"Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death" (2 Cor. 7:9-10).
In a world saturated with the teaching that faith only saves, it is easy to believe that the major battlefront of our times is baptism. If only we could teach people its importance so they would obey the scriptures! Yet I have long held that baptism is not where 99% of conversion opportunities go awry. If there is clear and unmistakable teaching about repentance, one usually finds that this is the sticking place in men and women's lives. To admit wrong and turn away
from dearly loved and long practiced sin is extraordinarily difficult. For many, it is much more difficult than agreeing to be immersed in water.
In 2 Corinthians 7:10 Paul gives us a wonderful key to helping people come to repentance. He tells us that "godly sorrow produces repentance." As we might have expected, repentance is born of a heart that is rent asunder over past iniquity and sin. But what can we do to assist folks in producing godly sorrow? What can be done if they are particularly "un-sorrowful" for sin? For example, here is a man who told lies about his co-workers so that he would receive a big
promotion and a large raise. He admits that it was wrong to lie, but can't honestly say (as he enjoys his new position and salary) that he is sorry he did it. In fact, it was, he thinks, rather clever. What of a person who was once quite worldly and now looks fondly back on "days of sowing wild oats." She acknowledges that such living was in rebellion to God, but remembers the "good times" she had and can't really say she's sad she had those worldly experiences because they were so much fun. Disturbing, isn't it? Without judging another's heart, there seems something terribly amiss with these two people's spirituality. Some might even dare suggest they have not genuinely repented. But what should they do? Are we asking for them to make an emotional display, or pretend they didn't enjoy sin or profit from it? How does one develop godly sorrow that would lead to repentance?
Recognize that God's word is right. The psalmist tells us "The statutes of the Lord are right" (Psalm 19:8) but we may say otherwise. It is easy to tell self that God's word is unfair, too demanding, or for everyone else but me in this certain circumstance. Inwardly, and very carefully, we rationalize and explain away our sin. Many sins have been re-labeled as sicknesses or diseases.
Other sins are blamed on others, such as parents, background, the church, or even friends. As I talk with people about their situations I listen very carefully to hear the little word "but." As soon as it is said what usually follows is little more than "God's word is wrong -- because what I did wasn't so bad, or I wasn't responsible for doing it." You are familiar with the refrains people use: "I shouldn't have left my wife but she wouldn't . . . ." or "I know that I need to watch my temper but who can hold their temper when ------ happens?" Again, note carefully that what is being said here is that God is wrong (when He says I have done wrong) because I am most certainly as right as can be. Is it any wonder that there is then no godly sorrow? God's word says what we have done is sinful, wrong and there is no excuse for it. Until we say the very same thing we cannot begin to be sorry for what we have done, and we cannot repent.
Recognize the cost of sin. While animal sacrifices of the Mosaical covenant were insufficient in many ways, I am confident that they graphically and powerfully taught the price of sin. Sin was not free, and it was not cheap. When an Israelite sinned he took an animal from his own flock (and not a sick or dying one, but the very best), brought it to the priest and placed his hands upon
its head as the animal's throat was slit and his lifeblood was drained away (see Leviticus 4). An ugly scene, yes? For certain one would remember such a graphic event and would be deeply impressed that sin has a high cost. I am afraid that such an idea has been lost on a people without animal sacrifices. We ought to be even more impressed with sin's terrible price: "knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct
received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:18-19). Shouldn't this be part and parcel of our Lord's Supper observance? If we train the eye of faith upon Calvary shouldn't there be a deep revulsion and deep sorrow that we would ever do anything that would cause Jesus to have to suffer so? This is simply a matter of perspective. Yes, from the world's standpoint sin can be a crafty tool to advance one's position. Seen from Calvary sin, any sin, is ghastly and painful to Jesus our Lord. Yes, from the world's perspective indulging the flesh is fun. Take those same pleasures to the foot of the cross and see them in a new light. When the sweat and blood of our Lord hanging between heaven and earth drops upon our carnal desires they suddenly become loathsome, don't they? Instead of reveling in our past we are humiliated by what we have done, and filled with the most profound regret that we should ever have done anything that would cost God His only Son.
Recognize the pain our sin causes God. The pain of sin is, unfortunately, not a one time event for our Heavenly Father. The great sacrifice of His Son is not the only time God has felt the sting of sin. What does He feel when He sees His children, whom has redeemed from sin, continuing in it? Only when we become parents can we fully appreciate the disappointment one knows when his own children spurn his loving cautions, his careful admonitions and act in a self-willed, self-centered way. David understood this, and so cried "Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight" (Psalm 51:4). Our God has done so much for us. How can we respond with rebellion? Further, how can we then characterize that rebellion as anything but utter wickedness and darkness? Imagine a teen-ager who is rescued from the gangs, drugs and violence, cleaned up and given a new start in life, and then he tells everyone how much he longs for the "good old days" of street living. What would we think of such a one? If you had been the one who saved this young gang member wouldn't you be hurt if he treated your efforts with such disdain? Is the Christian who tenderly caresses memories of past sin so different? How much hurt those sins and the longing of such hearts must cause our God! Count your blessings and see how good the Lord has been to you. Then try and tell yourself that past sins weren't so bad. Try
and convince yourself that it was not so bad to hurt the One who has provided so much for us all.
Recognize the consequences of sin. Preaching and teaching about hell is certainly not popular today (as if it ever has been). How many who lack godly sorrow for sin think seriously and soberly about where their sin would have led them had it not been for God's grace? Paul speaks clearly to this issue: "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in
righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained" (Acts 17:30-31). Paul believed that the impending judgment to come provided sufficient cause to repent. He is making a play here for us to realize our sin's consequences. Sin may appear, for the moment, to be pleasurable, helpful or enjoyable. However, when we consider the long-term effects of these sins, that they will cause me to be lost in a devil's hell for all eternity without hope or recourse, these same sins now appear in their true colors. They are seen as awful and vile. Every instinct we possess urges us to run from sin as far as possible that we might not end up separated from God. In Luke 16 the rich man lived a fine life here, but found nothing but torment after death. He had failed to prepare to meet God. Interestingly, finally realizing his own permanent fate, he becomes interested in his brothers' fate. Sure that they will not listen to the Word of God he assures Abraham "if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent." What did this rich man imagine that "one from the dead" would do? He would tell the brothers of the terrors of hell! Such thoughts would cause them, the rich man was certain, to repent. Recognizing the consequences of our sin provokes genuine sorrow -- sorrow that we would ever imperil our soul with iniquity.
It becomes apparent that godly sorrow is not about making some sort of emotional display. Certainly, there are sinners in the Bible who weep greatly over their sin (see Peter in Mark 14:72). However, God's word does not mandate nor urge surface level emotions. Godly sorrow is found at the deepest levels of the heart, as we attempt to fully understand what our sin means to God and even our own soul. Godly sorrow is born of looking at our actions from the perspective of eternity and scripture. When we do that then truly we can be "made sorry in a godly manner" (2 Corinthians 7:9) so that we can turn in faith to God for forgiveness. This is the heart of repentance.