What is Godly Sorrow?

tears“For godly sorrow worketh repentance…” (2 Cor 7:10). What is godly sorrow? Apparently it’s when the Holy Spirit makes you sorry for your sin. “God grieves over you, you sorry excuse for a Christian. You have become an enemy of God!”

There are some who insist you must weep and wail when you repent. “You need to show some godly sorrow,” they insist. “Repentance must be marked by regret, tears, and grief-stricken anguish.”

In other words, if you don’t weep, your repentance isn’t genuine.

Spurgeon had a different view:

A curious idea men have of what repentance is! Many fancy that so many tears are to be shed, and so many groans are to be heaved, and so much despair is to be endured. Whence comes this unreasonable notion? Unbelief and despair are sins, and therefore I do not see how they can be constituent elements of acceptable repentance; yet there are many who regard them as necessary parts of true Christian experience. They are in great error … To repent is to change your mind about sin, and Christ, and all the great things of God.

What is godly sorrow?

The “godly sorrow” that Paul refers to is the sorrow the Corinthians felt when they read his letter. It’s the sorrow we all experience when we realize we have made a hash of things, missed the way, and grieved our Father.

Is there pain and discomfort involved with the Holy Spirit’s conviction? Often there is. But this pain is not inflicted by the Holy Spirit. It is the regret of realizing we have missed the mark.

No doubt Paul had some experience of this when he learned that he had been persecuting the Lord (see Acts 9:5). With that revelation – that he, a man of God, had actually been opposed to the things of God – came the realization that everything he had done up to then was but dung (Php 3:8). His years of study and religious activity were nothing but wood for the fire. What a waste!

But the distress itself wasn’t wasted because it led to a change of mind; it produced repentance and Paul became a new man. This why is he was happy when the Corinthians went through a similar distress:

Now I’m glad – not that you were upset, but that you were jarred into turning things around. You let the distress bring you to God, not drive you from him. The result was all gain, no loss. Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets. (2 Cor 7:9-10, MSG)

Don’t ever fall for the lie that says repentance without tears is worthless. When you encounter the goodness of God in an unexpected way, the important thing is not whether you laugh or cry but that you repent – that you embrace what God is showing you and allow his grace to change you.

Godly sorrow is not something you have to manufacture to impress the Lord. Nor is it a work that has to accompany your faith. Godly sorrow is when God works through the aches and hurts of our mistakes to draw us to himself.

If your sorrow leads you to God, then it’s good and godly sorrow. But if it leads you away from him, perhaps because you have been told to focus on your unworthiness, then it’s not.

How to respond to sin

When you sin or miss the mark, the temptation will be to beat yourself up and vow to do better and religion will be only too happy to coach you through this. Faithless religion will condemn you as a sinner (“Look at what you did!”) and prescribe a course of remedial action (“Put on the proverbial sackcloth and ashes.”) Do you see how carnal this is? The emphasis is totally on your behavior. You did a bad thing; now do this good thing to make it right. This is the way of Adam, not Jesus.

When you sin it’s perfectly natural to feel bad and it takes no faith to reach for the fig leaves of dead religion. But if your sorrow is to be godly sorrow, then your focus must be on what Christ has done and not what you have done.

As Andrew Wommack says: “If you feel like you’re so sorry, then praise him for the fact that he loves such a sorry person as you! Instead of focusing on your unworthiness, thank him for his goodness.”

A faith-based response to sin is to look to the One who died for sinners, who loves you in your sin, and who speaks to the Father in your defense. Don’t listen to those who speak the words of the Accuser; listen to Jesus!

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36 Comments on What is Godly Sorrow?

  1. Repentance on ones knees and weeping and wailing is the very thing that would stop the judgement that is coming on the earth. And then the Christian world will be shaken to its core. Repentance is coming Paul, and you will shudder at your faith, and you will question. Just when the coast looks calm it will come in the early hours of the morning when they least expect it. A sudden impact and the world stops turning. Waves as large as a mountain beating down on the coast lines. Is it possible that God is angry with his Church? Is it possible that the Apostasy is happening in these times? Time will tell and the time may be shorter than you think. Or maybe I’m just a crazy man. That’s quite possible to. But I’ll bet you don’t come across people like me everyday! This way you wont forget me in a hurry. Time for me to exit in my shame, I can say that I tried.
    Peace out.

