5 Truths About Responding to Betrayal

Betrayal is a dreadful act that can cause profound and lasting damage. It is one thing to suffer harm, but it is quite another to suffer harm from someone you trusted. When we are brought to anguish by those we considered loyal friends, the deep emotional and psychological wounds are often slow to heal.

Jesus Suffered Betrayal

Scripture teaches that Jesus suffered as we do, and so he sympathizes with us in our affliction. Most of us know that before his murder, Jesus was delivered to Jewish officials by one of his own disciples. Judas is a name synonymous with shattered trust. But we may not realize the great affection Jesus had for his wayward follower and the way he agonized over his betrayal. Even though He knew from the beginning what Judas would do (John 6:64), Jesus loved and served him until the very moment that he left. John 13 testifies the betrayal troubled Jesus in His spirit; which in the original language implies: revulsion, horror, and anxiety. Just like us, Jesus felt deep and complex emotions because of the unfaithfulness of his companion.

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
John 13:21 (ESV)

5 Truths About Responding to Betrayal as a Christian

God worked for our good, even as we sinned against Him (Romans 5:10). This is our motivation to care for those who have hurt us. Here are 5 biblical truths to help guide our response to personal betrayal:

  1. You are accountable to God for your response to those who hurt you. You have no control over what others do. But you are liable for your reaction to them. Proverbs 24:17-18 warns that rejoicing over the downfall of an enemy can invite God’s displeasure. He cares greatly about the heart of His people.
  2. God alone has the right to bring justice to sinners. This will help you understand the command of Proverbs 24 better. Practicing forgiveness is not overlooking justice, but rather placing it in God’s hands. Romans 12:18-21 teaches you to entrust vengeance to God and to overcome evil by doing good to your enemies. (We must note Romans 13, which describes civil authorities as God’s instruments of punishment against wrongdoers. Personal forgiveness does not require you to refuse to report heinous crimes).
  3. Blessing your enemy is not a sign of your weakness or of your approval. Rather, it is proof of your heritage as a child of God. Doing good to someone who has harmed you does not mean you are a push-over, nor that you are saying what they did was ok. Rather, Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:43-48 that blessing your enemy shows that you are conducting yourself in the pattern of your Heavenly Father.
  4. Unforgiveness is not protection against further harm. It will result in bitterness that will impact far more people than just your offender. Hebrews 12:14-15 warns that a root of bitterness in your heart will grow and defile many. You may feel that withholding forgiveness protects you from getting hurt again. But in reality it will only bring destruction and difficulty to you and those close to you.
  5. God will equip you to desire that which you would naturally hate and accomplish that which you would naturally find impossible. If you read the first 4 truths and feel overwhelmed, let the Gospel comfort you. Through Christ, God promises to equip you with everything needed to do His will. His Spirit will work in you that which is pleasing in his sight (Hebrews 13:20-21). Whatever is required by God, is provided in Christ. And that includes the desire and ability to forgive and love your betrayer.

Taking the Next Steps

Working through the pain of betrayal is often a long journey, but one that cannot end until it begins. So let me encourage you with these first steps: Confess to God your current mental and emotional state toward your offender. Agree with God on what His word teaches about where you need to be. Rely on the power of Christ to help you walk out love and forgiveness. And seek counsel from a pastor or wise godly friend who can help you with practical actions toward this end.

What Did Christ Save Us From?

Words matter, especially when it comes to the biblical responsibility of teaching. Those who lead do not have liberty to be careless or vague with their expressions. The word of God understood rightly is life to our soul (Proverbs 3:22), so there is much riding on the faithful exercise of preaching (2 Timothy 2:15).

Those realities have led me to this post. This past Sunday I taught a message from John 13 and used an illustration intended to point listeners to the seriousness of sin and the kindness of God in salvation. And while still agreeing with my premise, I had the overwhelming feeling Sunday evening that I had failed in clarity and precision.

Here is a summary of what I said:

“There is a well-known sign on Interstate 65N in Alabama that says: ‘Go to church or the devil will get you’. The sign indicates the problem is the devil and the solution is go to church. But consider first that you can go to church every single day of your life and still die apart from Christ having never been redeemed. And second, that the biggest threat to your soul is not the devil. Rather the sign should say ‘Flee to Christ or suffer the wrath of God’. What we are being saved from is not the devil. The devil is an enemy – yes. But the cross was to save us from the punishment for our sins. That punishment comes not from the devil, but rather from God. On the cross Jesus became the recipient of God’s wrath against rebellion. God the Father abandoned God the son, as he made him – in that moment – responsible for our sin.” 
– from The Jesus Series #50, Authority to Serve

My main purpose was not to ridicule the sign or those who put it up, but to get us to think about the nature of salvation. Christianity is not best understood through pithy sayings, but by deeply and thoroughly examining eternal truths. The issue is that in my own explanation regarding the work of Christ on the cross, I failed to paint a full picture of what endangers us.

Did Christ Save Us from the Devil?

