Last week I started a short blog series on the differences between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow: how to know if repentance is genuine or if it is a cheap counterfeit – penance. 2 Cor 7:8-11 are a key text for this topic. V11 outlines seven characteristics produced by godly sorrow that can be used to determine whether or not our own sorrow over our sin is true godly sorrow or self-centered worldly sorrow. We covered the first three last time, so we’ll look at the other four today.
Fourth, godly sorrow produces fear. Rather than the natural worldly fear of man, the sorrow that leads to repentance is accompanied by the fear of God. This is a reverence for both God’s holiness and His wrath against sin, which serves as a deterrent for returning to one’s sin. Proverbs 16:6b says, By the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil. Someone characterized by this kind of sorrow will not dare presume upon the grace of God, but will walk with a healthy dread of the wrath of God as well as a reverence for His holiness.
Fifth, godly sorrow produces longing. When the sinner truly understands his offense against the Lord, his heart longs for reconciliation. This is a wholesale pursuit of repair of one’s relationship with God and Christ. We see this in the life of the apostle Peter. In Matt 26:75, Peter is shown to be gripped with sorrow over his denial of Christ. That sorrow proved to be godly sorrow in John 21:7, when Peter, while fishing with John, learns that Jesus is at the shore, and casts himself into the sea to swim to the Savior. The godly sorrow that leads to repentance draws one with longing to the Lord.
Sixth, godly sorrow produces zeal. This is defined as “intense positive interest in something.” In other contexts, the word is translated “jealousy.” 2 Cor 11:2 speaks of Paul’s “godly jealousy” for the church at Corinth since he betrothed her as a bride to Christ. So there is a sense of zealous ownership to this word. The person of godly sorrow has a passion for God as the One to whom the sinner belongs. The person is captivated by his desire for the Lord.
Seventh, godly sorrow produces avenging of wrong. This speaks of a person’s desire to root out any vestiges of sin in his own life. Having been grieved by his sin against God and indignant on God’s behalf, the sinner goes on the offensive against other sin in his life so as to better serve and glorify the Lord. It is important that this not be confused with attempting to punish oneself in order to earn favor with God. That is penance. Rather this is simply the desire to glorify God by abhorring and killing one’s own sin.
Paul concludes v11 by writing, In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. In other words, by these signs of godly sorrow the Corinthians showed their repentance to be genuine. They were forgiven of their sin. When we look at these products of godly sorrow together, we can see how it is that godly sorrow leads to repentance. Each of the seven products speaks of love for God and hatred for sin. Without explicitly stating it, Paul has hinted at a biblical definition of repentance, that is, turning away from sin and toward God.
Worldly sorrow, on the other hand, rather than being centered on the glory of God and leading to repentance, leads to death. If it is godly sorrow that produces the characteristics in v11, then worldly sorrow must be devoid of these characteristics. The old sinful man is still thriving. There is no diligence in pursuing righteousness, no vindication of guilt, no indignation on God’s behalf, no fear of God and deterrent from sin, no longing for Christ, no zeal for His glory, or hatred for sin. The absence of all of these things points to an absence of repentance and an absence of salvation, which means death. This sorrow then is not a sorrow for sin committed against God, a grieving for an offense to His holiness. Rather it is a self-centered sorrow, a sorrow that comes from being caught. It is concerned more with the consequences of sin than with the glory of God.
I encourage you to take this passage to heart and examine yourself. Are there any areas of sin in your life which you cannot seem to overcome? Is it possible that the sorrow you have felt over this sin is worldly sorrow rather than godly sorrow?
Next time we’ll look at another difference between true repentance and penance: faith.