    • Pity the poor soul who does not have any legs!!Esau was sorry he gave up his birthright and sought to regain it with tears but God was not impressed.Sincere repentance is about a lasting change of behavior and is not about making a show of tears and sorrow which has more in common with paganism

    • God will never be angry at his church. Because His anger has already been exhausted at the cross on Jesus. That was when the church was born in Christ who was raised far above all principalities and power and now is seated at the right hand of God the Father.

      We are already in Christ, will God be angry at Jesus, Never and so He will never be angry at His church. As He is so are we in this world.

  2. Paul, I love your continued defense of the no-nonsense gospel. I want to share an experience that I hope you will comment on. I believe it to be related to your post and would love some insight on it. Also I know of no other direct way to communicate with you. You are the first that I’ve shared this experience with. Sometimes it’s hard to share really deep things with people close to you. I lost a friend and we buried him last week. Although saddened by his premature departure I had not wept over it. I could sense something was really bothering me on the inside. I found some alone time in my bedroom when nobody was around. Alone time is tough when you have four kids, A friend of one of my sons who became homeless, a wife, and a mother in law. Whew! I began to reflect on the loss of this friend. I discovered that’s not where my frustration lied. However the sadness of my friend seemed to just be a small part of what lies beneath the surface. Since the Gospel has become clearer to me and seems to be getting even clearer although I feel I have a grasp on it. I began to feel an overwhelming sadness. I was thinking about people that I come in contact with all the time. People caught up in the ongoing concerns of this life. People who don’t seem to know Jesus. They don’t have that emanating joy that comes from his presence. The only way I could describe it would be looking at a black-and-white world and seeing gray all the time. No colors bursting forth. The sadness for my friend seemed to be releasing something deeper within me. I began to weep and wail. Not just cry. This is actually very difficult to relate to someone. If someone has never felt this level of emotion, you might not be able to sense its depths and privacy surrounding the outburst. I must’ve wept, wailed and moaned for well over 30 minutes maybe 45 minutes. I realized I was weeping for people who didn’t know the joy and intimacy of Jesus. I wanted so desperately to reveal Jesus to them. To be able to express to them an experience that goes way beyond words. I tell anybody who will listen about the goodness of God revealed through what Jesus did on the cross. To reveal Jesus seems to me to take more than words even though you do a fine job of it. It seems I am a longing to see Revelation occur in people. But I am at a loss for making it happen. Of course I know that I can’t make it happen in someone, but I long to see it in people. I seem to be getting more frustrated. It appears to me to be God yet I am not comfortable in the experience. Meaning I just can’t focus in only on me and my family and my life any longer. But I have no outlet for this frustration. It even seems strange to call it a frustration. Anyway I don’t seem to know anyone that might have the wisdom enough to help me. I don’t even have a clue what that help might be. I do know He is always faithful! After sharing this with you I think I might also find it is easier to share it with a few others. Thank you for reading this.

    • Hi M$M just reading what you experience make me heart leap with joy for you, you have obviously been seeking God and asking a lot of questions, everything you asked has been answered in your experience, Gods timing was perfect to reveal it to you. The Gospel is simple it is black and white there is no Grey, the thing is it escapes most people because of the experience you had, this may sound unusually but here goes all believe but not all can believe what they believe, it is just to much for some and they have a protective mental block that stops them experiencing what they belief, your belief is starting to come to light, you will be seeing more and more clearly. My advice to you, keep on doing whatever it is you are doing in your relationship with God.As for the revelation , this will come and as you experienced the souls that you touch by his witness will also come to the cross with much emotion, as God reveals his Son, I dislike long posts but felt compelled to answer you.There is life and death.SIMPLE !

