How Do You Grieve Over Sin?
2 Corinthians 7:10-11
Let’s start with a pop quiz…
|1) Repentance is when you confess sin to God.||True / False|
The answer is true–however, did you know that Judas confessed his sin but was not repentant?
|2) Repentance is evident by crying/sorrow/grief.||True / False|
This is false–did you know that Pharaoh grieved and was sorrowful, but was not repentant? Crying, sorrow and grief may be present, but are not necessarily marks of repentance.
|3) Repentance is when you resolve not to sin again.||True / False|
False–oftentimes, after experiencing great pain over sin, someone will resolve not to do that action anymore…gossip, lie, get drunk, steal, cheat in school, cheat on taxes, lose their temper. Desiring to not commit a certain sin anymore is not genuine repentance.
|4) Repentance is when you change your behavior.||True / False|
False–how many people do you know that have given up drugs or drunkenness? Yet they haven’t turned to God and aren’t believers. AA programs are full of unrepentant, non-Christians who have changed their behavior.
|5) Repentance is something you do to make yourself acceptable to God.||True / False|
False–repentance does make you acceptable to God, but it’s not something we work up. Repentance comes from God rather than by our doing. John 15:5, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”
How’d you do–did you get them right? It is surprisingly easy to confuse the world’s definition of repentance with what God says repentance is.
How do you know when your child or spouse has repented? Have you ever had someone come up to you and say, “I’m sorry”? Is that it?! How do you know that they really are sorry? Do you take them at their word? Do you wait some months and see if it happens again? Do you automatically not believe them? How do you know when someone is really sorry?
We often teach our kids how to be sorry without really meaning it. “Jimmy, you tell little Josh that you’re sorry for hitting him . . . Anna, you need to apologize to your sister for coloring on her homework.” As kids, they don’t usually mean it. And as adults, we tend not to believe people who apologize to us. And, we often don’t really mean it when we tell someone that we’re sorry.
So how do you tell when someone is truly repentant? Your adult son has been making horrible choices but wants a second chance. The lies of your spouse have finally been revealed and they’re begging for forgiveness. The weight you feel from your own sins feel unbearable and you’ve asked the Lord to forgive you, but you’re just not sure.
How do you tell when someone is truly repentant? How can you tell if you are truly repentant? God’s Word is going to tell us the answer to that question today. Open up your Bible to 2 Corinthians 7.
Back in Acts 18, we looked at the establishment of the Church in Corinth. It was right after Athens and it’s where Paul met the amazing couple named Aquila and Priscilla. He ministered there for 18 months, then left and Apollos came and begin to minister there. Around that same time, he wrote a letter I like to call 0 Corinthians, out of concern for them. God did not see fit to preserve that one, but they sent him some questions and so we have 1 Corinthians as a response to those questions.
Timothy then visited them to follow up that letter. Paul did not like what he was hearing from Timothy, so he stopped in for a personal visit that he called “painful”. After that, Paul sent another letter (1½ Corinthians) to confront sin there, and challenge the false teachers who were denying Paul’s apostolic authority. Titus carried that letter and then wrote back to Paul that many had repented.
Second Corinthians is written to express joy at their repentance and remind them of the truth–that’s the particular focus of the first seven chapters. Paul is overjoyed that the Corinthians he loved had mainly repented. And at the end of his encouragement to them, he describes their repentance and contrasts it with worldly sorrow.
You see, everybody feels guilt and grief when their sin is revealed to them. But not everyone repents–not everyone confesses their sin to God and turns towards righteousness. I would bet that you know some people who have seen their sin, but not turned towards God. The Bible presents two very different responses to sorrow over sin.
Paul in 2 Corinthians 7 helps us to understand when we are seeing the work of God in someone’s life. Paul gives us a grid to evaluate every pain of your heart and ask, “Am I experiencing worldly sorrow or godly sorrow?” You see this contrast in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God [ESV says “godly grief’] produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world [ESV says “worldly grief’] produces death.”
