“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!