My statement “What we are being saved from is not the devil” certainly needs further clarification. Indeed, Christ did save us from the work of Satan. Consider these passages: 

  • Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning since the beginning. But the son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8 (ESV)
  • Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through his death he might destroy the one holding the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. – Hebrews 2:14-15 (CSB)

The devil is the author of rebellion against God. In Genesis 3 he incites man to follow his practice of sin, the result of which is death (Romans 6:23). The devil then seeks to exploit the fallen nature of man to bring them to his will rather than God’s so that they are destroyed (2 Timothy 2:26) and thus he holds over them the power of death. But Jesus has come to destroy the devil’s work. Christ shared in our humanity, yet never sinned. While perfect, He submitted to suffering the consequence of our immorality through death on a cross. And He triumphed over the grave in resurrection, demonstrating that He has authority over both sin and its effects. By grace Jesus credits his perfect obedience to those who through faith sincerely seek his saving work. And He has granted us a spirit that loves God and finds joy in being led by him (Romans 8:15). So yes, our hope is the continual power of Christ to save us from the devil (Ephesians 6:11) which is why the kingdom of darkness battles to keep people from hearing and believing the message about Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4).

The Importance of Understanding God’s Wrath

The original reason I chose to use this illustration is that many who acknowledge spiritual realities believe their greatest threat is the devil. And indeed, motivated by hatred for God the devil aims to bring to destruction all that He can. We ignore this at our own peril ( 1 Peter 5:8). But the devil does not administer justice and does not have the authority to sentence people to everlasting death. It is God who is the judge of the whole earth (Genesis 18:25); who pours his wrath out on the wicked (Romans 2:8, 2 Thessalonians 2:12). Jesus taught that it was wisdom to fear God as the only one who could cast a person into hell (Luke 12:5).

Many believers find it uncomfortable to talk about God’s wrath. We are tempted to conform to the world which has remade God in an image it can tolerate. With dwindling exceptions, mankind longs to conduct their lives as they choose without any thought of repercussions. Love in our culture increasingly means never saying someone is wrong. And so many have created an image of God that agrees with what they can accept: A God who would never judge anyone. The world cannot comprehend or accept a deity enthroned in glory who exercises judgement while maintaining unending, steadfast love. And most will never try. Mankind would rather reject any thought of divine punishment than accept responsibility for their own wrongdoing.

God’s Love for Rebels

I absolutely agree that those who follow Jesus should participate in a church that proclaims, relies on, and adheres to the Gospel. There is no picture of Christianity in the New Testament that does not include active participation in a community of faith. Furthermore, we are called to resist the devil in the power of God and the church is an integral part of God’s plan in this resistance. So, yes: Go to church and resist the devil. But remember that it is deadly dangerous to ignore the greatest threat to our souls, which is to fall under judgement for our sin. God is love, but His love is not exercised in allowing his creation to wander off in rebellion, living with themselves at the center of the universe. Rather He demonstrates his love by His willingness to put upon His own son the death due rebels, and subsequently share His own riches and honor with the ones who receive this gift of redemption.

Humility is the Avenue to Glory

During a recent Sunday morning message, we were challenged to consider whether or not we are truly treasuring Jesus. One of the questions we used as a test for our heart was this: Does my life consistently reflect a laying down of myself in order to follow the Spirit of Christ?

If Jesus is the highest treasure of our heart, then over time we will have an eager willingness to die to the desires and the parts of our character that are contradictory to His. And we will find ourselves on the trajectory of growing in humility, because Jesus came to earth as the righteous, victorious, humble King. Humility is in fact a command of the Christian life.

Clothe yourselves all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
1 Peter 5:5

Without humility we have God’s opposition, no matter how right or just we may be in our argument. But with humility we are promised God’s grace, even if we have been wrong in the situation. God WILL rescue the guilty, IF they are humble (Job 22:29-30).

I define Biblical humility this way: Lowering yourself in contrition to and dependence upon God, in order to make much of Him and to make the benefits of Christ available to others. Humility gives the throne of our life back to God in order that we might glorify Him. And humility leads us to sacrifice that we might share all the blessings of God’s Kingdom with others.

So what should humility look like for a Christ follower? The following 4 items are not intended as an exhaustive list of how those who treasure Jesus will live, but it is a start to get us thinking:

  • In humility, we will be generous with all of the resources that God gives us. (1 Timothy 6:17-18)
  • In humility, we will not repay evil for evil but will seek to bless even our enemies. (1 Peter 3:9)
  • In humility, we will not be critical but will bear with the faults and differences of others in grace. (Colossians 3:12-13)
  • In humility, we will not seek to win debates but to persuade others in love. (2 Corinthians 5:11)


Pride always wants to win the argument. But humility sees truth as a compass to give direction, not a hammer to destroy.

God’s word guarantees that if we try to exalt ourself, God will humble us. But if we humble ourself in the same way that Jesus did, then in his time and in his way God will exalt us. So may we be found following after Christ as our treasure, growing in his humble nature. After all it is a great paradox in Christianity, that it makes humility the avenue to glory (Easton 1897).