    • It is a gift when we are allowed to share the heart of God and it is appropriate to yield and let the cries and groans release. He hears and answers and this is not just an emotional experience. See the Joseph Prince video on you tube, “what to pray when you have no prayer” and I think it will help greatly. It is critical to know that God is our Burden Bearer and Jesus is THE intercessor! We are not meant to be oppressed with a weight of heaviness. His burden is light and His yoke is easy. The enemy can play tricks on sensitive people and make you think it is honorable to carry his oppression disguised as something good. Once you have released your prayer, trust God with the burden and do not pick up oppression. I like the phrase “charity begins at home” and I respect what Mother Theresa responded when asked how to help the world basically she told us to go home and love our family. You have 4 kids, a wife and mother in law in your circle of influence. Do not let the enemy disqualify or dishearten you regarding how impacting your every day life really is! Allow yourself to be joyful and receive His love. Just as we need to renew our minds to guard the truth that God is love, we need to renew our minds that we are the object of His love. There are times that the burden will return and he will lead you in a prayer of release- it may be a short prayer of faith- or a longer emotional experience. Both are valid. You may also be greatly encouraged by Andrew Wommack’s “A Call to Prayer” message. Be encouraged and allow yourself to be joyful, it is contagious and it is your strength. It is powerful to be at rest.

  3. well put, the way some people are you just cant put enough drama in it for them,i always fell great love from the father,when i go boldly into the throne room,to get things on the right track.

  4. I love it, Paul. Often when I miss the mark, I feel condemned and am in anguish. This is wonderful fresh air. Time to learn how to ignore the Accuser!

  5. “your focus must be on what Christ has done and not what you have done.” Amen!

  6. crazy people dont know there crazy, I know im crazy,therefore, im not crazy isnt that crazy…………….capt Jack Sparrow

  7. [As Andrew Wommack says: “If you feel like you’re so sorry, then praise him for the fact that he loves such a sorry person as you! Instead of focusing on your unworthiness, thank him for his goodness.”]

    I’ve heard Andrew say that and it’s always made me smile. Thanks for the reminder! I love getting your emails. As a person who has been truly bound up in a religious mindset, I have to say, I really appreciate these teachings that are helping to untangle the web of regret the enemy has so cleverly weaved inside my mind.

  8. Loved the latest blog, as always. But in all truth and fairness to Spurgeon, the next line from that quote says “… the main point is turning of the heart from sin to Christ.”
    I would say that godly sorrow is when we realize we have been wrong, in thought or deed and humbly acknowledge and change our mind from it to align what God says about it, all the while knowing Christ has already forgiven us. Repentance biblically is a gift, a grace (to make a point), and God gives grace to the humble. (hope that wasn’t a rabbit trail)
    Again, another great blog post!

  9. Paul, I notice you do a lot of reading. You probably will recognize this quote. I must warn you. It does not have the punch that Capt. Jack sparrow has.
    “…God’s name is Mercy. We see our darkness as a prized possession because it drives us into the heart of God. Without mercy our darkness would plunge us into despair – for some, self-destruction. Time alone with God reveals the unfathomable depths of the poverty of the spirit. We are so poor that even our poverty is not our own: It belongs to the mysterium tremendum of a loving God.”
    The Mystery becomes clearer as we consider Jesus and what he did for us. “He became poor so that we might become rich.”!!

    • sniff … all this poetry makes me want to wail and travail.

      Consider this: If its bad (darkness, despair, poverty, self-destruction, large waves, judgement of his children, etc.) IT’S NOT FROM YOUR LOVING FATHER! And I think you know very well where those thoughts come from …

      And yes it is possible for the Apostasy happening in these times … those not willing to receive Grace from a Loving Father, Who went all-ou ti give it all so that we may receive ALL of His Grace! My Father never goes contrary to His perfect character being merciful and gracious, patient, and abundant in goodness and truth.

      Being the loving Father that He is, I am sure we’ll shudder at His Mercy and kindness once again!

      Well done Paul! You listened well!

