The Issue of Genuine Sorrow (Part 3)
The Issue of Genuine Sorrow (Part 3)
2 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.”
The problem with worldly sorrow is that if focuses on you and me. It causes us to focus on how terrible a sinner we are rather than on the graciousness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The result of this is an instinct to try and make up for our sin, to atone for our sin, by dwelling on it, brooding over it, by feeling so bad for oneself that you are reduced to utter despair. But the instinct of godly sorrow, of genuine sorrow over sin, is to run to the cross of Jesus Christ, which is the only place where atonement for our sins can be found.
So, what then is genuine repentance? Real, true, genuine repentance is the product of godly and genuine sorrow, but it does not stop at that sorrow. Instead it leads to a changed life. Genuine repentance bears fruit. Too many professing Christians today claim repentance, but they bear no fruit in lives that evidence no real difference between them and those who do not profess Christ.
We see this issue of genuine repentance here in 2 Corinthians 7:11 as Paul details what the repentance of the church at Corinth consisted of. There are several characteristics that the apostle gives us of genuine repentance.
First, genuine repentance is marked by “earnestness.” Paul says in verse 11, “For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you.” “Earnestness” means eagerness, and the Corinthians were eager to change their behavior and change the course that they were on. This for them meant specifically that they were eager to restore their damaged relationship with Paul. Paul further describes them by saying, “What longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong!”
Genuine and real repentance is not indifferent about sin and therefore it is not indifferent about making things right, restoring relationships which have been damaged because of sin. A person who is truly repentant will not need to be cajoled into seeking forgiveness or pursuing restoration and reconciliation. They will also not need to be reminded again and again to make changes in their lives. Genuine repentance understands the seriousness of sin and is then eager to deal with sin in a Biblical manner.
Next, Paul says that genuine repentance is marked by the desire to be known for righteousness. Verse 11 says, “What vindication of yourselves.” If one is truly repentant then they are going to desire to clear their name of any stigma from sin. This is a longing to have a reputation for righteousness rather than a reputation for unrighteousness. How do we do that? We do this by doing everything we can to make sure that our repentance is as public as our sin was.
You now live your life in such a way that everyone who knew of your sin now understands and now sees that you have put away that unrighteousness. In its place they will now see the fruit of the Spirit instead.
What does this mean practically? For example, if your sin is that of trafficking in false and malicious information about people, you are now known for truth and never saying anything bad about another person. If you were an impatient person, you now go out of your way to show grace to everyone you deal with.
The next characteristic of genuine repentance is that of indignation. You are now righteously angry with yourself for having sinned against the holy God. This is just a natural effect of godly sorrow, genuine sorrow. John Calvin said, “The first step is that evil be displeasing to us. The second is that, being inflamed with anger, we press hard upon ourselves, so that our consciences may be touched to the quick.”
The genuinely repentant man or woman does not make excuses and they don’t lie to themselves with positive thinking. Repentance, real repentance knows nothing of self-esteem. Instead genuine repentance is concerned with God, or as Paul says with “the fear of God.” Rather than being worried about yourself, you are concerned for God and for His damaged honor, that is what dominates your thoughts and your actions.
The last characteristic is that genuine repentance is marked by making things right. Paul ends verse 11 with, “In everything your demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.” This in no way means that they had never been guilty of sin, but that they were now demonstrating fruit that was keeping with repentance and that they had now made things right, and therefore could no longer be blamed for the sin that they had committed.
That is the fruit of genuine repentance: an eagerness, a zeal to demonstrate a changed and new life, not a reluctance to demonstrate newness; an indignation with yourself and with your sin; a longing to restore any relationship that you have damaged with your sin; and a real concern that justice would be done as sin is disciplined and dealt with in a Biblical manner. Is your repentance marked by these characteristics? If it is not, I would challenge you to seek the Lord while He may be found. It may be that you are not really saved to begin with.