Repentance and Transformation


Jesus is the one who removes our heart wounds.

A video I saw the other day spoke powerfully to me about repentance and transformation. Available at the Jesus Tattoo website, the video has stirred controversy because of the image of tattoos on Jesus’s body. I’m seeing lots of comments, both positive and negative, on friends’ Facebook feeds as well as on articles about the video. I love that this video is challenging people to really think about who Jesus is and how they perceive Him. People are opening their mouths (well, their typing fingers) and speaking about who and what Christ is to them.

Although I understand why some people oppose the video, I also know that it reached into my heart and enriched my faith and understanding in a mighty way.


What I want to write about is not the video itself but some beliefs that the video communicated, beliefs that grabbed at me in a new way because of the visual presentation. I need to describe the video as it provides a context for what I really want to say, so please bear with me.

The video shows Jesus as a tattoo artist. We see Him at the beginning of the day, with a naked and completely unblemished back. He heads to the tattoo shop, where He transforms people’s tattoos. These tattoos are words that represent the marks that life has left on our hearts. We hear the words, “All of us have been marked. As time passes, life leaves its etchings on our minds, our body, even our soul. These markings come to define us, our place in society, how we perceive ourselves….” We see words like invisible, useless, fear, outcast, and depressed. The tattoos people bring in are marks that have been inked on them by their life experiences. They are the words that people often keep hidden in their hearts, unspoken but carried with them always.

Jesus reaches to each person, touching the tattoo and looking the person in the eyes. Then He bends over the tattoo with a tattoo gun. He transforms the ink into positive words, like confident, purposeful, and trust. At the end of the video, Jesus turns His back to us and removes His shirt. On His back are all the markings that He removed from people that day.

The visuals had a strong and sudden impact on me and sharpened my understanding of three beliefs:

  1. I must choose to bring myself to Jesus to ask for my markings, my baggage, the weight of my life to be removed. I have to walk through the door myself; He isn’t going to drag me in.
  2. Jesus truly took my sins and markings to the cross with Him. He took on my sins and transforms me.
  3. A personal relationship with Jesus really is personal, with Him looking into my eyes and truly seeing me.

I spend a lot of time pondering the process of healing from sexual gate-keeping and refusing, and seeing these three beliefs helped me think about that process in my own marriage more deeply.

Our Markings

As I think about the roots of my sexual refusing and gate-keeping, I can point to some of my own markings, the etchings on my soul that have defined how I see myself. All these markings are things that shaped my marriage because I hadn’t dealt with them: invisible, slut, unlovable, unworthy, self-righteous. My refusal and gate-keeping not only grew out of markings I brought to the marriage, they also reflected even more markings back onto me: misleader, depriver, un-lover, self-righteous, and even more markings that have to do with the fact that I provided the ink for some of the marks written onto my husband.

Once I recognized that my refusal and gate-keeping were wrong, I faced two important tasks:

  1. Repent. I had to stop sinning, and I had to ask forgiveness from my husband and from God. This took me at least two full years, although for some women, it is immediate. This process involved taking my markings–the ones I caused by my own sin as well as the ones I carried with me as the result of the sins of others–to Jesus for Him to remove and transform them into new words: visible, pure, loveable, worthy, obedient.
  2. Transform myself. Even with the markings that have defined my view of myself and of others mostly gone, memories remain. Our memories and feelings can make it hard to step out of long-time behavior that was grounded in those markings. I have needed to look into those memories and feelings and learn different ways to act. My greatest tool has been taking deep calming breaths while praying for help as I try to break hurtful habits. This work of transformation is for me to do. Jesus took on my sins and suffered for them–and part of my gratitutude for this is reshaping myself into someone who will be able to truly do differently and not commit those sins anymore.

I don’t know that my work will ever be done. As I continue to grow and heal, I discover new things to work on in myself and how I live my life and marriage. This work is mine to do.

Their Markings

I need to own my own transformation. Some of this means that I own how I contributed to the marks that my husband carries. His markings may include words like rejected, unloved, and alone.

However, I also need to recognize that my husband’s transformation is his own, not mine. I cannot remove his marks for him–even the ones that I helped to add. All I can do is stop providing the ink. I can lead him to Jesus. But I cannot remove my husband’s marks.

This was a hard lesson for me to learn, and I know that it can be hard for other wives as well. We feel the burden of guilt for our sins. As wives who come to recognize that our control and/or deprivation of sex is wrong, we want to do everything possible to make it up to our husbands. Out of guilt or as a self-imposed penance, we bend over backwards to make it up to our husbands.

Fortunately for me, my husband is one who holds onto the past lightly. Once he truly knew I was done hurting and marking him, it was done. His prayer to Jesus was one of thanks. Still, there are times when I can see that those markings I helped make are still part of how he thinks and acts. If I yawn, for example, he still has a habit of assuming that I am telling him, “I’m tired, so no nookie tonight.”

Even once we stop providing the ink and adding hurt, the hurt can remain. It is natural that we want to un-do what we have done. But we can’t.

