If someone is sorry for his sin, does that mean that he has repented of his sin? Some may be tempted to believe that they have repented as long as they have shown some form of sorrow. However, 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 teaches that there are two kinds of sorrow: godly sorrow that produces repentance, and worldly sorrow that produces death. It follows then that sorrow itself is not the earmark of true repentance. There is sorrow that leads to repentance, and there is sorrow that leads to the man-made counterfeit, penance.
2 Cor 7:10-11 provides perhaps the clearest biblical teaching on the issue of sorrow over sin:
10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11 For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.
Jay Adams, commenting on this passage in his book, More Than Redemption, rightly notes that what we find here is not the same kind of sorrow in two different intensities, “rather it is between two kinds of sorrows – both painful experiences that differ in source and result.” Indeed, Paul describes the source of the one as (literally) “according to God,” and the other as “of the world.” This information alone will not help us to differentiate between the two in our own lives. It is necessary also to know the result of both kinds of sorrow.
V11 gives a list of seven things produced by godly sorrow, all of which are God-centered in nature. Paul seeks not only show the effects of this sorrow but also to use them as proof of the Corinthians’ repentance. First, in addition to repentance, godly sorrow produces earnestness. This is an “diligent commitment in discharge of an obligation.” It is the picture of diligence in working against the problem of sin in one’s life. A believer who has true godly sorrow will be one who engages in the hard word of sanctification, showing eagerness to change and follow hard after Christ.
Second, godly sorrow produces vindication. This is a desire to rid oneself of the stigma attached to sin. There is such a longing to get away from sin, its effects on the sinner, and offense against God, that the person wants to be seen as repentant in the eyes of those around him. The motive is not pride, but a desire to glorify God. A person with true godly sorrow is willing to do anything in his power to show those against whom he has sinned that he has repented.
Third, godly sorrow produces indignation. This is indignation at one’s own sin and its offense against a holy God. We see this in David’s cry in Ps 51:4, Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge. This is where we begin to see that godly sorrow is a sorrow over how the sinner has offended God. He has a God-given love for the glory of God and recognizes how his sin has denied God’s rightful place of preeminence in his life. It creates not only a grief for the sin, but an indignation on behalf of God. This would indicate that the person with godly sorrow will show far greater care for God’s reputation than for his own.
Next time, we’ll look at the final four products of godly sorrow. Until then, examine your own heart for the characteristics we’ve just looked at. Does your heart show evidence of godly sorrow or worldly sorrow?