Godly Sorrow

Prayer

There are many reasons to sorrow in this life. However, in this article we will focus on sorrowing over sin. Paul discussed this in his second letter to Corinth:

For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while—I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter” (2 Corinthians 7:8-11).

Sorrow can be produced by our own sins or the sins of others. Generally, sorrow is destructive unless we have the right kind of sorrow – godly sorrow. What is godly sorrow? Why is it beneficial for us? We will examine the passage above and seek to answer those questions in this article.

Occasion for Their Sorrow

When Paul said he had “caused [them] sorrow by [his] letter” (2 Corinthians 7:8), he was referring to the first letter he wrote to Corinth that addressed several problems that existed in the church there – division (1 Corinthians 1:10-12), immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1), corrupting the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34), error about the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-19), and more.

That letter would not have been an easy one for them to receive or for Paul to write. That is why he wrote, “I do not regret it; though I did regret it” (2 Corinthians 7:8). While it was a difficult letter both to write and receive, Paul knew it was necessary and ultimately for their good because it produced “repentance” which was a cause for him to “rejoice” (2 Corinthians 7:9).

Two Types of Sorrow

The first type of sorrow is the “sorrow of the world” (2 Corinthians 7:10). This includes guilt, regret, and remorse. Godly sorrow can produce these as well. So what is the difference? Worldly sorrow is missing hope. Worldly sorrow is distress without consolation. Worldly sorrow ultimately “produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

The second type of sorrow is “sorrow that is according to the will of God” (2 Corinthians 7:10). The King James Version uses the term “godly sorrow.” This is not a sorrow that comes because one had gotten caught in sin; instead, it is sorrow for sinning against God. This was the type of sorrow that David expressed in his psalm of repentance: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge” (Psalm 51:3-4). Without godly sorrow, one will simply try harder to not get caught in the future. With godly sorrow, one will strive to put away the sin altogether. We should mourn over sin. This was something the brethren in Corinth failed to do and Paul condemned them for this in his first letter (1 Corinthians 5:2). This mourning over sin should lead us to seek to restore what was lost, both in ourselves and others – fellowship with God (Isaiah 59:2). This restoration is accomplished by repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10) which ultimately leads to salvation (cf. Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38; 8:22; 17:30).

Benefits of Godly Sorrow

Besides the repentance that leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10), Paul mentioned eight benefits of godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:11).

  1. Earnestness – This word denotes speed and haste. It involves a diligent effort to deal with the sin. When we understand what sin does – separates one from God (Isaiah 59:2) and pollutes the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:6) – we should want to fix the problem right away.
  2. Vindication – This is the word apologia. J.H. Thayer defines this as a “verbal defense” and a “reasoned statement or argument.” With godly sorrow, we are not going to make excuses for sin or attempt to pass blame onto someone else. Instead, there will be an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and an explanation of how it was or is being remedied. Paul used himself as an example of this when he described himself as the “foremost of all sinners” who “found mercy…as an example for those who would believe in [Christ] for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
  3. Indignation – Indignation of sin is more than just regret or sorrow. God’s people are to hate sin. The psalmist wrote, “From Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:104). We need to remember that we are at war (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Sin causes souls to be lost.
  4. Fear – This is fear about what will happen if the sin continues. The Hebrew writer warned, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27). This is the same word (terror/fear) that is used of civil authorities (Romans 13:3, 7). They punish crimes not only to exercise justice, but in order to deter others from committing them (Ecclesiastes 8:11). In this way, we are to learn from the sins of others and not commit them ourselves. In writing about God punishing the Israelites, Paul said, “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved” (1 Corinthians 10:6).
  5. Longing – This is a desire to remove sin – similar to the point about earnestness. We should never be content when sin is present because this is indicative of a “seared” conscience (1 Timothy 4:2).
  6. Zeal – This comes after turning away from sin. We are to repudiate sin since Jesus came “to redeem us from every lawless deed” and wants us to become “zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14).
  7. Avenging of wrong – The King James Version uses the word revenge. This is the idea of discipline. This can include discipline against the one in sin. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about this in his first letter (1 Corinthians 5:2, 4-5, 13). This can also include us exercising self-discipline in order to correct our own sins and avoid them in the future. Paul wrote, “But I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).
  8. Innocence – This means to be pure or clean. Despite the existence of sin that caused the sorrow and necessitated repentance, Christ is able to take that completely away. The psalmist wrote, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). One of the characteristics of the new covenant is that the Lord “will be merciful to [our] iniquities, and…will remember [our] sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12).

Conclusion

Sin should cause us to sorrow – either when we commit sin or when it exists among us. But that sorrow must be godly sorrow. When we are in sin, only godly sorrow will lead us back into a right relationship with God. When sin exists around us, only godly sorrow will keep us from following after it and motivate us to lead others back to the Lord.


When you subscribe, you’ll also receive 3 free PDF’s: Plain Bible Teaching on the Gospel, the latest issue of Plain Bible Teaching Quarterly Review, and Road Trip.