are based on his (WRONG) belief in his superiority and his entitlement to control and have power over you. It is that entitlement mentality that is root problem in him. And he is deeply resistant to changing that.

        b) Manipulating you. His so called ‘forgiveness’ of you is just a manipulative act to make you think he is more righteous than you are, and to thus cast blame and shame on you.

  6. I think abusers also tend to “fish around” when they are talking to their victims, trying to get the victims to be the ones to say what the abusers need to be forgiven for. That way, if the victim doesn’t mention a specific act, the abuser thinks they are not accountable for changing in that specific area. This is just another manipulation on the part of the abuser, who is still calculating how much he / she can get away with and how much it is going to cost him / her to change. If true repentance had taken place, the abuser would not see everything as a “negotiation”, but would instead make changes freely and with the benefit of the victim as the primary goal.

    1. I think abusers also tend to “fish around” when they are talking to their victims, trying to get the victims to be the ones to say what the abusers need to be forgiven for.

      Oooh. Recently I had someone contact me who had lied to me. I said ‘you lied to me’ without specifics. He admitted and apologized, without specifics. I wonder if I had felt like continuing the conversation what he would have said.

  7. My husband said recently, “The man you’ve known for ten years (our whole marriage) has changed. I wish you could see it too. I’m not the same.” But he is. He has also recently said all the abuse boils down to miscommunication. He is minimizing the terrible things that have happened to ‘miscommunication’.

    1. Oh, Seeking Truth. I don’t have any grand insights, just empathy. I could have written this comment verbatim. Amazing!

  8. I never had to worry about sorting out between true and false repentance. Because my abuser never even pretended to repent, not even once. From a perspective of social power he didn’t need to—he simply lied to all his friends,his family, his workmates, people at his church, and even my own work colleagues that I was controlling, abusive, crazy etc. They all believed him, none of them ever spoke to me, and to this day they still condemn me for those terrible things they were told I did.

  9. I wanted to believe it was true repentance. Time proved it was false. I wanted desperately to believe that ‘he’ was sincere although I sensed it may not be true. The church increased the pain by putting the burden on me. I am now surrounded by several abusers making false claims of repentance so they can ‘feel’ good about themselves claiming they have done their part and now I must forgive and forget.
    Thank you for this excellent message from God’s Word.

  10. Reading Zacchaeus’ story, the rich young ruler comes to mind – the 2 men seem so different. The ruler comes to Jesus with smooth talking (“Good teacher..”) looking for a list to see what he needs to do to get what he wants. Jesus reminds him of the commandments he was raised with. I can almost see the man smile as he proclaims his compliance. Jesus sees and loves this man and points him to something more. The man’s face falls and he goes away sad, holding tight to his things and not seeming to grasp Jesus’ call to his heart.

  11. Do you think that being unwilling to love–to care about a spouse–is abuse? The Bible does say that it is sin not to do what one knows he or she should do. I struggle with calling it abuse, but I feel like I live in prison constantly waiting for some real sign of repentance.

  12. Also remember how Joseph made sure of his brothers he didn’t blindly trust them, they proved themselves, Joseph was the man! He could have used his power in a vengeful way, but he didn’t.

    1. Excellent, Jeff. I especially liked how you said this:

      Be very suspicious of someone who claims repentance but is asking ‘well, what do you want me to do to prove it?’

      Zacchaeus didn’t ask. He didn’t have to. He knew. And he knew because he was a new creation.

      God’s Spirit teaches us what we must do. Once Saul, who at one time killed Christians, was converted and never went back to killing Christians.

  13. A law about restitution in the Old Testament:

    The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the LORD by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely—in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby—if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him or the lost thing that he found or anything about which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt.

    And he shall bring to the priest as his compensation to the LORD a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent for a guilt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD, and he shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and thereby become guilty.
    (Leviticus 6:1-7 ESV)

    This law applied to financial abusers: thieves, robbers, fraudsters, etc.

    It lists examples of this kind of behavior:
    —deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security [e.g. the abuser lies about his assets in a child support claim]
    —if he has oppressed his neighbor [e.g. oppressed his wife and children]
    —if he has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely

    And the financial abuser must make restitution by paying back all that he took plus 20% more.

    Most churches today ignore this principle of restitution and just offer forgiveness to the abuser. “Christ died for you sins so they are atoned for…”

    How much wrath these churches and their leaders will face on that Day. They read their Bibles, but they read with veils over their eyes and hearts.