We may try to step outside our sexual comfort zones too early, before we’ve even created a zone where we are sexually comfortable. We may try to interact within rigid guidelines in an effort to prevent backsliding. We may try to do everything differently in order to avoid the problems we encountered earlier in our marriages. We may become doormats. We may suppress our true feelings. We may become someone completely different than who we are as an apology and penance for having provided the ink that marked our husbands with hurt and rejection.

When we decide to change, it is on us to stop adding new markings onto our husbands. We should ask for–and accept–God’s forgiveness. We should ask our husbands for their forgiveness.

But then, while we go forth and try to sin against our husbands no more, we need to remember that we are not the ones who can remove those marks from our husbands. No matter how much we try to erase what we’ve done, we can’t. No matter how hard we try, this simply is not ours to do. We are not the ones who can take those markings onto ourselves, even though we helped to add them.

It is on our husbands to go to Jesus, to ask to have those markings removed and transformed into positive words like accepted, loved, and connected. And it is on our husbands to ask God’s help in transforming themselves into husbands whose actions reflect these new words.

Let Jesus Do What Only He Can Do

It is up to each of us individually to go to Jesus and ask Him to remove the markings that hurt. It is up to each of us to work on ourselves to transform ourselves into people who think and act differently.

Repent and transform yourself, which is yours to do. And let your husband, a child of God just as you are, do the work that is his to do. Let go of the urge to un-do the damage you’ve done. Step back so Jesus has space to do the work that only He can do.

Jesus is the one who removes our heart wounds.

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19 Comments on “Repentance and Transformation”

  1. Great post! I have apologized a few times to my husband and he keeps telling me he forgives me and that it is not necessary to apologize anymore. But I still feel the guilt of refusal sometimes. He finally told me one time that to stop apologizing and to ask God to forgive me. That hit hard, why did I not think of that! I was soo worried about the hurt that I had caused him that I forgot about the hurt God must have felt! I have not truly asked God to forgive me yet. Maybe because of the shame and guilt I feel and the emotions of it all. Because when my husband suggested that, I felt such extreme emotion I didn’t know how to handle that. I will definitely work on asking for forgiveness. It will be freeing I’m sure.

    1. Kree, my husband was the same way. I do guilt all too well, and it was a struggle for me to stop trying to make it up to my husband. He pointed out that every time I tried to make it up to him, I was living in the past instead of trying to move forward and live the life we now have. I needed to let it go. Keep at it, sister. It’s worthwhile.

  2. Chris:
    This is an amazing post. I thank God for your ministry and your willingness to open yourself to all of us… God Bless You

  3. Thank you so very much for this post. It touched me in a profound way.

    I’ve recognized and admitted my wrong-doing to my husband, but that just leaves me ever more conscious of those ugly marks and negative labels I carry. I would silently try to change, even asking God to help me change, but all I could see were my “tattoos”.

    I’ve asked God to help me, but I haven’t really sought His forgiveness. I think that’s the key to finally letting go of the old hurtful habits and leaving the past behind. Then with a renewed self-image and strength from God I can be transformed to be the wife He wants me to be. When I interact with my husband I can choose to see the new labels God has written on me.

    I’m afraid I’ve left some awfully deep, painful marks on my husband. When I begin by asking for him to forgive me, I hope it will be the start of an amazing new journey of openness and growth in our marriage.

    You’ve given me new hope. Thank you!

  4. Beautiful, Chris. It is a big step to lay down the need to control and allow yourself to be free of your husband’s markings. If we have repented and are walking with The Lord, then we carry no responsibility for our husband’s markings. Sometimes we feel that his markings are a reflection of us, when they are just your husband’s inner demons. He is the only one responsible for how he handles those inner demons.

  5. Wow! What a great post. Thank you so much, especially for the reminder that I cannot undo the marks on my husband, he has to go to Jesus for himself!

    1. Thanks for taking time to post a comment. This video helped me better understand in my bones that I can do only so much for my husband. At some point, I need to let go and get out of the way.

  6. In my situation, I have been manipulated and restricted as a husband in ways that include severe gatekeeping and withholding emotionally, but go way beyond sex. I told her I couldn’t trust her anymore. Without repentance, including telling some who she manipulated, I don’t see how I can continue with her. When I mentioned this to counselors at church, they acted like I was some sort of ogre demanding a blood offering. As time goes on, the church seems to be discarding concepts like repentance in subtle ways.

    Repentance is foundational for reconciliation. Jesus told us if you bring an offering to the Lord, but remember that you have offended your brother, leave your gift there, and go be reconciled to your brother. Focussing on forgiveness as Christian culture does these days, we lose that sense of urgency to repent that Jesus described. In Luke 17:3, repentance was an integral part of reconciliation.

    Anyone who feels like repentance should be minimized is sabotaging the process of reconciling. Repentance isn’t about a mean, controlling effort to humiliate. Instead it is a kind, validating act of sincerity towards a person who has already been hurt. It is a salve to the wound and the beginning of healing. While you can’t actually heal a person, you /can/ give him a safe place for healing to happen. And, you can give him plenty of vitamins L, R, and S, so that his healing goes faster.

