Real Repentance

Real Repentance – 2 Corinthians 7:9-11

Real Repentance

 2 Corinthians 7:9-11

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. 2 Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ 3 So He told them this parable, saying, 4 ‘What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!” 7 I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance’” (Luke 15:1 to 7).

Have you heard the deafening noise of a roaring crowd? There is nothing like it. I remember a game I saw in Yankee Stadium. I had the privilege to witness the great closer, Mariano Rivera, pitch. I’ll never forget it–when the manager waved to the bullpen and the doors opened and Mariano Rivera came out–the crowd went berserk! “Enter Sandman” comes on over the loud speakers and the crowd is chanting, “Mo, Mo, Mo.” When he threw that last pitch and struck the batter out to seal the win, the whole stadium exploded in cheers. I may have hugged a complete stranger. It is a pretty emotional experience, when a crowd of so many people are all expressing their joy together, over the same moment.

If Heaven was a stadium, and millions of angels filled the seats–what big play causes the stadium to explode in cheers? “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” Repentance lights the fireworks of Heaven–one sinner who turns from their sins to follow Jesus.

Last week, Shawn showed us one side of the coin–God’s overwhelming forgiveness of our sins through the power of Jesus Christ. This morning I want to highlight the other, your repentance from your sins through the power of Jesus Christ. It’s the good cop/bad cop approach. Repentance is crucial and it must be understood and applied by all of us.

You might be tempted to think, “Yes, repentance is a great message for the evangelist preaching to unbelievers. But do we really need this message today in the Church?” It is interesting–in Christ’s last letters to the various churches in Revelation 2 to 3, we see one common command throughout–repent. Ephesus–you have left your first love, repent. Pergamum–you tolerate idolatry, repent. Thyatira–you tolerate Jezebel the adulterous, repent. Sardis–you are dead in your deeds, wake up and repent. Laodicea–you are lukewarm, repent.

I want to echo Christ’s command to our church this morning. Everybody in this room is either a sinner in need of salvation, therefore we must repent—or a saved sinner that still sins, therefore we must repent. Think right now where you sit–what sins do you need to repent of this morning? Really search every corner of your heart, don’t leave any stone unturned–if Christ wrote a letter to you, what would He say?

Well in order to apply this command, you need to know what repentance is and what it looks like. The main text that will help us in that this morning is 2 Corinthians 7:10 to 11–please turn there with me. We are going to look at the two sections, 1) Realities of Real Repentance in verse 10, and 2) Fruits of Real Repentance in verse 11.

In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul refers to a previous letter that he sent (see verse 8a. It could be 1 Corinthians, or it could be a different letter. The letter caused them sorrow because Paul was confronting them on sin. We don’t know the specifics, but looking at the context, we know the issue involved a person who stirred up strife and caused a turning against Paul in some way.

Nevertheless, Paul doesn’t relive the situation. The purpose of his writing here is to simply express his joy at the Corinthians’ repentance (read verses 8b to 9). What causes a pastor to rejoice is the same thing that causes God to rejoice–“a sinner who repents” (Luke 15). In verse 10 we see a logical chain of repentance, which makes up our first point.

1.  The Realities of Real REPENTANCE (Verses 9 to 10)

What is real repentance?

A.  Sinner’s REMORSE

Verse 10, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God.” The first link in the chain of genuine repentance starts with godly sorrow or remorse. Sorrow comes up seven times total in three verses. So sorrow is important in real repentance–do not downplay genuine sorrow. But there is a right and a wrong kind of sorrow. Sorrow according to the will of God is right and sorrow of this world is wrong. What is godly sorrow? I gave you three examples of godly sorrow in your outline with Scripture references–but I want to highlight Luke 18:13.

This is the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee walks into the Temple high on his horse and essentially says, “God, look at how good I am, and thank you that I am not like this tax collector.” But the tax collector has a very different demeanor. Luke 18:13, “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast [expressing intense sorrow], saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’”

What was the reason for the tax collector’s sorrow? His sin. And Jesus says, “That man walked away justified.” Sorrow according to the will of God is always sorrow over sin. Sin is devastating–it pollutes our thoughts, it soils our best intentions, it burdens the soul, even affects us physically.

