Over the years, I have heard countless apologies from my husband. He has said that he is sorry while he was in his addiction, when he has relapsed and a million times in between. Apologies from addicts can mean a lot of different things. Sometimes it means, “I’m sorry for what I’ve done.” Other times it means, “I’m sorry that I got caught.” And sometimes it’s just something that is said because there isn’t anything else to say anymore.

I have heard so many apologies through the years that after awhile they started to blend into each other. There were countless times when I would wonder if this apology was for real. Was he really sorry this time? How do I really know if he is sincere?

I love how clearly Paul defines sorrow in his letter to the church in Corinth. 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 reads:

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

I may not know when someone is sincerely apologetic, but God knows. And thankfully, He helps us to better understand sorrow in these verses.

When someone shows godly sorrow, when he or she is really, truly sorry, it leads to repentance. It’s more than just words, there is action. When my husband, or your husband, apologizes for his addiction, it shouldn’t be just words; there should be noticeable action and behavioral changes behind them.

If you’re unsure, really examine the characteristics of biblical, godly sorrow in verse 11 and ask yourself:

EARNESTNESS: Is he being earnest? Is he handeling with the situation with seriousness and intensity or is he minimizing or being flippant?

EAGERNESS TO CLEAR YOURSELF: Is he eager to clear himself from future offenses? Does he show that he desires to be transparent and blameless by installing internet filters, using accountability software, reviewing phone records, etc.?

INDIGNATION: Does he show a level of anger over what he has done wrong or how he has hurt you? Is it a righteous anger that he is willing to address through counseling, male accountability, or attending a recovery group?

ALARM: Is he surprised that his addiction went as far as it has? Is he shocked enough by is own behavior to confess it to others in order to ensure that it doesn’t happen again?

LONGING: Is there a yearning or desire to see things made right? Is it a persistent desire that lasts over a long period of time?

CONCERN: Does he show, in word and in deed, a genuine care and concern for what he has done to you and your family? Is he as concerned about how you have been hurt as he is about taking care of himself?

READINESS TO SEE JUSTICE DONE: Is he seeking justice? Is he accepting responsibility for what he has done? Is he willing to be subject to an accountability partner or pastoral care? Is is accepting the consequences for his actions if he has violated your boundaries, the boundaries of others, or in some cases the law?