For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears. Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus; And not by his coming only, but by the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you, when he told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me; so that I rejoiced the more. For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:5-11)
If you know anything about Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, you know that it was hard-hitting. The church had big problems, and Paul confronted those problems head on. He called out the sin they were tolerating in their midst and told them to change their ways. However, Paul did not rest content with just sending the inspired epistle. He also sent Titus, his companion in ministry and labor, to Corinth to evaluate their response. What Paul heard from Titus when he returned greatly encouraged his heart.
As a pastor, I’ve had some experience confronting people about sin. There are times when a person responds with indifference. They know that what they are doing is wrong, but they aren’t sorry at all. Others respond by saying they are sorry, but that is a more of an expression than a description of the heart. Then there are those who respond with what the Scripture calls “godly sorrow.” These are people whose hearts have been touched by the Holy Spirit of God to respond to the message of correction.
Godly sorrow is the only kind of sorrow that produces repentance and real change. So how can we tell whether the sorrow is real and godly or whether it is superficial and worldly? This passage of Scripture describes three attitudes that characterize godly sorrow. When we learn to recognize these, we will know whether our own hearts and those of the people for whom we are responsible are rightly responding to conviction of sin.
Attitude Toward the Messenger
Paul said that when Titus reported back he, “told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me” (2 Corinthians 7:7). Remember that the Holy Spirit had inspired Paul to send the church at Corinth a very hard hitting letter to point out their sin and demand a change. Often when someone is used by God to correct us, we respond with annoyance or anger and blame the person who points out our sin rather than repenting. Godly sorrow doesn’t do that. One of the evidences that convinced Paul the Corinthians were serious was their attitude toward him.
They did not resent Paul for his correction. They did not take the attitude “I hope I never hear from that guy again.” Instead they longed to see Paul. Over the years I’ve seen people quit church because they were confronted over sin. Instead of grieving because of their sin, the correction became a grief to them and they didn’t want to be reminded of it. Your attitude toward those who correct you reveals the condition of your heart. If you have godly sorrow you will not resent them but instead love them and want to be around them.
Attitude Toward the Word
Paul said of their response that “the same epistle hath made you sorry” (2 Corinthians 7:8). The letter they received was not just an ordinary communication. It was the inspired Word of God. The Bible is not just another book. It is not a collection of religious principles and ancient wisdom. The Scripture says, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
The Bible confronts us when our behavior does not conform to what God expects. If we respond to Scripture properly with sorrow and repentance, it changes us and empowers us to do right. When the Bible says “godly sorrow worketh repentance” the word used means to “energize.” God’s Word gives us the power to change our mind and change our ways. But if we respond to it negatively because it is correcting us and we want to be left alone, we lose the power to begin doing right.
Attitude Toward Lifestyle
Because of their godly sorrow, the Corinthians did not want to continue thinking and acting the way they had before. They wanted things to change. If you are looking for ways to keep doing what you were doing before you were confronted about your sin, you don’t yet have godly sorrow. These people thought it was important to make a change, and they went about it with a real zeal and energy. They didn’t sit back and wait; they began to work to make a difference and keep the change going.
They weren’t defensive or trying to hold on to the old ways. They were careful to see that their behavior came into line with the Word of God. If you have godly sorrow, you want the new life rather than the old. Worldly sorrow leads to death, but godly sorrow leads to life and peace and repentance and change.