Godly Grief vs. Worldly Grief

Are you repentant?  Paul describes the nature of true repentance in his 2nd letter to the Corinthian church, chapter 7.5-13.  In it, Paul all but apologizes for the previous letter that he wrote.  Scholars differ on whether this letter is 1Corithans, whether 1Corinthians is in fact two letters, or if we have it all.  Whatever the case, Paul’s words were HARD and they were received like a punch on the nose.  But Paul does not regret sending the letter, rather, he rejoices over the effect–repentance.  In writing this, Paul distinguishes between two kinds of grief, godly and worldly.  In other words, tears are not enough.

He  writes, “For godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what EARNESTNESS this godly grief has produced in you, but also what EAGERNESS to clear yourself, what INDIGNATION, what FEAR, what LONGING, what ZEAL, what PUNISHMENT!  At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.”

People don’t like hard words spoken to them.  Regardless if they are spoken in love, with gentleness as Paul commands in Galatians 6.1, they are received like a punch in the nose.  We all need a punch in the nose some times.  I’ve realized, however, that people can be “sorry” but not repentant.  In other words, they’re apologetic (sort of) for any harm it may have caused or is causing, they’ll take responsibility for something safe (like admitting your weakness is procrastination), but their grief never reaches they heart–they don’t intend to turn from doing whatever it is anytime soon.

If they had received Paul’s letter, they would have spend more time talking about how mean the letter was, rather than responding to what it says.  By the grace of God (that is what it takes), the Corinthians did repent.  And Paul takes a moment to actually flesh out what that looks like…perhaps a lack of repentance is just the opposite:

INDIGNATION  towards sin vs. PEACE with sin
FEAR if I don’t repent vs. UNCONCERN
LONGING to repent vs. SATISFIED with staying the same
ZEAL to repent vs. APATHY toward repenting
PUNISHMENT to help repent vs. UNDISCIPLINED repentance

People don’t like to use the word “repent” much because, quite frankly, people don’t want to see their own sin.  If they have to repent of something, that means they have to resist doing something and start doing something else.  Usually I find that people try not to grieve at all and, in someway, explain why their sin isn’t in fact sin at all.  Proverbs says that a fool ignores reproof.  That doesn’t mean that anyone who thinks you’re doing something wrong is in fact right.  It does mean, however, that when someone is confronted with sin Biblically, whether it be attitudes or behavior,  God’s people should grieve.  Godly grief leads to repentance.  Wordly grief leads to death.  Those are hard words. It seems that those who get sad or feel bad about their sin, don’t necessarily experience godly grief if their tears don’t lead to heart change. Heart change is granted by God according to 2Timothy 2.25. If they only experience worldly grief, then they have chosen to pursue their sin instead of God, which will in the end destroy them–whether it is viewed as sin or not.


Author: Sam Ford

Sam Ford is a preacher, planter, and pastor from the Pacific Northwest. He is currently pastoring Restoration Road Church in Snohomish, WA.

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