Whenever you see sin in your life and grieve over it, this is the question you should ask—”Am I experiencing worldly sorrow or godly sorrow–is this godly grief or worldly grief?” The sorrow of the world produces death. Sorrow from God produces repentance and leads to life. Which one do you have?
How can you tell if your grief over sin is deadly? Paul does not expand here on worldly sorrow, so let me briefly give you some ways to tell that this is in your heart.
1) Your concern is mainly about the consequences of your sin (Genesis 4)
There are many who cry and wail over their sin–not because of how they sinned against God, but because of the consequences they now dread. The man who cries and pleads with his wife, promising it will never happen again, is often broken because he fears that his sin will become known and that he will lose his family. That is deadly grief. We see it in Genesis 4 with Cain, after he killed Abel.
Genesis 4:13 to 14, “Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.’” If your thoughts are mainly fixated on the costs and consequences of your sin, then your grief is probably not from God, and not true repentance.
2) Your desires remain unchanged, despite your grief (1 Kings 21)
You get drunk or you watch porn, and you feel really guilty. You may experience pain and regret and even stop eating. But then you want it again, and you feed your desires.
First Kings 21:4 to 16, “So Ahab came into his house sullen and vexed because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him; for he said, ‘I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.’ And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and ate no food. … 7And Jezebel his wife said to him, ‘Do you now govern Israel? Arise and eat bread and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.’ … 16And as soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.” If your desires for sin are unaffected, despite the pain you feel, then your grief is probably not from God, and not true repentance.
3) You keep it secret from those you most hurt (Matthew 27)
A fear of what others will think drives people to stay quiet about their sin. Even when grieved and sorry, some people will not confess their sin to others. They don’t want the people they love to think less of them.
Matthew 27:3 to 5, “Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to that yourself!’ 5And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.”
Rather than risking himself to own his error to the disciples, Judas only tells people who already knew what he had done. If you are not willing to confess to the people who were hurt by your sin, then your grief is probably not from God and not true repentance.
The world often portrays repentance as feeling bad about what you did, uttering a prayer out of desperation, saying, “I’m sorry,” promising to never do it again. But that is not how God’s Word describes the truly repentant. That is not how the Christian repents. When you see sin in your life and grieve over it, this is the question you should ask—”Am I experiencing worldly sorrow or godly sorrow? Is this godly grief or worldly grief?” Which one do you have? How can you tell if your grief over sin is producing repentance and real, godly change in your life? Second Corinthians 7 shows us how to identify genuine repentance.
Three key indicators of genuine repentance:
1) You can identify how you specifically sinned (Verses 6 to 7)
Have you ever had someone apologize to you by saying, “I am really sorry if I hurt you.” Or, “I want to ask your forgiveness if something I did offended you.” This person has no clue how they’ve sinned. They’re just saying this because they’re reading you as hurt. They are not repenting–they can’t identify what they’ve done. When your spouse repents to you, they don’t need to keep a spreadsheet with timestamps, right? We’re just looking for them to be able to articulate some specifics.
For the Corinthians, they had broken their relationship with Paul. They had believed gossip and slander about him. They had assigned him impure motives and doubted his calling from God. And they knew it and freely confessed it. Second Corinthians 7:6 and 7 shows the change, “But God… comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7…as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.”
The tendency of our nation is to blame others for wrongs done. I ask one of my children why they hit their sister? The answer is immediately, “Because they . . .” Then I say, “Why is your heart angry?” They respond, “…well, when she did this, it made me angry.” But, “Why did you respond with anger?”
It takes a long time to get past life as a victim. Many, many people do not see their sin as sin. Instead, you only acted that way because of your spouse, your mom, your customer, or somebody else. The precursor to genuine repentance is you can identify how you specifically sinned.
You’re like a man going to the doctor–saying, “I don’t feel well,” isn’t helpful. Saying, “My ankle hurts right here and there’s this big gash in my calf, so I can’t walk right anymore”–that’s when the doctor can help you. In genuine repentance, you must see your sin and bring it all to the Lord.
The next two indicators of genuine repentance are comingled in the descriptions. This is because they’re integrally related to one another. They are like socks–taking one without the other makes no sense. One of those indicators of genuine repentance is that . . .
