“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
(2Corinthians 7:10 ESV)
One of the statements I’ve heard repeated by church attenders over the years is that they don’t want to be made to feel guilty. What they’re saying is that they get uncomfortable when God’s Word steps on their toes, and they don’t like this feeling. They want to leave church each week feeling good about themselves.
However, one of the things we learn in Scripture is that the Law of God convicts. Paul tells us in Romans 3:20 that through the law comes the knowledge of sin. In other words, as we encounter God’s law, it reveals to us the ways in which we’ve fallen short.
Unless a pastor or a church avoids God’s Law, unless they avoid addressing issues that might make people uncomfortable, it’s only natural that we’ll at times feel guilty. We’ll encounter a passage of Scripture that addresses a struggle we’re experiencing. We’ll encounter a passage that addresses a pet sin from which we don’t want to turn.
This is true for all of us. As a pastor, God’s Word strikes my heart first and foremost as I prepare my messages and Bible studies. It convicts me before I even bring the message to the church. And it should be this way, I believe. It should be this way because, if God hasn’t spoken to me through a passage of Scripture, it’s impossible for me to share it with my congregation.
It’s also a good thing that we, at times, feel guilty. It’s good because, unless we understand our sin and realize our guilt, we’ll never see our need for a Savior. We’ll never place our faith in him, and we’ll never receive his salvation.
The question, then, becomes this: What do we do with our guilt when we experience it? What do we do when we’re confronted with our sin and we’re made to feel guilty? Does our sorrow produce in us the effect intended by God?
As we see in the above passage, everything depends on the type of sorrow we’re experiencing. Paul is speaking, in this passage, about the first letter he’d written to the Corinthians. In this letter, he’d corrected them in several areas. He’d spoken to them very directly as he addressed the sin in their church. And he’d done this in hope that they might change course.
He acknowledges that, in his letter, he’d caused them to grieve. But even though he'd caused them to grieve, it had accomplished its intended purpose. This caused him to rejoice.
He rejoiced not because he’d grieved them, but because they were grieved into repenting. He rejoiced because the feelings they experienced led them to turn to the Lord and away from their sinful practices.
Here’s where he brings out the different types of grief we can experience and the effect they have on us. He says that godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation. What he means by this is that, if we receive correction in a godly way, it leads us to turn from our sin and to receive the forgiveness and salvation God has provided for us.
Worldly grief, on the other hand, produces death. It leaves us feeling hopeless, and fills us with despair. So, instead of turning from our sin, we give up. We resign ourselves to our fate. In many cases, it leads us to turn away from the Lord. And, because of this, we miss out on the salvation he’s provided.
We must understand that God doesn’t point out our sin because he enjoys making us squirm. He points out our sin because he desires our salvation. He brings our sin to our attention that we might understand our guilt and our need of a Savior. He helps us to recognize our wrongdoing that we might receive the salvation provided by Jesus and offered to all who look to him in faith.