Godly Sorrow & Worldly Sorrow

Dear Church Family,

In the sermon this coming Sunday, we will be looking at Jonah’s prayer which he prays from the belly of the great fish (Jonah 1:17-2:10). As we examine Jonah’s prayer, we will be looking at it with an eye toward what we may learn about how we ought to pray – particularly how we ought to pray prayers of repentance. There’s much to learn from Jonah’s prayer, so I encourage you to read this passage this week and meditate upon it – perhaps even using it as a guide for your own prayers of repentance.

Sorrowing Over Sin

When we think about repentance, we usually think in terms of grieving and mourning over our sin. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines “repentance unto life” in these words: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience” (WSC 87). Here, the confession speaks of a sinner’s ‘grief and hatred of his sin.’

Grieving over our sin is an important element of true repentance. Yet, the Apostle Paul also warns us about the difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:8-11). In these verses, the Word of God teaches us the difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow. Worldly sorrow, which is marked by regret, produces death. Godly sorrow, which is marked by repentance, is according to the will of God and leads to salvation. Worldly sorrow is just another name for self-pity. Godly sorrow is filled with earnestness – a diligent pursuit of the forgiveness and grace of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Fruit of Godly Sorrow and Repentance

So, this sort of godly sorrow (in contrast to worldly sorrow) produces repentance which leads to salvation. This repentance is marked by earnestness and diligence (seriousness and sober-mindedness). But then, in verse 11 of this passage, Paul lists seven characteristics of what it means to be earnest in the midst of godly sorrow.

These are the kinds of fruit that we may expect from a godly sorrow which leads to true repentance (2 Corinthians 7:11):

(1) Vindication – the character of the church in Corinth had been called into question as to whether they were actually Christians or not, but they vindicated themselves by responding with Godly sorrow and repentance.

(2) Indignation– the Christians in Corinth were indignant not with Paul, but with themselves. The scandal in their church which had gone unchecked caused them to rectify the matter through godly repentance.

(3) Fear – fear that if they did not repent, Paul would come with the rod of discipline as the messenger of God’s judgment.

(4 & 5) Longing & Zeal – longing and zeal to be restored to fellowship with God, one another, and with Paul; and the only way they could be reconciled would be to repent and correct the problem.

(6) Avenging of wrong – meting out justice through church discipline, and putting the house and family of God in order.

(7) Innocent – sin had gone unchecked in the church in Corinth, but as far as the specific matter in question is concerned, they are pure and holy.

Regretful Sorrow

In the movie the Big Kahuna, there are three salesmen who are sent by their company to a conference in Wichita, Kansas to sell industrial lubricants. The entirety of the movie takes place in their hotel room. One of these salesmen is a Christian. But, he’s a self-righteous Christian named Bob. He thinks that he is the only one with any character of the three. Well, by the end of the movie, one of the other salesmen, Phil, played by Danny De Vito, confronts this young, self-righteous Christian. He says to him: “We were talking before about character, you were asking me about character, and we were speaking of faces. But the question is much deeper than that. The question is do you have any character at all? And if you want my honest opinion, Bob, you do not, for the simple reason that you don’t regret anything yet.”

As you can imagine, this sticks in Bob’s craw, so he says: “Are you saying I won’t have any character unless I do something I regret?”

“No, Bob,” says Phil, “I’m saying you’ve already done plenty of things to regret. You just don’t know what they are. It’s when you discover them, when you see the folly of something you’ve done, and you wish that you had it to do over again, but you know you can’t because it’s too late. So you pick that thing up and you carry it with you to remind you that life goes on, the world will spin without you, you really don’t matter in the end. Then you will attain character because honesty will reach out from inside and tattoo itself all across your face. Until that day, however, you cannot expect to go beyond a certain point.”

Danny DeVito’s character was trying to answer the right question: “What do you do with folly? What do you do with sin?” His answer was, “You confront it, you grieve over it, you pick it up and you carry it around with you.” He was so close. He was half-right.

Repentant Sorrow

But, for the Christian, for those who are living the Gospel out in their lives and in the church, the answer to the question: “What do you do with sin?” is this: You confront it, you grieve over it, and then you add…repentance – repentance, which leads to salvation.

This repentance comes from a Godly sorrow that is marked by earnestness, zeal, and diligence – trusting in the grace of God, the finished work of Christ, rooting out the sin in our lives. It is laying “aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, running with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

For, we are His bride – holy and pure. We are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10)

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch