2 Corinthians 7
For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There's no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT
When one of my kids was just a little boy, and he would do something that resulted in my disappointment and his potential punishment, he would always respond in the same way. He would immediately say, "I'm sorry, dad!" Not once, but repeatedly – one right after the other. "I'm sorry, dad! Dad, I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" He seemed to believe that the more times he professed his sorrow, the more readily I would accept his apology and forego any kind of punishment. But while his apologies were always fervent, they were rarely sincere. There was one thing usually missing: Any sense of repentance. Oh, there was regret. He really was sorry. But only that he had been caught. He wasn't sorry for what he had done. In fact, given enough time, he would usually repeat the same act again and follow it up with the same repetitive claim of sorrowful regret when found out.
Paul had had to write a "severe letter" to the church in Corinth. We are not told what the content or context of that letter entailed, but it had not been easy for Paul to write it. He had referred to this letter before by saying, "I wrote that letter in great anguish, with a troubled heart and many tears. I didn't want to grieve you, but I wanted to let you know how much love I have for you" (2 Corinthians 2:4 NLT). The letter to which Paul is referring is not 1 Corinthians. It is a letter he penned sometime between the writing of 1st and 2nd Corinthians. In that lost third letter, Paul had reluctantly addressed some issues going on in the Corinthian church. After it was sent, he even went through some regret, fearing what he had said would prove to be too harsh and painful. But when he finally received word that his letter had produced repentance and changed behavior, he was glad he had sent it. What Paul had wanted all along from the Corinthians is the same thing I wanted from my son: Repentance. Godly sorrow – a sorrow that is produced in the life of an individual by God – always produces repentance, and repentance results in a change in behavior. The Greek word that Paul uses here that is translated repentance, actually means "to change one's mind." It conveys the idea of reversing your stance on an issue and admitting the error of your way. As a result, repentance results in a change in behavior. The sorrow Paul's letter produced in the Corinthians was godly sorrow because it "leads us away from sin and results in salvation" (2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT). The salvation Paul is talking about here is not eternal salvation, but a temporal salvation or deliverance from a bad situation. This kind of sorrow comes without regret. Too often, we are only sorry for the effects our sins have produced or for the inconvenience of having been caught. But regret and repentance are not the same thing. Regret rarely produces a change in behavior because it never touches the heart. Worldly sorrow lacks repentance, and it leads to spiritual death in the form of resentment and bitterness.
It's fairly easy to spot the difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. Paul described it this way: "Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right" (2 Corinthians 7:11 NLT). Their sorrow produced a change in mind, which led to a change in behavior. They wanted to set things right. Their sorrow wasn't short-lived, but long-lasting and real. "It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have" (2 Corinthians 7:9 NLT). Ultimately, God wants to bring joy to our lives, but sometimes He must begin the process by producing in us godly sorrow. We must learn to change our minds and see things from His perspective instead of our own. We must see sin the way He does. We must agree with His assessment of our lives and confess our sin and turn from it. We must repent. Godly sorrow produces repentance and results in a transformation in our character and conduct. And that's something we will never end up regretting.
Father, thank You for lovingly bringing me so often to a point of godly sorrow. It is not something I pursue or desire. But I need it. I need Your help in changing my mind and seeing things from Your perspective. Too often, I can learn to view my behavior as perfectly fine and justify my actions as righteous and good. But then You convict me through Your Word and reveal the truth about my heart. That sorrow then produces repentance and result in a change in my behavior. Yes, it hurts, but it's always for my good and results in Your glory. So don't stop. Amen.