  14. What about a mother who is being abused by her son? I was not the best example for him because he watched me walk away from the group I had raised him in and lost my faith in the process. This group was the same ones you speak about, being submissive to your husband, even though he constantly had affairs and did not treat me with any respect. I now see this same pattern in my son. His Dad died several years ago and since then, he has tormented me mentally. I confesed my guilt to him, and now he uses every opportunity to exploit that. Then, he comes to me only when he needs something, saying he is sorry but it never lasts more than a day or two. He is now involved with a group who have constantly thrown up to me that I am supposed to forgive him and love conquers all. I know I am not handling this correctly because I see a pattern of it with even my friends. It is as if I have a tattoo on my forehead saying, please abuse me. I don’t know how to get out of this downward spiral. I am his mother but, I find that I am resenting him so much and don’t even want to be around him anymore. This is my son and now I feel guilty for that. A mother should not give up on her children, should they? He is a grown man now.

    1. What about a mother who is being abused by her son?

      It’s a good question! I encourage you to read this comment [This link is broken. Editors.] of mine. It has links to several posts which I think you may find helpful.
      And I also think you may find it helpful to read George Simon’s book How Did We End Up Here? [Affiliate link]

      It doesn’t matter who the person is or how we are related to them: if they are abusing us we do not have to feel obliged to put up with it. Your son is an adult and is making his own choices. And since he is choosing to abuse you, your resentment against him is understandable. In fact, it is a sign of your health that you are not content with being abused!

      You would not be ‘giving up on him’ to set firm boundaries against him — to do whatever it takes to set limits on how much he can interact with you, exploit you, manipulate you, etc. In fact, setting very firm boundaries against manipulators and abusers is the way to best love them: it indicates to the abuser that his conduct is unacceptable!

      Here is a post which is about a woman who left her abusive husband. But there may be things in it which can be applied to the situation with your son. I left him because I loved him

      1. Thank you so much! You are the first person to put it in a way that helped me. This has been the hardest thing I ever had to do by using tough love. It is not something I do easily because of how guilty I feel afterwards. Now, I see that my guilt was the wrong way to see this! I will go read these articles. I am so glad I found this site. I was actally looking for something else when I stumbled across this.

      2. Hi Tired,

        Fixing comments can’t be done by commenters once they have submitted their comment; however, the moderators can do edits on the backend. I fixed your screen name so it matches your other comments. Any other questions, feel free to email me at

      3. Hi Barbara, I have been reading the information here but, most of these children are still young. My son is in his late 30s. I sent an email to you just now. If it would help for me to send the text he sent me in the email, I can send that too. I am so grateful to have found this site. My health is really bad now and am trying to get ready for surgery. I can’t go into this without some peace. Thank you for all the time you spend with us.

    2. You’re not alone, Tired. I’ve lost three of my grown kids because they have abused me. I still have one son who hasn’t turned from the truth. He loves his Dad and I and wants to spend time with us. It is the only reason that I know it isn’t right what my other kids have done and I can stand strong against the abuse. The church will tell you (but not just the church, most people have turned from the truth in today’s world) that you must forgive them and love conquers all, but I know it’s not right because if I forgive them the abuse will continue and the love conquers all part, well it’s taken me six years to accept the fact that these kids don’t love us at all, and when love is one sided there is no conquering anything. That’s a hard fact to come to terms with.

      1. That is exactly what the many church members have said to me too, loading you with more guilt than you already were burdened with. I do empathize with you. I have my daughter. I am glad you have a son who stuck by you. Thank you for sharing.

  15. I am still reading the material here. I just wanted to acknowledge the receipt of the email you replied to that I sent and say thank you. It helped to see you break it down into sections and reply to each one. Thank you again.

  16. Great post. Responding to Abby and Tired.

    I’m in the same position–no relationship with most of my adult children. This wasn’t supposed to happen…if I followed all the rules and sacrificed my life for my family I was told that I would be enjoying the fruits of my labor–and that society would benefit from them as well. Lies, lies, and more lies keeping us working like monsters only to realize that it was for naught.

    Things I wish I’d been taught–TRUE things I wish I’d been taught:

    1) Not all humans are capable of loving others –and what this means– how they are always only playing games with other humans cuz they, like their father the devil’s fate has already been determined because, “These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations...” Isaiah 66:3. I was NEVER taught this biblical truth and I certainly wasn’t allowed to believe it once I discovered its relevance. The church community tried to KEEP me from believing it but God has shown me the truth of it all — in His word and in my life.