Psalm 32:3 to 4, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.” Sin ruins relationships (Corinthians’ sin affected their relationship with Paul, the apostle they love, so the letter he wrote caused them sorrow.) Ultimately, sin separates us from God–it is an offense primarily against Him.

Do you experience sorrow over your sin? Do you feel the sinner’s remorse? Where can you find this kind of sorrow? At the foot of the cross–look up to see a man suffering in your place. He is innocent, you are guilty. Every sin you commit is another burden He bore on your behalf. God poured His holy wrath on His own Son for your sins. If you’re not sorry yet, go to the foot of the cross and don’t leave until it changes you.

How can we tell the difference though, between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow? Because they can look very similar. Look at Judas and Peter–both betrayed Christ in the final hour, both were grieved. I don’t think Judas cried less than Peter did. I don’t think Peter was more sad than Judas. What was the difference?

This text helps us–the difference in sorrow is in the result. Look at verse 10, “Sorrow according to God produces repentance.” Sorrow from the world produces death. Don’t look just at the perceived “genuineness” of the sorrow, look to the result. This is an important point–sorrow is not the end of repentance, it is the beginning.

I love what Richard Owen Roberts says, “Clearly, where there is a Spirit of conviction, there are tears. But, while it is good to offer tissues to weeping people, I want to add a word of caution! Do not wipe away those tears before they have finished their work.” Godly sorrow produces repentance. It’s not enough to feel really bad about your sin. Without repentance, your sorrow will only take you to further sorrow in Hell. The first link in the chain is a sinner’s remorse. The second link is . . .

B.  Sinner’s REVERSE

For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret.” The Greek word for repentance (metanoia) has a simple definition–“to change one’s mind.” But the word should not be limited to that simple definition, especially as you see it used in a variety of different contexts.

I say that, because some scholars argue metanoia just means to change one’s mind, so that’s all repentance is. It is just changing my mind about sin, a rational assent that sin is wrong, but nothing else has to change. These are proponents of easy-believism or free grace theology.

Rational Turning

Second Timothy 2:25, “with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.”

Volitional Turning

In Acts 8:22 Peter says, ‘Therefore repent [metanoia] of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.’” Peter talks about a change of the will there–turning from wickedness that comes from the intention of your heart.

Emotional Turning

Second Corinthians, “Sorrow producing repentance.”

Three aspects of repentance–rational, volitional and emotional. Repentance is whole life turning from sin. Does Christ commend the rich young ruler in Luke 18 because of his knowledge of the Law? No–He says sell your idols and follow me. Easy-believism and free grace theologies are lies from the pit of Hell. They deny the Lordship of Christ and deny our responsibility. Christ doesn’t demand your rational assent to truth, He demands your life. Whole life turning from sin to what?

First Thessalonians 1:9, “For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God.” Repentance is turning from sin to the living and true God. Repentance is not just a lateral turn from idol to idol, or from one sin to another sin–it is a horizontal, godward change of direction.

I was listening to an interview with Steve Madden, founder and former CEO of Steve Madden, the fashion company. Not a lot of people know this, but Steve Madden was caught in the scandal involving Jordan Belfort, famously known as the Wolf of Wall Street. Steve invested with Jordan’s firm, Stratton Oakmont, and participated in the “pump and dump scheme” (illegally inflating stock prices and reselling them for profit). The Securities and Exchange Commission eventually caught both Jordan Belfort and Steve Madden, sentencing both and more to prison.

Guy Raz asked Madden in the interview, “Do you regret what you did?” Steve Madden responds, “Of course! I was so consumed with money, it controlled my life. To say that I regret what I did would be an understatement, I regret the very desire I had to do it. I regret my consuming desire for money.”

That’s a pretty good statement. Madden recognized that his problem wasn’t just the things he did, but the motivation behind them. It was his heart–his desires that were the problem. Guy asked, “After you got out of prison, what changed?” And Steve responded, “Well there is more to success than money. There is legacy and impact. I just want to leave behind a positive mark. That’s what I live for now.”

