2 Corinthians 7:8-10. For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 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.
Have you ever had to be reprimanded? Called out? Chastised? Confronted?
For a time, I lived in a state of passive aggressive discontent in the church where I was an associate pastor. Mostly because of my pride. I believed I wasn’t being heard. I wasn’t being supported. I thought I was stagnating. I disagreed with my boss (another pastor). I knew better than him. Eventually this erupted into a conflict that became public and polarized the church. I resigned from my pastoral position. There were meetings. Lots of meetings. One really bad one in front of the whole church. I was accused. He was accused. It hurt. But I knew I was right.
I left town for a week with my family to visit my sister in law and brother in law. By God’s grace I met with their pastor. He listened. And listened. And listened. And then he gently began to expose my sin. He confronted my heart. He called me out on my attitudes. He called me Jonah. It hurt.
Before this meeting I was sad because I was being hurt. My life was hard. I was the victim. I was David being chased by Saul. But this was selfish. It was a worldly grief leading me to death.
I tell you this story because it illustrates the two kinds of grief or sorrow that Paul is talking to the Corinthians about. Worldly grief and godly grief.
After being confronted, I was still sad, but it was different. It was a sadness that led to repentance. I was sad over my sin more than I was sad over my situation. I asked for forgiveness. From God. From the other pastor. From the whole church. It was hard. But it was grace.
The same thing happened in Corinth. In between 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians there was another letter written by Paul to the church. It is sometimes called the “severe letter.” Paul confronted the church. He exposed their sin (again). It grieved him to send it. He even regretted it for a while. But the letter did its job by the work of the Spirit. It brought grief that produced repentance. The church learned to repent, and ask for forgiveness, and to forgive.
This kind of reconciliation is only possible through the working of godly grief in our hearts. A deep sorrow for the hurt and pain that we’ve caused God and the ones God has created. Forgiveness can occur without such repentance, but not reconciliation. For the ministry of reconciliation to occur, there must be both forgiveness and repentance.
True repentance resulting from godly grief will always flow from an understanding of who God is. His grace, his love, his holiness. Godly grief fills the offender’s heart not because of guilt, embarrassment, or discomfort, but because it has hurt the cause of Christ and hurt the image bearer of God.
Godly grief then produces a “whole life repentance” – mind, will, and emotion. Repentance that flows from understanding the consequences of my actions (Prodigal Son). Repentance that produces restorative actions – making amends, apologizing, restitution (Zacchaeus). Repentance that feels the pain that was caused by your words or actions. Repentance that mourns and weeps (James 4:9-10).
“To live is Christ” does not mean that we won’t sin (obviously). But it does mean that when we sin, and when we are confronted, we have a chance to respond with godly grief. This is what the life of Christ in us will produce. Sadness unto life. True contrition. Sorrow over the sin itself, not the consequences of the sin. Grief that results not in the loss of relationships but in the reconciliation of relationships.
Is your sadness over sin godly or worldly? Do you only display shallow remorse, regret, and self-pity when you are called out for your sin?
You in Christ
How can meditating on your union with Christ allow the exposure of your sin to produce peace and salvation in the midst of the sadness over your sin?
Christ in you
Who might you need to forgive or repent to today? What restitutions do you need to make?
Playlist: Repentance and Grace.