      • Daniel I’m not sure why but I am truly enjoying your comment. I love your defense of your father God. And I agree wholeheartedly that your daddy is bigger and better than any other on the planet! And I know that your daddy can beat up my daddy. Well actually they are the same. All fun aside; Thank you for proclaiming the “awesome good news”! And for reminding me that “God’s love never fails”🙂

    • I like it M&M,to me thats the core of the matter,since we cant fathom the depth and width and height of Gods love it gets very frustrating when you try to convey to people the misunderstanding of the father,that he is a loving brooding parent, I guess “Let he who has ears to hear” Yall forgive my sarcasm. My mouth gets me in trouble, I just lost my Aunt this week,so I can relate to your situation, and also I got the Capt Jack quote off the internet, I dont remember if he said that in the movie………………..another quote from the internet is “Dont believe everything you read on the internet”..signed..Abraham Lincoln……and you know if you read it on the internet it has to be true.

      ps: vordy1 is my wordpress name, I have to use it sometimes because for some reason I cant sign in through facebook, any of you that have any ideas why let me know but it looks like today I can, and while were at it,, for some reason a lot of my….. Notify me of new comments via email. comments… go right to my deleted file,so I have to transfer them back to my inbox

    • The quote is from Ragamuffin Gospel.

  10. Awesome, awesome, awesome!!!

  11. I pray I could experience more of this godly sorrow you speak of here Paul. I have discovered by experience that I cannot wring this sorrow you speak of out of my selfish heart. I am always so self obsessed when it comes to my failures -obsessed over what my sin costs me and what my unlove towards God and others costs my prideful self righteous self concept. In my own volition and emotion the best I can come up with when I become aware of my sins is self preserving fear and morbid introspection.
    Oh to sincerely feel the pain my unlove has caused God and others ! Oh to be more aware of God’s accepting, forgiving and embracing love than I am of my sniveling, whining and negotiating flesh!
    For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (‭Psalms‬ ‭51‬:‭16-17‬ NASB)

  12. Writing that comment I had an “ah ha” moment. The greatest sin of which we need repentance from and of which we need to experience “godly sorrow” over is the sin of rejecting and resisting Gods love. We claim to want God’s unconditional love in Christ Jesus but the truth is our flesh wants everything BUT God’s love. Gods love puts our flesh out of control. Our flesh lusts after control -wants to negotiate a deal for forgiveness and for absolution and for acceptance. “I will cry, plead, beg forgiveness, promise to do better, beat my breast, do penence – ANYTHING BUT RECIEVE GODS UNCONDITIONAL LOVE IN JESUS!”
    As long as we are trusting in our sincerity, in our diligence in repentance, in our tears and our sorrow we have NOT YET REPENTED!
    Our greatest sin is rejecting God’s unconditional love in Jesus!

  13. Barry,

    I agree with you and yes we really can’t trust the level of “felt emotional intensity” as the means / ends. Rather all such trust is in Thine – in Thee – in Yours – in Other. “Yours and not mine”.

    Emotions were invented by God – but they are now not only fragmented by sin but they are also in the same family of all other non-God “stuff” in that they – being non-God – are never akin to Him – to All-Sufficiency.

  14. Wayne Nickel // October 21, 2014 at 7:32 pm // Reply

    When a man is convinced that he has transgressed against God he ought to be sorry; and if you tell me that there can be such a thing as Spiritual repentance, and yet no sorrow for having broken the law of God, I tell you that you do not know what you are talking about. The thing is clearly, on the very face of it, impossible. There must be a deep hatred of the sin that you have committed, and even of the thought of ever committing that sin again. There must be sincere sorrow that ever you should have transgressed against God, and that you should be liable to transgress again. If there is no such sorrow as that in your heart, one of the things which are necessary to a genuine repentance is absent. CS

    • I guess my question would have to be then,when do we know we have repented enough.I agree that we should have a genuine experience in repentance,but if your not careful the enemy will beat you with…”its not enough”..”its not deep enough” etc

      • So true Earl! The way I read Scripture I see that we are not saved, forgiven, loved or accepted by out repentance but by trusting the grace of Jesus plus nothing. I see repentance as a fruit (a result) that God produces in us as a divine gift from the first time we repent when we are regenerated and adopted to the daily ongoing repentance God gives us as gifts in transforming us into being more loving more like Jesus loves. If repentance could save us, change us, deliver is from divine wrath or secure even the minutest blessing or divine favor then Christ died for nothing .
        When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” (‭Acts‬ ‭11‬:‭18‬ NASB)
        with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, (‭2 Timothy‬ ‭2‬:‭25‬ NASB)

  15. Michael Ramires // October 22, 2014 at 7:45 am // Reply

    From the second I started reading this article, all I could think of was the verse in Hebrews that says “though Esau sought it with tears, he could not find repentance.”

