For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.( 2 Corinthians 7:8-10)
The scripture above addresses a very serious aspect of the subject of repentance, but it requires a bit of context.
The church in Corinth had allowed a deeply sinful man to remain in full fellowship, even allowing him to partake of the Lord’s supper, though He was involved in an incestuous relationship with his father’s wife! On some mysterious way, the church was actually proud of this situation!
It could be that they were proud of their own “tolerance” and “Unconditional love” for this reprobate, as are many evangelical churches now, proudly “accepting” practicing homosexuals into their worship.
But Paul soundly rebuked them in the name of the Lord Jesus, calling upon them to salvage their church by exercising church discipline, before the leaven of this tolerated sin should destroy the whole fellowship!
It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:(I Corinthians 5:1-5)
This is the context of the opening verse. The church repented, in response to Paul’s rebuke. They “thought again”, about their so-called “tolerance”, they changed their mind about who should be allowed into the communion, and they turned in a different direction, kicking the offender out of church in the name of Jesus!
Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians hurt, they “cut to the bone”, and made the church sorry. But this was a good hurt, a wholesome sorrow, for it was “godly sorrow which leads to life”.
But what is godly sorrow? How can one distinguish it from “worldly sorrow…which leads to death”? What is the difference between the two of them? There are many sorrowful people in this world and in church as well, but how much of that sorrow is leading to life? How much sorrow is the “Sorrow that works death”, depression?
In order to help us discern the difference, I think it would help to describe the two ‘sorrows’ biblically. I will start with the worldly sorrow,
* Worldly sorrow is self-centered, and based upon selfish considerations, such as sorrow for consequences of sin, rather than for the sin itself. There are many who are sorry that they have been exposed, or must pay the consequences for their sins. When consequence for sin disrupts life, or thwarts ambitions and plans, worldly sorrow manifests as self-pity. Worldly sorrow leads the sufferer deeper into themselves.
* Worldly sorrow is often wounded pride. One of the ways it can be detected is the hatred of the one who exposed or pointed out the sin, for a ‘scorner hates rebuke’.
* Worldly sorrow is vague and despairing. It is a cloud of misery without shape or form, that settles as a gloom. Satan can use it, and aggravate it to the point of hopeless condemnation, (Such as when Judas ‘repented’ and hanged himself). Hell is full of regret and bitter remorse,with no resolution.
* Worldly sorrow doesn’t lead anyone to God, or to seek God, it is self-centered, not God centered.
*Worldly sorrow doesn’t arise from a Biblical view of sin, nor from any concern at all of God or his glory. It has more to do with, ‘how do I look now that I have been exposed?’, or”What a mess I have made of my life!”.
On the other hand, Godly sorrow,
* Is based on faith… ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”(I John 1:9).It is specific, convicting us , and drawing us away from our sins unto Him.
* Godly sorrow always leads us to God himself, and always takes us out of ourselves. God calls us to see sin as HE sees it, ever as an affront to Him, and as an offense against His glory.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.(Psalm 51:4)
* Godly sorrow is an offering of contrition,(Sorrow for the sin itself)
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.(Psalm 51:16-17)
The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.(Psalm 34:18)
Godly sorrow is a justification of God,(Telling God He has been right all along, in His condemnation of us),
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.(Luke 23:40-45)
Finally Godly sorrow ,which leads to life, is a gift of the grace of God. It is God alone who can cause us to realize that all of our sins have been against Him , and to see them the way He does, and to hate them turning from them unto Him.