One of the most difficult aspects of breaking the cycle of abuse lies in a woman’s ability to properly identify what is happening to her as abuse in the first place. However, even when she can begin to describe her husband’s behavior as abusive, a new struggle for discernment of the truth begins.
In our post on false recoveries, we talked about how the cycle of abuse keeps women locked in confusion, as they experience episodes of violent anger followed by periods of seeming recovery. I mean, knowing whether or not a man is changing seems so subjective, right? And when an abused woman is groomed to distrust her own thoughts, she is vulnerable to bouts of doubt and panic.
Thankfully, the Bible offers us a very descriptive account of what true change and repentance looks like, taking what seems subjective and creating a standard by which women can properly assess what’s really going on.
Godly Sorrow vs. Worldly Sorrow
In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul describes a situation in which he had to write a serious letter to the Corinthians regarding a division in their church. There had arisen a leader who opposed Paul and was leading the flock away with false teachings.
Paul was anxious about whether or not the Corinthians would take a stand against this rebel and instead choose to be reconciled to him. To his joy, Paul discovered that though the letter had brought the Corinthians sorrow for what had happened, that sorrow ultimately led them to repentance and reconciliation with Paul.
In these verses, Paul introduces the concept of godly sorrow. Paul says the Corinthians “were made sorry in a godly manner,” (v. 9) and that “godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation” (v. 10, NKJV). But further in verse 10, Paul warns of the opposing force of worldly sorrow when he says, “but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
What Does Godly Sorrow Look Like?
Paul is very descriptive when he tells us about the changes he observed in the repentant Corinthians. Of their godly sorrow, he says, “What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication!" (v. 11).
Diligence. Clearing. Indignation. Fear. Vehement desire. Zeal. Vindication. With strong words like that, there’s no question that these Corinthians had made a complete 180!
Godly sorrow changed the hearts of these believers. It brought them a diligence to seek and walk in Truth. The recognition of the complete clearing of guilt by God’s grace. An indignation against the sin they were dealing with. Fear of the Lord over the gravity of the problem. Vehement desire to see wrongs made right. Zeal for living in a way so as to uphold righteousness. Vindication in obedience and submission to the Lord.
These words are full of energy. Commitment. Discipline. They are a definitive standard by which we can identify whether godly sorrow is present, by the fruit it produces via the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life.
Identifying Worldly Sorrow
Conversely, we can understand what worldly sorrow looks if we replace the powerful descriptors of godly sorrow in this passage with their opposing counterparts. Diligence is replaced with complacency. Clearing with shame. Indignation with placation. Fear with pride. Vehement desire with lukewarmness. Zeal with “doing just enough.” Vindication with defeat.
Notice the difference in the vibe now? These are all words that describe how the enemy keeps us trapped. Trapped in sin, trapped in mediocrity.
Worldly sorrow leads to death because it refuses to submit to the transformative work of the Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can truly change us, but we have to be willing to let Him. And let me tell you, worldly sorrow isn’t interested in change. It’s all about getting by and doing enough just to get out of trouble. Worldly sorrow seeks to keep the status quo, tempting us to do things our own way, in our own strength.
So the next time you wonder if your husband is really changing, seek wise counsel and review his behaviors through the lens of 2 Corinthians 7. Change is a process, but what we can trust is the Holy Spirit wastes no time with a heart that is willing.
Do you have any thoughts on rightly discerning the truth in a situation such as this? We’d love to hear about it. Would you leave us a comment?
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