2 Corinthians 7
Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God… Now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.
2 Corinthians 7:1, 9–11
Paul makes a distinction here between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow. Worldly sorrow is something we are all too familiar with, it is insincere and insignificant. Godly sorrow is something altogether different, a genuine conviction of our sin. Worldly sorrow is merely remorse over our past actions. Godly sorrow is true repentance of our sin. Worldly sorrow ultimately leads to death, Paul says, it is not the kind of ‘sorry’ God requires from us. Godly sorrow leads to salvation as we turn from our sin and instead turn to God.
This godly sorrow over our sin continues throughout our earthly lives and continually produces in us the kind of character Paul describes in verse 11, a godly character marked by earnestness and longing for God’s ways. This is part of the process of ‘purifying ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit’ and becoming holy (verse 1).
What sets off this response from the Corinthians is a letter which Paul wrote to them (verse 8). In other words, their genuine repentance is a result of reading the writing of an apostle of Jesus Christ and heeding his words.
Our response to reading Scripture should be no different from theirs. As we read in our own time and hear the preaching of the writings of the apostles and the words of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, we should respond in godly sorrow and true repentance. We cannot remain unmoved by Scripture in relation to our sinfulness. And as we respond in this way we will be purified and made holy before God.
King David is a great example to us of a man who messed up and knew it and felt this godly sorrow. He was a man who loved God’s Word (Psalm 19) and when convicted of his sin by God’s prophet, turned to Him in true repentance (2 Samuel 12). We can read in the Psalms his attitude of godly sorrow over his sin (Psalms 6, 32, 51 & 130). And just as Paul rejoices over the godly character produced in the Corinthian Christians by their repentance, so too can David (in his old age) look back and rejoice at God’s hand and Word at work in his life.
May we too, at the end of our days, be able to look back at our lives and say with David:
Since my youth, O God, you have taught me,
and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter,
you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
you will again bring me up.
You will increase my honor
and comfort me once again.
I will praise you with the harp
for your faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing praise to you with the lyre,
O Holy One of Israel.
My lips will shout for joy
when I sing praise to you—
I, whom you have redeemed.
Psalm 71:17, 20-23