    2) Being well-behaved with good manners and articulating words perfectly are simply another means that abusers use to make us feel they have a right to judge us…and waste precious brain cells too. I wish I’d spent time with the few people I’ve known over the years who do have a conscience and have been through hard times. This would’ve been time well spent. They didn’t even notice that I didn’t display perfect behavior or pronounce every word just right. Unfortunately we were all going through the same honing process and didn’t realize it and we were in the midst of raising the many children we couldn’t afford or figure out how to guide because none of the Christian books we read explained it so we were just trying anything thinking if we just did MORE, all would be well.

    3) Marriage and children are not God’s plan for everyone. Jesus didn’t say that we needed to have kids in order to please Him. He did forewarn us that when the end times comes it will be hard on nursing mothers. And Jesus (in His word) is always about our individual relationship with Him and God and how we are to view Him and how we are to view our biological families. Matthew 12:50. And if He does put it on your heart to marry, there’s no hurry…no pressure, He’ll guide you.

    If I had to do it all over again my life would be COMPLETELY different and as a result I would not be the person I am today. I’m NOT saying I’m grateful that I am this person just that I WOULDN’T be who I am if I were given the chance to change it all. So that means that any of the hard, hard, SUPER HARD wisdom that I have been forced to learn is in spite of what I want and thus it only comes from GOD himself, so if it blesses anyone else — you can thank HIM. I would’ve high-tailed it YEARS ago and found a nice cave to live in with maybe God sending some food on the wings of a dove or some silly thing like He does. And I’d remind him every time He visited me, that He was to tell NO ONE where I was — that I need several decades of no emotional and spiritual rape in order to be well rested enough to be prepared to be around other humans. I’ve been sucked so dry from them all!

    So there’s my Christmas card! (I stopped doing Xmas cards YEARS ago…another of the social norms that kept me feeling guilty and like I needed to do more and more). I would LOVE to receive a card in the mail like this…I would laugh and cry and be amazed that somebody else got it… and I would hold onto them and love them.

    1. Anonymous, ditto here!

      It is so hard to find someone that understands the truth as we know it.

      That REAL evil arrives in the form of two legged humans and feigns to be good.
      Its plan is to do maximum damage, before the target finally escapes.

      I’ve learned one good thing from being exposed to my abuser for decades….

      That is an awareness of the forms of subtleties that evil people use to try to dupe us into trusting them when they really have malicious intentions.
      I can smell it like a bloodhound now, and it gives me the heads up on perpetrators.

      This is the only place I’ve found where evil is constantly being exposed for what it is, while the Liberty and the Truth of Christ is continuously proclaimed to those who need to hear it.

    2. Anonymous, I’ve appreciated how you’ve progressively awakened and become empowered and emboldened to speak truth since you’ve been commenting on this site. It’s been good to witness, from the sidelines.

      All the lies you were coerced to believe and conform to for years, have wasted so much time of your life. But in the New Heavens and New Earth which God has promised to those who believe in Him (and He never fails to keep His promises), you’ll have eternity to enjoy and relish in the truth and the blessings He bestows on those He has adopted. Ah, the ineffable mystery and marvellous majesty of our Triune God!

      What I’m trying to say is that all the anger and regret you feel about how a lot of your life was wasted in the mouse-wheel of obeying lies will be swallowed up in unspeakable joy eternal when the Lord returns and winds up time and space like a scroll, bringing in the New Heavens and New Earth.

  17. Wow. This is so right on. My abuser, who also manipulated churches and church organizations, selected a heavy on grace church to do his “repentance” and reconciliation in. We had been serving our church denomination overseas, so we had no American congregation that we were actively a part of. I now wonder if he knew he could manipulate the pastor in the church that took us in. Even after swindling and robbing, he was only asked to return money (a relatively small amount considering) to one of the groups he stole from. I repeat that he was asked, he did not volunteer. I wanted to return all the money and was willing to clear our accounts to do so. My conscience so burdened me that I carried his guilt around. I was surprised that he did not feel the same burden. I was assured that, after he went through all of the steps of repentance and counseling, he would be forever changed and a trophy for God, yet I saw all kinds of signs that he wasn’t, no matter what his overseers saw. You nailed it here. His heart was still for himself, prestige, his goals, his reputation etc…. There was no voluntary anything. He did what he was told until he had proved himself enough to his overseers and then, when cleared, went right back to doing what he wanted. I makes my heart break to look back on it.

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