Godly Sorrow and Repentance

This Easter week, two former leaders at Mars Hill Church made something right with me. Both demonstrated to me what the Apostle Paul called godly sorrow or repentance. On this very Good Friday, as we meditate on the death of Christ, I thought it appropriate to extend that meditation to what His death accomplished for us in the way of repairing with those we have sinned against, which is foundational to the redemption and healing His death brings for all mankind.

Adapted from Chapter 5 of The Gospel-Centered Woman:

What is repentance in the Bible? It is more than simple remorse or regret. It goes beyond mere sorrow. The Apostle Paul sheds light on this difference in 2 Corinthians 7.

9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. NIV

Paul draws a distinction between good, godly sorrow that leads us to authentic confession and repentance and worldly sorrow that leads to death. Paul is not shy about the consequences of this worldly sorrow that is not of God. It leads to destruction, and we are wise to understand what distinguishes these different types of sorrow or regret.

Worldly sorrow is characterized by feelings of shame, pain, or embarrassment that you got caught in sin. Along with that shame, you may feel hopelessness over ever being cleansed from your sin or your ability to repair the relationship with the person you sinned against. Such worldly sorrow may be relieved by someone else doing something for you or you doing something for yourself. Maybe you seek out someone to affirm you or distract you. You may try to manipulate how others think of you and look to them to make you feel better about yourself. If one relationship is broken, you may manipulate other relationships to replace the one you harmed.

In contrast, godly sorrow is sorrow that directs you to Christ. You do not need someone else to do something for you. You do not need to do something for yourself. Instead, you fall flat on your face before God alone, for godly sorrow points you directly to Him. Godly sorrow is relieved by repentance and faith in what Christ has already done for you. Then, resting in what God has done for you, you can lay down your attempts to justify yourself to others. You can simply ask their forgiveness and repair with those you have hurt.

Many of us spend years of our lives mistaking worldly sorrow on a wide range of sin issues for authentic repentance and then wonder why we never change or why our relationships never heal. Feeling bad about what you have done is not the same as a godly sorrow that leads to repentance. God calls us to recognize our wrongdoing and need for forgiveness and then turn to God to forgive and correct it. We do not have to live in a perpetual state of regret and shame. Christ bore our shame and condemnation on the cross. His sacrifice for us equips us to face our sin head-on without fear that it will forever define us.

3 Responses to Godly Sorrow and Repentance

  1. Curious Thinker April 19, 2014 at 10:32 pm #

    Good Post, I like how you point out the differences between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow, which I agree many may confuse the two. We could all do better by turning to Christ in godly sorrow rather than just engaged just self-pity look for others to make us feel better which is worldly sorrow once we understand the distinction. Happy Easter.

  2. Pia April 21, 2014 at 1:24 am #

    Your last line, “His sacrifice for us equips us to face our sin head-on without fear that it will forever define us,” is meaningful to me. I often allow circumstances to define me – both positive and negative ones – neither of which is helpful. So if I replace “sin” with “circumstances” in that sentence I find hope.
    Happy to see a post here. Have been missing them. Hope all is well and that you and yours celebrated in fine fashion this Easter Sunday.

  3. Wendy April 21, 2014 at 2:34 am #

    Thanks, Pia!