“Please don’t cut off all contact with me. If you do there will be no chance of reconciling, and I want to change. I’m serious. What if I change and you’ve closed the door on our marriage?”
We’ve all heard these words like these from our Disloyal Spouse, or if we are the Disloyal Spouse, we’ve said something to this effect to our Loyal Spouse, and with those words the Loyal plunges into a sea of confusion and uncertainty. What if their spouse DOES change? What if they HAVE ALREADY changed? What if they are in the process of changing? Should I forgive them? How can I tell if they mean it or if they are just saying it to get what they want?
The way to tell if a person has really changed or not is outlined for us in Ephesians 4, specifically starting with verses 22-24:
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” – Ephesians 4:22-24
In this chapter, Paul itemizes for us the four steps involved in TRUE change (transformation):
- Put off your former way of life–your old self –vs. 22.
- Be made new in your mind –vs. 23.
- Put on a new life that is like God–true righteousness and true holiness –vs. 24.
- You’ll a demonstration of the change in the way you live –25-32.
This is also true for the person who was formerly a cheater and has now had a true transformation in their attitude and life. They will also go through all four of these steps and all four will be observable and obvious.
First, they will “put off their former way of life”, so if they were formerly a flirt or they watched porn or they met others through chat rooms, they will STOP THAT. If your Disloyal is telling you that they’ve changed will still engaging in their affair or still going to the internet to chat for hours, then they have not really changed. The very first step is to stop doing what they used to do.
But just stopping the activity is not enough. Imagine a person who is an alcoholic. If all they do is stop putting liquor to their lips and swallowing, they haven’t changed inside. They haven’t changed their minds, their thoughts, their attitudes toward alcohol at all! So the second step in authentic change is to actually change your MIND–renew it. We have to change what we think (the words and when, etc.), and this will change our attitude, which is our “set way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior.” When a Disloyal is sincere in their change, they will not only stop being unfaithful, but will also change the way they think about infidelity and they will change what infidelity means to them. Whereas they used to see unfaithfulness as “fun” and “exciting” and “enjoyable” they will have renewed their minds and said “STOP” every time they thought of their Affair Partner and instead replaced it with the truth about the AP: they lack character and morals! And whereas they used to think of their spouse as “a nag” and “a prude” and “controlling” they will have renewed their minds and said “STOP” every time they thought like that and replaced it with the truth about their spouse: they were deeply hurt and still had the courage and grace to hang in there!
Now right about here, a lot of Loyal Spouses are fooled, because often a Disloyal can convince their Loyal Spouse that they have stopped talking to or spending time with their AP, and they can even say the right words that seem to indicate their attitude toward adultery has changed. But Loyal Spouses–word of warning! Stopping the behavior and saying words that seem like the thinking has changed IS NOT ENOUGH to indicate true, repentant change. The third step is a necessary condition. Verse 24 tells us that true repentance (true change) requires that they also put on a new self.
Finally, if Paul had left it at that, we might have been left to wonder what he meant or had to speculate about what “new self” he was asking us to model, but Paul didn’t do that. He gave us four practical illustrations of what it means to truly put off, renew, and put on a new self:
- The lying person not only stops his/her lying, but s/he begins to speak the truth–vs. 25.
- The thief not only stops taking from people, but s/he does something useful with his/her hands and becomes a giver–vs. 28.
- The person who swore and tore down with his/her words stops their crudeness and begins to build others up with their tongue–vs. 29.
- The harsh, angry, malicious person puts his/her bitterness away, and starts spreading kindness wherever s/he goes–vs. 31.
We can see that the person is doing 180 degrees the opposite of what they used to be doing, and more importantly, the person has taken the time for their life to demonstrate, through their behavior and actions, that they are DIFFERENT!
So we have a guide for telling when a Disloyal Spouse has had a real change. When you see all four steps, then you know that things are truly different and the repentance is honest. If you see that they have stopped committing adultery; if they have renewed their mind and how they think about their spouse and marriage; if they have put on a new self and it is 180 degrees the opposite of what they were doing; and if they invest the time to demonstrate in their life the new way of behaving…then it is real. If you don’t see all four steps, then it’s not real change.