Godly Sorrow

"There's a snake!" My sister's words were urgent as our family chatted in the living room of our African home. We followed her gaze and with a cold chill recognized an adult spitting cobra under one of the chairs.  Immediately all conversation ceased and other activity halted until we had removed the danger from our home. That same urgency to deal with something exceedingly harmful should characterize our first response to sin in our lives when convicted by God.

Scripture documents two men each of whom confessed, "I have sinned." One was promptly forgiven and welcomed by the father (the prodigal son). The other proceeded on to the eternal punishment of hell (Judas). Not all sorrow over sin is Godly sorrow. "Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation...but the sorrow of the world worketh death." (2 Corinthians 7:10) It is imperative to know the difference.

Seven characteristics of godly sorrow are listed in the next verse. "Ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter."

Carefulness. The Greek word implies diligence and has the same zeal one would have in dealing with a highly venomous snake in one's living room. The Christian should not comfortably coexist with known, unconfessed sin. An acquaintance told me of a bad habit he once had many years ago. Having been convicted about it he renounced it. Quite some time later, he dreamed that he had resumed the habit. "It scared me so badly," he said, "I awoke in a cold sweat." Romans 1:30 describes non-believers, "who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them." Instead of being appalled by sin, they applaud it; instead of judging it, they justify it. The Christian's response to personal sin should be very different: carefulness, haste, and diligence to do something about it.

Clearing of Yourselves. This phrase translates a single Greek word apologia, from which comes our English word "apologize." When one is in the wrong, Godly sorrow apologizes & admits guilt, confesses it. Human nature dearly loves to shift blame for wrongdoing to someone else. This ploy, as old as Adam and Eve, is used in courts today, where people claim innocence because of their parents' failures. Each of us is personally accountable to God. To clear ourselves, we must in humility acknowledge our guilt. "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face,and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14) "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

Indignation. How indignant we become about the misdeeds of others! We should be just as outraged about our own sins. Indignation (anger aroused by something unjust, mean, or unworthy)was King David's reaction to hearing about a wealthy man who was so heartless as to appropriate a poor man's only lamb to cook for supper (2 Samuel 12:5). The prophet Nathan's reply, "Thou art the man," shattered David's smugness. Godly sorrow includes indignation over our own sin.

Fear. This is the strong word phobos. It is the same word used in Matthew 28:4 to describe the terror experienced by hardened soldiers guarding the tomb when the angel rolled back the stone; "for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men." There should be a very rational fear associated with having unconfessed sin in our lives. The response of my family to, "There's a snake!" was predicated by fear: fear of living in a home along with a cobra. Likewise, we should be terrorized by the presence of unconfessed sin. This should fuel our sorrow over our sins."By the fear of the Lord, men depart from evil." (Proverbs 16:6)

Vehement Desire. Godly sorrow is characterized by not just a desire, but a vehement desire to be right with God. A repentant King David had such a longing: "Blot out my transgressions," he prayed, "wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin." "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." (Psalm 51:1-2, 10) Do we have a longing to be free of sin, or do we feel rather comfortable with it?

Zeal. Godly sorrow goes even beyond vehement desire, it is zealous. From this Greek word zelos we get our English word "zealot." The passage in John 2:13-17 describes what happened when the Lord Jesus Christ walked into the temple and saw merchants desecrating His Father's house. He made a scourge and forcibly drove them out, thundering, "Make not my Father's house an house of merchandise." The word zelos is used to describe His fervor: "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up." Can you imagine the vigor with which the sinless Son of God attacked evil in His Father's house? That is how we should react to sin in our lives & take a scourge to it. Worldly sorrow coddles sin and savors it, fearing only the consequences of getting caught. Godly sorrow is appalled at "the temple of the Holy Ghost" being a haven for unconfessed sin.

Revenge. When the conscious response to the presence of sin is zeal then the next logical step is action: revenge. This word "revenge" is translated elsewhere as "vengeance."Because the Lord Jesus Christ was zealous for His Father's house, He took vengeance upon evil. Zeal is the energy, vengeance is the action. The new believers in Ephesus (Acts 19) were so zealous to forsake evil that they publicly burned their expensive but sinful books which formerly had been their source of income. The combined value of these books was fifty thousand pieces of silver. In today's money this would be some 5 million dollars. Godly sorrow is characterized by wreaking vengeance upon that which causes us to sin.

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:9) But that cannot be an excuse for persistent wrong doing. "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Romans 6:1-2)

When God convicts us of sin, the matter should: 1) have our full attention; 2) result in confession of our sin; 3) make us indignant about our sin; 4) invoke terror at the thought of coexisting with unconfessed sin; 5) induce an intense longing to be free from it; 6) provoke a consuming contempt for it; and 7) activate, by the power of God,definitive action to forsake it. The final words of our Lord to the woman taken in adultery were, "Neither do I condemn the: go, and sin no more."

Whereas as worldly sorrow leads to death, Godly sorrow leads to joy. Luke 15:32: "It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again;and was lost, and is found."