The Issue of Genuine Sorrow
January 29, 2020
2 Corinthians 7:9-11, “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 every manner you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.”
Lately, as we have been working our way through the Sermon on the Mount and specifically The Beatitudes I have been considering what it really means to be bothered by sin. I’m not talking about the sin that surrounds us in this fallen world. I think it is often very easy to be bothered by sin that is not our own. But are we sufficiently grieved and humbled by our own depravity? This morning I read a wonderful article by Pastor Mike Riccardi from Grace Community Church that I will link here https://blog.tms.edu/sorrow. Mike’s article made me analyze once again the presuppositions of our evangelical culture in regards to sorrow and repentance and more specifically my own at times dangerous way of thinking about these things.
We live in culture that is consumed with avoiding any kind of pain, both physical and emotional. We dull emotional pain by staying insanely busy, with entertainment, by going to a counselor, with drugs, alcohol, and even prescription medication. The prevailing thought is that if something makes me feel melancholy, depressed or sad, then it has to be bad for me. I used to feel bad about this, and I certainly don’t want to go out of my way to be insensitive, but most of the time the issue was that they were being confronted with sin and it made them uncomfortable, it caused them some inner emotional conflict. And for the most part people in our culture don’t like that. Yet the Bible tells us just the opposite. The Bible tells us that sorrow is good for us. Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” The reality, the hard truth is that sorrow, sadness, melancholy, whatever one wants to call it can be of benefit to us. Which is why Paul writes to the church at Corinth and tells them that he does not regret causing them sorrow and pain. Why? Because that sorrow, that pain apparently led them to repentance of sin.
This passage in Corinthians, and the second beatitude make it clear that there is a kind of sorrow that is part of God’s purpose for our lives. There is a sadness, a sorrow, that God wants us to experience, because that sorrow is according to His will. Paul says this is a sorrow that “produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation.”
First, let’s talk about what exactly repentance is. Repentance is one of those Christian words we hear, and we see a lot but I fear we really don’t understand what it means. The most common definition of repentance is to change your mind. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia, the prefix meta means to change, and noia means to think. So, it is translated from the Greek to mean to change one’s mind. The problem with this is that some take this to mean that repentance is nothing more than an intellectual transaction. It is simply an acknowledgement that you have sinned, and now you are committed to thinking differently. But this goes much deeper than just changing your mind. This is the changing not just of your mind but of who you are in your inner being. In the Bible, the heart and the mind are used interchangeably.
A big part of repentance then, is indeed, the intellectual understanding that you are a sinner and the confession of sin. But repentance doesn’t end there. There is also then the “change of heart” aspect of repentance. This is the emotional part of repentance where the genuine believer mourns over the fact that they have sinned against God, the God who they now love. David writes in Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”
You see the man or woman who is genuinely repentant is not going to be numb to their sin. They are not going to act like their sin just isn’t that bad or isn’t that big of a deal. This is how much of our culture today addresses sin, if they address it all. If one is truly repentant then they will have an understanding of just how deeply offensive their sin is to God. They will also understand just how good God is. God is the one who sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross in their place. They will further understand just how patient God is, despite the fact that even after He has saved them and they continue to sin against Him, He still forgives them of their sin. When you understand that you have sinned not against yourself, not against your family, your friends, your neighbors but primarily against the holy and glorious God, then the only legitimate response is going to be that of godly sorrow over your sin. Part of repentance is a deep understanding of just who God is.
Genuine, real repentance is not just saying some words and then walking down an aisle and filling out a card. Genuine repentance is a matter of the heart. Which is why our Lord gives a blessing to those who truly mourn. Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Why are those who mourn blessed? Because it is only those who mourn over the shame of their sin, it is only those who understand how offensive their sin is to the holiness of God and then mourn over it, that then turn to God in repentance and seek His forgiveness by God’s grace; that are then comforted by God. The Bible tells us that God is in no way going to reject a broken and contrite spirit.
Tomorrow we will look at how the world defines sorrow.