2) Your thinking about sin and God begins to change
Second Corinthians 7:11, “For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” Paul describes genuine repentance by saying that your very thinking and ambitions change.
What is the first thing mentioned that godly sorrow produces? Earnestness (aka eagerness)–it is describing the eager pursuit of righteousness by the repentant. When you repent, the blinders fall off your eyes. Right now, when I drive, road signs that once were crystal clear are now a bit fuzzy. I have to squint a bit. I have to wait for the sign to get closer. It stinks to get old.
When you put on glasses after being near-sighted, the whole world becomes clearer. That is not what’s being described. Repentance isn’t about a slight correction to your vision of life. Repentance brings a wholesale change to how you see everything. It’s like a cataract surgery to your heart. You were blind, and now you see. You used to love sin, and when you repent you hate it. Your thinking about sin changes. You want to be right with God. He is your concern.
Augustine, before he was a Christian, used to confess sin and beg for power against it–but his heart whispered within him, “Not yet, Lord.” When you sin and confess it, is there a little voice that pleads, “Not yet, Lord.” An indicator of true repentance is that your thinking and your desires begin to change. You become eager for righteousness. You become hungry for joy from God.
When you feel grief over sin, a good question is, “Do I see this sin as God does?” The fruit of a hunger for righteousness is found in the rest of verse 11. He says that there is vindication. This doesn’t mean that you make excuses or were justified in what you did. Paul means that you give an account for your actions. You own your problems. You admit your guilt and what you did.
You cannot repent to God or men if you do not own what you did. You no longer make excuses for your sin, but instead take steps to act in such a way as to progressively restore the trust you broke with others. You have heard people make excuses and put up defenses for their sin. I feel like our news cycle is consumed with people’s sins and the excuses they make for them. Walls are thrown up, lies are spoken and semantics are played to make it appear that nothing too bad happened. That is not genuine repentance. Your thinking about the Lord and your sin will change when you repent.
You willingly admit your guilt to others because it has been forgiven on the cross by Jesus Christ. And because your thinking and desires and priorities have changed, you will own your failures and work to regain trust with others.
Alongside that desire to vindicate yourself is an indignation at what happened. You are angry about your sin and begin to hate it. You don’t hate sin because of the pain it caused you. You’re not angry about the severe consequences that came. You hate what you did because it brought shame to God’s holy name and reproach to His people.
You should view sin the way my wife, Beth, hates mustard. If we get a sandwich and split it, I’ll ask for mustard on my half. But if they cut it and there is mustard at the cut line, even a drop–that part is mine. She cannot abide the taste of mustard. The smallest dot taints food to her. How do you view sin? Do you see your sin like that?
Every sin, no matter how small or big, is an offense to God. He cannot live with it. It’s the very reason that God sent His Son Jesus to live a perfect life for you, and then to die on the cross–in order to pay the full price for every dot of sin in your life. Do you see the terrible cost of your sins to God? The repentant do. Whenever you repent, you’re agreeing with God about this. You begin to hate it–not because of the cost to you, but the cost to God.
Do you see how your thinking about sin and God begins to change? It even changes your fears. You no longer fear missing out. You no longer fear unsatisfied desires. You no longer fear what others think. You no longer fear what will happen if you’re discovered.
The repentant are filled with a deep fear of God. Paul uses the word fear five times in 2 Corinthians and four of them are in chapter 11. He is not using it in the Halloween sense of fright, but to describe reverence and respect for God. Repentance leads to holy awe.
God is the one most offended by our sins. He is the one who chastens and judges sin. He is also the one who paid for sin on our behalf. Though we deserve judgment and wrath, we find mercy and grace. He remains faithful when we are faithless. Before repenting, you feared missing out on the pleasures of life more than anything else. You feared what people thought of you. You feared failing to meet others’ expectations. You feared rejection, you feared change, you feared losing control. Repenting of sin means that the object of your fear is now God alone.
Is your grief over sin producing repentance and real, godly change in your life? When it does, your thinking about God and sin changes. That’s one sock–the other sock, the third and simultaneous indicator of genuine repentance . . .
