Ep. 454 The Risky Business of Looking for Change In Someone

The Risky Business of Looking for Change In Someone

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Shows Main Idea – A friend asked on our private forums whether you can tell if someone has changed. Of course, you cannot know in the ultimate sense—not at the heart level. I told my friend it would be unwise to focus on whether a person has changed since you cannot know for sure. Biblical counselors make this mistake too often, even at times releasing a person from counseling when they can never honestly know if they have changed. Alternately, it would be better to focus on better things while laying out better expectations and plans for those you’re discipling.

Show Notes

You may want to read:

Did They Change?

  • Malcolm Gladwell: Talking to Strangers
  • Biblical counseling is a sub-biblical process of soul care. If you’re beholding to an exclusive biblical counseling model, you’ll run into many problems, one of which is looking for change during the brief window of time you’re meeting with a person.
    • Repentance is a gift of God, not a guarantee during the counseling season.
    • You will look for signs of change, never knowing if the person has changed at the heart level.
    • You might release the person too soon, thinking they have changed because of what you see—what they present to you.
    • Any person can manipulate the change process by appearing to have changed.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

Water and Plant

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6).

  • The counselor’s job is to water and plant while trusting God will bring change, but you can’t measure that heart change until more time than the counseling season has passed. You need an intentional, protracted discipleship process.

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Case Study

  • Biff commit adultery. Mable has two options: divorce or reconciliation.
  • Mable wants to know if Biff has changed. The counselor says he sees signs, e.g., humility, teachability, new habits, etc. (But has he changed? You cannot know for sure because anyone could practice new things during a short season.)
  • Mable says if he has changed, she will pursue reconciliation. Do you see a problem here? She is placing primary faith in Biff. (E.g., Biff can stand on his head for six months if that is the formula for reconciliation.)
  • But has Biff changed? What are his problems?
    • Adultery: (most acute, but the tip of the iceberg—not the main problem)
    • Deception: An habituation of lies, deception, dishonesty, lack of transparency, always presenting his representative for public scrutiny and acceptance while living a lie.
    • Dull to hard conscience: Ongoing twisting and exchanging the truth for a lie will detach the person from God’s Word, desensitizing them to truth.
    • Patterns of behavior: You’ll find patterns of lies, reputation management, manipulations, and more—reaching back for decades.
    • Lifetime of shaping influences: Worldviews and habits have captured his soul, habituating him into a life of deceit and vice.
  • The change that people will measure will be amputate-able things, not mortification things.
  • They will not see and cannot measure the mortification sins, which are the multi-decade influences that led to adultery.

Wrongheaded Faith

  • The most apparent problem in this scenario is its human-centered nature. Everyone is looking horizontally, (1) measuring fallen humans, (2) assessing human depravity (3) through the lens of a fallen filter to see if there is any evidence of change so they can proceed with divorce or reconciliation.
    • It’s fallen people measuring fallen people to see if they can reconcile.
  • The first question Mable has to ask is about God.
    • Is she “in faith” to move forward? I’m talking about faith in God, not faith in what Mable and her counselors see in Biff.
    • She not only has wrongheaded faith, but her counselors are commending her wrongheaded faith.
    • Everyone is looking for Biff to prove he has changed so they can determine if this is a risk worth taking.
  • Mable needs to determine what God would have her do because she cannot trust Biff.
    • Does she believe it’s the right thing to do to restore the marriage?
    • Perhaps Mable will discover he has not changed and have to divorce him.
    • Maybe she should divorce him now?
    • These are weighty decisions, but she cannot place the weight (faith) of her decision on Biff’s behavior.

Direct Video Messages


  1. We cannot truly know if a person has changed.
  2. There is external and internal change. The first is easier to discern; we don’t know the thoughts and intentions of a person’s heart—where all change must happen.
  3. Biblical counseling is not the best approach for long-term change because it’s a short-term process.
  4. Creating a discipleship context, ad infinitum, is the best approach to help a person or couple.
  5. Anyone can appear to change for a short season.
  6. Only God can grant repentance.
  7. The determination to fight for the relationship begins with “faith in God,” not “faith in the supposed change” of the offender.

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