The world will say, “Wow, he turned his life around, completely changed direction.” God looks down from Heaven and says, “No, he just changed from one Idol to another–from worshipping money to worshipping his own legacy.” That is not repentance. Sobering up is not repentance. Stopping your porn habit is not repentance. Holding your tongue or cleaning up your speech is not repentance.

Those are good things. They often come with repentance, but repentance is not a change without God. In order to repent, you must turn from your sin and turn only to the living God. There is nowhere else you can go. And the only way you can do that is at the foot of the cross.

Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). In order to turn from your sin to God, you need to come through Christ. Deny yourself and follow Him. Have you truly repented, or have you made changes without Jesus? Christians, are you running from your sin to Christ, or are you going back to your old way, running from sin to sin–idol to idol. The chain starts with sinner’s remorse, than produces the sinner’s reverse and finally leads to . . .


Look back at 2 Corinthians 7:10, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation.” Without repentance, the end is not good. “Sorrow of the world produces death” (verse 10). But real repentance leads to salvation.

The connection between your salvation and your repentance is indivisible. Repentance is essential in salvation. Acts 3:19, “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Repentance restores the broken relationship caused by sin.

“Morgan, aren’t we saved by faith and faith alone? Sola fide!” Amen, and amen. And inseparable from that saving faith is the reality of repentance. Just as God grants the sinner saving faith in Jesus Christ, so God grants the sinner repentance, the ability to turn from sin to follow Him. Two sides of the same coin, often told.

Repentance is turning from sin, and faith is the trust in Christ. Repentance is the first fruit of saving faith, and without it there is no salvation. Jesus was clear in Luke 13:5, “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Just as ongoing faith is important for the believer, so is ongoing repentance.

Ongoing repentance restores the joy of our salvation, the communion we enjoy with God. Look at David in Psalm 51:11 to 12, “Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.”

Do you feel distant from the Lord right now? Have you lost the vitality of your fellowship with Him? Search your heart and repent from the sin that entangles you. Run to Christ, the author and perfecter of your faith. Go to the foot of the cross. Sin tries to pull you away from Christ, stir doubts, cause confusion, fog your memory. See Him who bore your sin and paid your debt.

Believe in Him who is the Bread of Life–the only one who can truly fill you, sustain you, and keep you. This is where you must go first when you sin. Your assurance is in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Turn from your sin and go nowhere else. Do not turn to other sins, do not turn to other idols, do not wait, do not believe any excuses–run to the foot of the cross.

There are the realities of repentance, as shown to us from 2 Corinthians 7:10 to 11–a sinner’s remorse that produces a sinner’s reverse that leads to a sinner’s salvation. I have a picture that might help illustrate it, solidifying it in our minds. This is us running toward sin. There is no positive life change without turning to Christ. Any path without Christ is a path toward sin.

In repentance, we turn from sin to God alone through Jesus Christ. It is a rational, volitional, and emotional change of direction—a whole life turn from sin to Christ. That is repentance. What are some evidences of real repentance? Verses 9 to 10 show us the theological realities of repentance, but what does it actually look like?

2.  The FRUITS of Real Repentance Verse 11

Second Corinthians 7:11, “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.”

We don’t have time this morning to go through each of these fruits individually, but I’m going to bundle some of them together into two categories that are very clear from this passage.


We can know that it is real repentance when right heart desires come out. Look at a couple of these—earnestness, indignation, fear, longing, zeal. Think about the person who is earnest. Their repentance will be quick, eager to return to the Lord, eager to make wrong relationships right–the turning is immediate.

I think about the calling of Levi (Matthew) in Luke 5. Jesus sees him in the tax booth and says, “Follow me.” Verse 28 says immediately, “He left everything behind, and got up and followed Him.” That is earnest repentance, a quick response to the call. Not, “Okay, but let me enjoy this sin a little longer.” Or, “I’ll repent later when it’s convenient.”

What about indignation? This is anger, but focused in the right direction–anger directed toward sin. A repentant person will ate their sin. They won’t pet the beast that killed their Savior. They will hate it, disdain it, and that indignation will be evident.

Fear–this is a healthy fear of God, not men. Like a son who has disobeyed his father, a Christian will approach God’s throne with fear and reverence, ashamed of their sin, confessing all of it, pleading for forgiveness, showing honor, recognizing that your sin is against Him and Him first.