3) You begin to eagerly pursue righteousness
This is the actual meaning of the word “earnestness” at the beginning of verse 11. And the latter descriptions in this verse all point towards the outward fruits of repentance that become visible to others. Paul uses the word “longing” to describe a hunger you gain for restoration. In the NKJV, it’s called a vehement desire–a passionate desire.
When you hate sin and fear God, you become passionate about making things right. When you are sinning, you care only about yourself. When you repent, you care about your relationship to others. A clear sign someone has not repented is when they don’t desire to restore and rebuild trust with the people they sinned against. The Christians in Corinth passionately desired to restore the relationship that they’d had with Paul. If you can commit sin and see no effect on your walk and relationship to God, then you have become blinded and somewhat hardened.
Can you think back to when you were single? I know that some of you still are single, but if not, try to remember those days. There were days when you were single and you just really wanted to be married. You’d see a couple and wish it was you. You’d go to a bridal shower or a baby shower and wish it was you. You’d be puking your guts out at home, and wish there was someone there to take care of you. You sometimes felt like you’d burn up inside with desire. That is called longing and that is how every repentant person hungers for righteousness. You have this strong zeal for God. That’s how Paul describes it, as you stop pursuing your own glory and begin to pursue God’s glory.
Like a girl with no prom date, you are utterly consumed. You spend all your thoughts–all your focus is on one thing. When you sin, you are consumed with satisfying your desires. You are singularly focused on yourself and what you think will make you happy. In repentance, there is a similar zeal to focus on God and find joy in Him.
You turn from yourself and pursue God. Repentance is not merely stopping the sinful action, but also involves zealously turning towards God. You are willing to pay any price to follow God. That’s why Paul describes the Corinthians’ repentance as “avenging of wrong.” Paul had confronted them and they didn’t try to protect or defend themselves. They were repentant, so they were aggressive about obedience now. They wanted to see things made right, even if it cost them something.
When you repent over sin, you will want to make things right. You will want to avenge the wrongs you did. You will want to fix broken relationships. The thief will return what he has stolen and accept the consequences. The liar will not just stop lying, but will set straight those whom he has lied to. The angry man will apologize to those he hurt and beg forgiveness. The selfish girl will begin to put others first and affirm those she hurt. You don’t blameshift, rationalize or minimize what was done. You want to see justice done and sin paid for, even at cost to yourself. There is an aggressive pursuit of holiness in all of your life.
Is your grief over sin producing repentance and real, godly change in your life? Genuine repentance results in an uncompromising, violent pursuit of holiness across your life–in every known area of sin. And I can speak for the elders in our church when I say that we see this in lives at Faith Bible Church. What I am describing is not something hypothetical. It is not some Early Church, super-Christian thing. The way that Paul describes repentance is being lived out in many people here today.
And we also see some who try to fake it. You confess the easy sins, but not the hard ones. You confess the publicly acceptable, safe sins, but hide the dangerous and ugly sins away. Tell me why would you complain about an upset stomach when your lungs are bad and your liver is failing? What is your repenting like?
The world lies to us. The world says that if you act this way, if you specifically identify your sin, if you act like your sin is a big deal, if you think you can lastingly turn from these vices–you are going to regret it. You are going to be taken advantage of. You are going to lose all the pleasure there is in life. That is the message of friends, media, advertising and entertainment.
God’s Word says something different. If you get overwhelmed by the weight of your sin, if you think that no one will understand if you come clean, if you think that what you’ve done is too bad to be forgiven, if you doubt that change is even possible in your life–God is pleading with you to repent. And He promises you won’t regret it.
Second Corinthians 7:10, “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.”
If you’re ever struggling to repent–know this truth. You will not regret your decision. You will not miss that sin, you will not miss the feelings associated with sin, you won’t regret it at all. Today, if there are things you need to repent over, I can say confidently that God is pleading with you to repent–to confess your sins, to depend upon Christ’s righteousness and not your own, to plead with God to change you, and then depend on His Spirit to do that work. He will be faithful to all of His children who cry out.