Godly Sorrow

In the first letter that we have that the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he addressed several significant problems in the church.  These problems included divisions among the brethren, an accepted brother committing sexual immorality, suing each other in the courts, participation in idolatrous practices, and improper observance of the Lord’s Supper.  The apostle’s rebuke of the Corinthian brethren was appropriate; there were many things they needed to correct.  How was the Corinthian church going to respond to the instruction and rebuke they received?  In the second letter to the Corinthians, we are told how they responded.  2 Corinthians 7:8-11 “For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while.  Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance.  For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing.  For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.  For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner:  What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”

When a person is found guilty of a wrong-doing, whether that be against the law of the country or a sin against God or an offense to a friend, how is the person going to respond to being found guilty?  The first typical response is to deny any wrong-doing; the facts must not be true or the conclusion about the facts is wrong.  The person denies any guilt.  When the Lord told Abraham that he was to have a child by his wife Sarah in their old age, she overheard and laughed.  When asked why she laughed, she denied that she had laughed (Genesis 18:10-15).  She lied in her attempt to cover her guilt. The second typical response to being found guilty is to shift the blame; he is only guilty because of the fault of someone else.  When Adam was confronted by God because he ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he blamed the woman (Genesis 3:12).  He was only guilty because the woman wrongly influenced him.  Another typical response a person may have is to justify his actions.  He did the wrong thing for a good reason.  King Saul did not utterly destroy the Amalekites as directed and his excuse was that he wanted to save the best to sacrifice to God (1 Samuel 15:20-23).  Another typical response is to minimize his guilt by pointing out the greater guilt of someone else.  His hope is to make his offense look small.  The scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery; they wanted to stone her.  But Jesus caused them to realize that they were also guilty of sin (John 8:2-11).  Another typical response is to admit his guilt and be sorry that he got caught; he is not sorry that he did what he did – he is only sorry that he was found out and has to suffer the consequences.  Given a similar opportunity, he might do it again and try not to be caught.  All these responses are wrong responses to being found guilty.

The last response to being found guilty is to have godly sorrow, repentance and vindication.  Godly sorrow is to truly regret that you did the wrong thing.  There are no excuses.  There is self-condemnation.  You are guilty.  The apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 7:10 “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of this world produces death.” By definition, repentance in the Bible means to change one’s mind or purpose.  Since your actions are directed by your mind, repentance also means that your actions will be changed as well.  Repentance leads to salvation.  There is no regretting of your decision; you are not going back to the old way.  You have changed direction.  Vindication means that you want to make things right; you want to clear yourself in this matter.  Observe how the Corinthians responded to being found guilty by Paul.  2 Corinthians 7:11 “For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner:  What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”  That is the kind of response that God desires from you when you are found guilty.

Let us look at the example of the Jews on the day of Pentecost when they heard the preaching of the apostle Peter.  Peter convinced them that they had rejected and crucified the Christ that they had been looking for.  Acts 2:36-38 “’Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’  Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”  They followed the pattern of godly sorrow, repentance and vindication.  They were cut to the heart from the words of Peter; there was self-condemnation.  They were told to repent – to change their thinking and their actions.  They were told to be baptized for the remission of sins to make themselves clean before God. 

If you are found guilty of a sin or offense, don’t excuse yourself.  Instead, have godly sorrow for your action.  That godly sorrow will produce repentance that leads to salvation.