    1. I went with the post’s focus of the wife’s action toward the husband. But, my comment probably should have mentioned that repentance goes both ways. Husbands don’t get a pass to avoid taking responsibility for their own problems. Repentance shows the respect of giving the other person validation. One says, “you wronged me.” When the other says, “yes, I did,” that is a very big deal on several levels. It means a lot to husbands to receive that, and it means a lot to wives, too.

    2. I think you are right that repentance is necessary for reconciliation. However, it can require some give and take. If one spouse refuses to accept anything other than the other spouse’s full repentance before taking steps of his/her own to restore the relationship, that spouse is choosing a barrier for healing. Although conviction and repentance can happen overnight, they also can happen over time, as a process of growth.

      My own marriage may not have been as severe as what you describe, but repentance was a two-year process for me. If my husband had stayed entrenched in his own hurt for that whole time, I don’t know that I would have felt I could offer an apology from my heart, as doing so made me quite vulnerable. Perhaps if my husband had been the only one whose heart had been hurting, it could have worked differently. But although much of my own pain did not come from him (although I used to think it did), it was nonetheless pain that affected my ability to be vulnerable with him.

      Repentance is a validating act of sincerity toward a person who is hurting, but if both spouses are hurting and waiting for the other to repent, the marriage isn’t likely to heal.

      I’ve seen your comments on CSL’s blog and know that you are in a difficult situation. Do you think your wife believes she is hurting at all?

    3. OOC, you didn’t mention in this comment and I don’t know your whole backstory, so forgive me if I’ve missed something, but has your wife confessed her sin to God and you? What I was taught about repentance is that it comes after confessing (agreeing with God that He is right and I’ve been wrong). Isn’t repenting about making a 180 degree turn around and walking away from the sinful behavior? If your wife doesn’t comprehend at a heart level that she’s sinning, she can’t confess (agree with God that He’s right and she’s been wrong) and therefore she won’t be repenting even if she does change her actions. Repentance is a heart issue at it’s core. It’s because the heart changes that behavior changes in a lasting way.

      I may be wrong, but the tone of your comments suggests to me that you’re looking for her to humble herself to you and “others she’s manipulated”. Perhaps pray for her to see her sin and humble herself before God because the rest will take care of itself when she really humbles herself before Him. (Can you tell I’m speaking from personal experience? 😉 )

      1. Sandi, Chris,

        Regarding the difference between confession and repentance, those things are very closely tied together in my mind. I consider changing my mind, whether it’s about my sin, about God’s right to expect my submission, about God Himself, to be a matter of repentance. It motivates my confession. So I tend to see them as all mixed together instead of a matter of steps to follow. When I talked to my wife about this, I explained that what I wanted was a change of mind. She assumes the worst about me, often based on emotional misperceptions. I hoped that would be something she would be willing to change. There’s a lot of other stuff, too.

        Is she able to see her sin? I really don’t know. I’m not exaggerating when I say I can’t remember an apology from her on any significant issue since we were married. Frankly, it seems to me that she lacks any good will towards me. There isn’t just emotional disconnection. It is more like emotional abandonment that began on our wedding day. I have been willing to change, apologize, and forgive. Looking back, I often wasn’t even wrong, but I assumed that if she said I had hurt her, then it was true. When I apologized, there was no forgiveness or change in her willingness to receive me. She essentially assumes that I should forgive her automatically without her admitting anything. Our conversations generally consist of my trying to get a candid and helpful description of why there can be no effort to be close. I’m not allowed to know. She has answered the question at times, but the answers are all over the place. Sometimes they are just a way to keep me from getting anywhere. Other times she stonewalls.

        There is also gaslighting, triangulation, other things. So… this isn’t the average communication problem, or insensitive husband problem. I have finally discovered that my “issues” look a lot like C-PTSD, so I’m trying to get help for that.

        I think she would say she is hurting if it would allow her to keep the blame on me. She has used half-truths to get counselors and others to hold me as being guilty. I do not ever recall seeing any concern on her face when I am hurt, whether it is from her or not. She has support from several places and so she seems to operate just fine on a daily basis. It is a very subtle form of control, but I can’t tell if it is about making everything stay in parameters she wants, or if she is avoiding pain. I care about that, and have tried to be sensitive. At this point, though, I tend to think it really is about control. I have been denied even basic emotional connection for so long that I am really finding it hard to function. This is a fact that is used against me by my wife and ohers who don’t understand why my depression is so deep and longlasting.

        I don’t expect my wife to change or repent at all anymore. I don’t know what to do. I never considered divorce as an option before, but it lurks in the back of my mind. I pray for her all the time, anywhere I happen to be. I can say, however, that God has used this situation to teach me things I never would’ve learned otherwise. My comments about repentance are part of that. I am grateful for what He has shown me, and for bringing me to be more intimate with Him.

        Anyway, thank you to both of you for asking. Sometimes I still get thrown a curveball, but over the last couple of years I’m more aware of what is really going on. That has helped somewhat. But, it has been difficult to find a resource that describes the difference between the more common marriage problems, and a subtle emotional abuse that tears a person up from the inside. I am thankful for the validation and compassion I found here during that time.

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