    When I first turned to Jesus, I started trying to find a church as one normally does. I attended on where sermon was on the book of Hebrews and specifically the ability to lose your salvation. By using verses 10:26 and 12:17 the pastor described the inability to find forgiveness again once it was gone.

    As one who grew up in church, rebelled and wanted to come back, these verses have terrified me for years. Through learning more about grace and this website, I’m not as scared anymore, but still have my days.

    Paul, would it be possible for you to expound on Hebrews 12:17 a bit?

    Thank you.

    • There could be a couple of ways to read this but the punchline is “see to it that no one misses out on the grace of God” (v.15). That’s the whole thrust of Hebrews – don’t be like the Israelites who did not enter in on account of their unbelief; don’t be like “godless” Esau who missed out. “See to it that you don’t refuse him (Jesus) who speaks” (v.25). Grace has been extended, so take it. There’s a time limit on this thing. More here.

  16. Gilly Stott // April 11, 2015 at 12:18 pm // Reply

    Paul there’s something that’s been puzzling me about repentance – specifically during times of revival. I’ve just been reading up on the revival in Sarawak in the 1970s and 80s and, in common with other revivals, there was a strong hallmark of deep repentance during this revival with people in conviction of sin flat on their faces for prolonged periods before God crying out for forgiveness. What interests me is that many of those repenting in this way were already committed believers. These folk then went on to experience extraordinary miracles, signs and wonders.
    I am trying to reconcile these accounts of revival repentance among believers with the NT exhortation to those who are in Christ to look away from our imperfect efforts and onto the sinless perfection of the Lamb slain for us. To rest in the truth that we have been perfected forever through Him. Why is conviction of sin/repentance
    among believers such a big ingredient of past revivals and what does it mean for us today? Can you help me with this please? Would really appreciate it.
    Loving the comments on this thread. Thanks to all for making this such a helpful conversation on what can be a depressing religious topic!
    Peace.
    Gilly

    • Conviction of sin often follows the preaching of the law and there were signs and wonders in the old covenant.

    • Gilly,

      The other thought is:who, or what, defines repentance? Man’s experience or the bible?

      If man’s; which are you going to follow even today? For you still see this differential in how to practice repentance.

      when this discussion is about what man did, it’s a “depressing religious topic”. When it’s about what God did, it’s a celebration.

    • Those revivals had glory, but the righteousness of Jesus exceeds much more in glory. Blessings to you Gilly.

      2 Corinthians 3:9-11 (NKJV) 9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.
      10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels.
      11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.

  17. Gilly Stott // April 13, 2015 at 10:28 am // Reply

    Thanks for your helpful thoughts Paul, Jimmi and LJP. Great to be able to process questions with fellow Grace-embracers.
    Peace
    Gilly

  18. when John spotted the religious guys who came to be baptised, he refused them baptism based on what? Was it obvious to him on the banks of the river that their tears and emotional torment hadn’t been completed? Was it obvious that they were still bad sinners?
    I don’t think we can conclude he even spoke to these religious elites.
    I put to you that the only thing obvious to John the baptist was their robes of religion, and therefore their adherence to the religious status quo.
    The religious system had failed Israel and their reliance on that system was the very thing they were to repent from. The school master of the law had brought them to the un-refusable conclusion that they were no closer to being righteous than when they had begun their law journey 1400 years previously. Someone from the religious elite if truly repentant would throw away the uniform of that religious hope or in some other way demonstrate their loss of hope in it.
    I believe the so called beatitudes are not a way to live a christian life in order to be “blessed”, but rather they are a description of what they already were after John pointed out the failure of the Law to make them righteous before God. That’s how John prepared the way for Jesus, and that’s the way Jesus found them.
    Jesus in Matt5 comforts those who had their identity as “special” people smashed by John “God can make children from rocks, you’re no more special than rocks”. They were poor in spirit because their egos were squashed. Jesus said “your blessed, because now you’re in a position to learn of him”.

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