A healthy fear of God is displayed by David, who after he sins committing adultery with Bathsheba, killing Uriah her husband, says, “Against you [God], You Only, I have sinned.” Not a flippant, “Sorry.” There is a righteous fear in the heart of a Christian and it shows in their reverence toward God in their repentance. Not fear of men over God.

Sometimes, when a student gets caught in their sin, or they confess sin to me in small groups, their immediate follow up is, “Please, don’t tell my parents!” That breaks my heart, because it reveals who they are living to please. They fear men, and not God.

Longing and zeal go together–these are strong desires for what is good. Longing in the heart of a repentant person will show itself as a strong desire to confess sin, to rid of temptations, for accountability, for help, for the Word, the truth, for reminders in the Gospel, to make relationships right, to fill time with service to the Lord.

Zeal is the ongoing passion that fuels the desires to make them happen. Zeal is evident in the life of the repentant. As a youth pastor now for four years, I have had so many conversations with students who appeared to be repentant–sorrow was there, they were in tears, the right words were said, wanting to “turn from their sin, and once for all follow Jesus.”

Then when they get back from camp, a week later the apparent zeal has gone away. Often, they go right back to the sinful habits they swore off. Beware of temporary commitments, short lived sorrow, short burst passion without ongoing longing or zeal. These are just some of the fruits of real repentance.

Heed the warning of John in Luke 3:8 to 9, “Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”


Notice the phrases—“vindication of yourselves . . . avenging of wrong . . . demonstrating yourselves innocent in the matter.” Studying these phrases individually would be really profitable, but as a category of fruit, we can call them the fruits of righting all wrongs. The truly repentant will have a desire to right all wrongs–total honesty, forthcoming, reconciling all broken relationships as far as it depends on you. Leave no stone unturned.

There was a father who was a grocery store owner during the Great Depression. Many of his customers were unable to buy clothes for their families, or food to fill their bellies. So this grocery store owner graciously gave away free food and supplies regularly to help his customers.

Unfortunately, the day came when he could no longer pay his suppliers because he ran out of money. They were merciless to the merciful and they foreclosed. This left him with a staggering debt he could not pay. True story, this father asked for no help from his family or the families he helped during the Depression. He committed himself the rest of his life to pay off this debt–every penny. And just a month before his death, he sent in the last check, debt repaid in full.

This is the attitude of the truly repentant. As far as it depends on them, they make every effort to right all wrongs. Bringing every sin before the Lord, not hiding any–confessing all sin to the offended party, not just the ones you think apply. Accepting full responsibility for wrongs—not just some of the responsibility. Repaying all debt, not just the ones that are convenient.

When I think of righting all wrongs, I think of Zacchaeus, the tax collector. Zacchaeus had spent his life swindling money from people, like every other tax collector. His pockets were lined with cash that came right from the hands of the poor, unable to feed their own families.

Zacchaeus hears about Jesus and climbs a sycamore tree to see the Christ. Jesus calls Zacchaeus out of the sycamore tree and says, “Zacchaeus, I am staying at your house today.” The text says that “Zacchaeus came down and received Him gladly”–probably in shock that Christ would call a scum ball tax collector like him.

And what does Zacchaeus do? He says in Luke 19:8 to 10, “Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.’ 9 And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

I’m going to now ask a dangerous question–are there wrongs that you still haven’t made right? Are there still relationships that have not been reconciled? Is there still sin you are hiding from somebody? Is there an area of your heart left unchecked–a sin you thought wasn’t that bad, but you still haven’t brought it before the Lord?

Today is the day of repentance. Turn to Luke 15 again, “And He said, ‘A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.” So he divided his wealth between them. 13 And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. 14 Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. 17 But when he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.’ 20 So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22 But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” And they began to celebrate.’”

Come to your senses today. Turn from your sin and run to the loving embrace of your heavenly Father, who rejoices in your repentance.

About Morgan Maitland

Morgan served from 2015-2020 as the high school pastor at Faith Bible Church. He is now the teaching pastor at Summit Bible Church in Fontana, CA.

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