It is important to know the difference between true and false repentance. False repentance is a tactic used by many deceivers, abusers, and predators in order to enable their destructive behavior to continue. My new book, Hypocrisy Exposed, has a whole chapter on this topic, using King Saul as a primary example. Check out the excerpt below:
King Saul was Israel’s first king, and he started off on the right track. He was anointed by Samuel the prophet, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. He had great military victories early on, conquering the Philistines and bringing deliverance to Israel. But over time, he began to disobey the Lord and exalt himself. God removed His hand from him and began to seek out and raise up a king who would carry His heart and follow His will. The Holy Spirit departed from Saul, and he came under torment from an evil spirit.
Through sovereign circumstances, David was anointed by Samuel to be the next king, though he would not assume the throne for many years. The Holy Spirit was upon David, and he brought Goliath down in an epic victory for Israel. He ended up in Saul’s court as a trusted warrior, armor bearer, and psalmist. But Saul’s insecurity and irrational jealousy, along with demonic torment, got the best of him. He became paranoid about David seeking the throne, even though he was a loyal subject of Saul. Saul sought to kill David on several occasions; and fearing for his life, David fled from the palace.
Saul, along with an Israelite army of 3,000 people, continued to pursue David to the point that David ended up hiding out in caves. In a providential turn of events, Saul ended up in a vulnerable place in a cave where David had the opportunity to kill him. But instead, David simply cut off a piece of Saul’s robe without him realizing it. David later called out to him and showed him the piece of robe, proving his loyalty to Saul. Saul’s response is recorded below:
So it was, when David had finished speaking these words to Saul, that Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. Then he said to David: “You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with evil. And you have shown this day how you have dealt well with me; for when the Lord delivered me into your hand, you did not kill me. For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him get away safely? Therefore may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. And now I know indeed that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. Therefore swear now to me by the Lord that you will not cut off my descendants after me, and that you will not destroy my name from my father’s house.” So David swore to Saul. And Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold. (1 Samuel 24:16-22)
At first glance, Saul’s apology seems very sincere, and his repentance appears genuine. But this did not turn out to be true repentance. How do I know? Simply put, Saul did not change. Not long after this incident, Saul was back to hunting for David’s life. His apology contained all the right words, and he even wept. But the right words and a display of emotion in themselves do not signify repentance; a changed life does. Tears often accompany true repentance, but they are not the indication that the repentance is sincere. The fruit of genuine repentance is a change of heart and a change of behavior. As with Saul, be aware that the “right” words and even tears can accompany false repentance.
In this situation, Saul was backed into a corner and had to save face. His whole army knew that David was loyal, and he could not deny that David had acted in character and honor by not taking his life. In a masterful act, he quickly turned on the performance of what appeared to be a sincere, repentant heart. Whether consciously or subconsciously, he was simply doing what needed to be done in the moment. But once the moment passed, he was right back to his irrational jealousy and murderous ways.
Notice also that Saul’s apology was laced with a selfish intention: “Therefore swear now to me by the Lord that you will not cut off my descendants after me, and that you will not destroy my name from my father’s house” (1 Samuel 24:21). A repentant person does not seek to gain anything from their apology. There are no strings attached and it is not on their terms. But an apology like Saul’s can actually be a form of manipulation in disguise.
To a habitual hypocrite, chronic abuser, or narcissist, an apology is simply another method of manipulation. They minimize, justify, or deny their sinful actions. Only when backed into a corner will they admit wrong and apologize. But the apology is not usually sincere, and it is without repentance. It becomes a manipulative tool: I apologized, now let it go. Everybody sins; nobody’s perfect. You are so unforgiving; didn’t I say I was sorry? Instead of a sincere expression of sorrow, an apology is a way to pressure the other person into not holding them accountable for their actions. It is a way to move on and pretend like nothing ever happened, without experiencing any consequences. This twists the biblical teaching on forgiveness and manipulates the person into feeling guilty if they do not comply.
Chronic hypocrites have a plank in their own eye, but insist in pointing out the speck in yours (see Matthew 7:3-5). This keeps the spotlight off of their glaring sins, and keeps the ones who actually want to please God feeling condemned. They accuse and judge, while insisting on not being judged themselves. When caught red-handed or left without another option, they will have to move into apology mode in order to save face or manipulate the circumstances in their favor. This tactic is often used by domestic abusers to keep the cycle of abuse going. The victim offers forgiveness and has a glimmer of hope at what appears to be sincere repentance. But as with King Saul, the abuse will soon continue.