“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point, you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter” (2 Cor. 7:10-11).
We don’t often think of the Christian life as a life of grief and sorrow, but it is. The question Paul raises is this: what type of grief will you have? The contrast he is showing is true repentance versus remorse, salvation versus death. So, what is godly grief, and what is true repentance, for they will lead to salvation.
First, godly grief implies that it is a sorrow according to God’s will. That is, I should sorrow over that which God sorrows. God has given us his commandments, makes his will known to us in his Word, and by the work of the Spirit, guides us into obedience. He does this through faith, or belief. Throughout the New Testament, repentance and faith are interconnected. I must repent to believe, and I must believe to repent.
That is good news because we understand that faith is a gift from God. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God…” (Eph. 2:4-5, 8).
So, true repentance is not a work to earn God’s favor, but a fruit of His grace to us in Christ Jesus. We must, by faith, look to Jesus, and trust that his death offered full atonement for my sin. We then can understand that true repentance gives us a clear view of our sin, and we won’t regret getting rid of it. False repentance is always pining for the “old life.” As Jesus reminds us, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
True repentance gives us a godly anger about the awful nature of sin. We grieve over our sin and learn to hate it. False repentance only grieves over getting caught. The gospel of Christ, by the work of the Spirit, brings to light the sin in us, which drives us to confession and repentance. As Jesus reminds us, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (Jn. 3:20-21).
The Corinthians had an “eagerness to clear themselves.” This brought accountability and honesty. The repentant sinner understands that he is never beyond falling, so he must be ever watchful to not succumb to temptation. “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). But again, there is good news for those who have looked in faith to Christ Jesus. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
This week, as we focus intently on the passion of Christ, let us consider why he came. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Isa. 53:4-6).