You have sinned, and so have I. It’s a part of being human, unfortunately. If you are walking with God, you should have noticed that you felt a level of sorrow for what you did when you sinned, and it will often last until you repent.
What is this sorrow you felt? Is it significant? Is it from God, or is it just you?
In this article, we will answer these questions as we explain what the Apostle Paul means in 2 Corinthians 7:10 when he says, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
1. There Is a Godly Sorrow
One of my earliest memories as a child was a painful one. I was about three years old, and I remember my father cooking pancakes on the stovetop. The only problem, my patience was even shorter than I was.
When I said, “Now!” My dad explained that “no, they are still cooking and aren’t ready.” When I tried to reach them, he again said, “No, it is hot,” and placed me in the other room and told me to wait. That’s when I came up with my mastermind plan. I decided that I would run in and reach up and grab the pancakes the second my dad looked away.
When he turned to grab something in the refrigerator, I saw my opportunity. I ran in but discovered I was too short to see over the counter. So, I raised onto the tip of my toes and extended my arm as high as I could. Then, I blindly began feeling around, hoping to discover glorious pancakes.
The one thing I didn’t account for was that apparently, fire hurts. Searching for the pancakes, I accidentally stuck my hand directly into the fire underneath the pan.
The fire immediately took hold of my hand, and I screamed in horror. All this occurred in about 10 seconds but is forever seared itself into my memory.
Dad immediately grabbed my hand out of the fire and rushed me to the emergency room, where they treated my burns. The next thing I remember is being on my dad’s shoulders in a store and looking at my hand covered in bandages.
My father never had to warn me again about waiting for the pancakes to cook. He never had to ask me again not to reach towards the fire. I figured it out on my own. The pain I felt from experiencing the fire forever caused me to change my mind. It was worth waiting a few extra minutes until the pancakes were ready.
In biblical terms, I “repented,” which means to “change your mind” because of the sorrow I felt from the consequences of disobeying my father.
This is what godly sorrow is. It is a sadness and a deep emotional pain or hurt that comes upon us when we knowingly sin and disobey the Father.
In other words, it is conviction. It is when the Holy Spirit places a sadness upon your heart and spirit and tells you that something is not right. We have done something wrong, and we need to repent and return to the Father.
2. Godly Sorrow Saves Our Future
Did you notice how even though I disobeyed my father’s instructions not to touch, he was still the one I called out for when I was in pain?
I knew I was in trouble for disobeying him. But the pain of the fire was far greater than the pain of being corrected by my dad, and I knew that my dad was the only one who could make things right again.
As a three-year-old, I did not know what to do besides scream. But my father knew exactly where to take me for healing.
In the same way, the pain of godly sorrow increases in us until it is too great to bear, and we call out to God to get us out of our sin and bring us into the place of healing.
Notice how the Apostle Paul says that “godly sorrow produces repentance that leads to salvation.” The pain from the conviction that the Holy Spirit places upon our hearts compels us to change our minds about what we did, acknowledge our sin, and run to our Savior for forgiveness.
But I have a choice. When I feel the pain of conviction and sorrow over my sin, I can either run to God and ask for forgiveness and help, or I can run away from God and stay unrepentant, keeping my hand in the fire.
Or, we would listen to the godly sorrow and run back to Jesus!
3. There Is a Worldly Sorrow
After explaining about the godly sorrow, Paul does something interesting. He brings up the concept of “worldly sorrow,” proclaiming that it will lead us to death if we follow that.
This tells us that we can feel sorrow, but we must discern if it is from God or the world. If the sorrow is from God, it will lead to life and victory over sin. If the sorrow is from the world, it will lead to deeper entrapment and eventually death.
So, what is the difference, and how do you know which one it is?
Godly sorrow is conviction, and worldly sorrow is condemnation.
In worldly sorrow, the pain is there, but it doesn’t lead to repentance. We feel the pain from our sin, but there is no hope of relief. Condemnation and worldly sorrow tell you to hide from God and remain unrepentant. Godly sorrow tells you to get right with God and repent.
Adam and Eve felt worldly sorrow in the garden when they sinned. Rather than running to God in their shame and sorrow, they ran and hid from God, proclaiming that, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked” (Genesis 3:10, NLT).
Godly sorrow says, “God is coming. I need to go back to him. Worldly sorrow says, “God is coming. I need to hide.”
So how can you tell if the sorrow you feel is godly or worldly? By what it produces. Do you want to get closer to God again? Do you want to repent, change your mind and receive forgiveness? Then it is godly sorrow.
4. Don’t Let Worldly Sorrow Come Back
What if you have already repented and still feel sorrow telling you that you are horrible, not forgiven, and God is angry at you? That is worldly sorrow and condemnation and not from God. We know this because Romans 8:1 says, “There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”
And Isaiah 43:25 says, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”
It is not God bringing up your sin again from long ago. Once God deals with your sin issue and corrects you, He forgets it. So, if it keeps getting brought up, and you know you have repented, then that is not God reminding you, but the devil.
After my father took me to the emergency room and my hand healed, he didn’t continue to scold me for years to come. Three decades later, he does not say, “Remember when you burned your hand? You are so disobedient!” That would be ridiculous.
He dropped it and has never brought it up since. Godly sorrow leaves after you repent, and you feel relief and reconnect to God. If worldly sorrow tries to cling on, don’t listen to it. If you repented, God let it go. So, you must now as well.
I don’t remember the pain when I think about that day with the pancakes. I remember my father being with me through it. With godly sorrow, it is the same.
Years later, when we look back at what we did, we remember we sinned, but the story doesn’t end there. It becomes a story of how God our Father faithfully saved us, healed us, and restored us and how we learned not to grab the fire again.
For further reading:
What Does it Mean to Grieve with God?
What Does the Bible Say about Worldly Happiness?
Is it Okay for Believers to Feel ‘Righteous’ Anger?
Is There a Prayer for Repentance?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/wernerimages
Taylor Jensen is a missionary, pastor, and world traveler. His passion is to help equip believers with practical ways to ignite their faith and bring Jesus into the world around them. That is the goal of his personal blog Fireplace Faith. Want to Learn How to Hear God’s Voice? Subscribe here to get his Free Ebook “8 Biblical Ways to Hear God’s Voice.” Reach out to him any time through his blog or through his social media accounts @taylorcjensen.