2 Corinthians 7:9-10. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
Repentance and forgiveness are at the heart of the gospel, so it is no wonder that even when talking to a group of forgiven Christians, Paul would teach us the need to continually repent. To feel godly sorrow. The need for our hearts to soften through repentance did not end when we got saved. The ministry of reconciliation is impossible without true repentance.
Yesterday we looked at how real forgiveness is something that grace can produce in our hearts regardless of whether or not a person repents. Real forgiveness is unconditional. It always lowers the bar. Grace and forgiveness is the state of being of those that are in Christ.
If this is the case, then we might be tempted to ask “So why repent at all?” If we are unconditionally forgiven, then is repentance even necessary? Well, clearly Paul thought so. Why? Because without repentance there is still no restoration. There is no justice. The aim of all justice is restoration. Forgiveness is the first step, but repentance is the equally necessary second. We might argue that at the cross forgiveness was accomplished (we call this propitiation or expiation in theology). But there is not restoration or justification without repentance on the part of those who are already forgiven.
Where does this repentance come from? Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 7:10 that real repentance flows from godly grief. But what is godly grief? And how does it produce real repentance?
To start, we must understand that repentance enlists the whole person. Mind, will, and emotion. As concerns the mind, godly repentance begins with an understanding of who God is. He is grace. He is holiness. Often we define repentance as “a change of mind.” Like the Prodigal, it is a “coming to your senses.” It is a telling of the truth, to yourself and to everyone else. Real repentance acknowledges the cause of the offense and the effect of the offense. Repentance also involves the will. Amends must be made. Behaviors changed. Confessions spoken. Saying your sorry. But it has to be more than all this.
This truth telling must produce grief.
There must be an emotional response to God’s grace and holiness and also our own wrongdoing. Beyond just admitting the damage caused, we must feel the damaged caused. Truths about God should produce a deep humility and desperation in us.
James 4:9-10. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Psalm 51:17. the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
“So should I not repent until I FEEL complete remorse and grief over my wrongdoing?” No. Repent anyway. And trust in the grace filled forgiveness of God to have already beaten you to the spot. And who knows, maybe the grace filled forgiveness of the person you wronged will also meet you there. In the words of Martin Luther, “If you wait until you are sufficiently contrite, you will never get to the hearing of gladness”
Real repentance is a difficult and risky thing (like forgiveness). It is to be weak. It is to be desperate. To be humble. To make no excuses. No rationalizations. To throw yourself on the mercy of the offended (God and man). To admit the deserving of their wrath.
But, as Aaron Zimmerman says, “Failure to do so results in an inability to understand oneself and others, and makes Christianity a bizarre and unfruitful exercise in self-improvement. Recognizing our fallenness, however, is step 1 on our way to being undone by the unsurpassable riches of God’s grace in Christ to sinners like you and me.”
Union with Christ also allows us to grieve our sin and the hurt that it causes others. Our union with Christ allows us to feel what he feels and what his Body feels due to our wrongdoing. “To live is Christ” allows us to not only forgive but to also repent, knowing that we are united to the restorative grace of God himself in Christ. Grace that allows us to be humbled in order to be raised up.
When you’ve repented in the past was it merely intellectual or volitional, or was it also emotional? Was there sorrow? How can your union with Christ allow you to see how your sin hurts Christ and his Body?