“As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a 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 yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.”
2 Corinthians 7:9-11 ESV
Paul sent a letter with his friend, Titus, to the Corinthians. It was a letter of rebuke towards the church’s sin and it deeply grieved them. No one enjoys being rebuked. It makes us feel hurt, ashamed, embarrassed, but, perhaps, most of all, it hurts our pride. But not all grief is bad.
There are two ways we can react to godly rebuke – in a worldly way and in a godly way. Paul said that worldly sorrow simply leads to death. Why? Because there is no repentance. There is only sorrow because of having been caught in sin, but no sorrow because of the sin itself. This leads to hopeless grief, self-pity and despair, which only leads to more sinful acts.
But there is another way. Paul commended the Corinthians in their act of sorrow and repentance; even more, he rejoiced in it. They felt a godly grief for their sin and this led to their repentance, and, in turn, to salvation. But what exactly is repentance? Paul used seven words to describe the Corinthians’ godly repentance: earnestness, eagerness, indignation, fear, longing, zeal and punishment.
They earnestly waged war against sin in pursuit of righteousness. They were eager to apologize, clear their names and to restore trust. They felt a holy anger, an indignation toward their sin and its effect. They had a fear of the Holy God who disciplines and judges sin. Jesus said in Matthew 10:28: “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” This is a healthy fear for the Lord.
The Corinthians also had a longing to reconcile their relationship with God and others who were affected by their sin. Having zeal meant that they loved God and their neighbor so much that they hated anything that would hurt them. Think of Jesus suffering innocently for your disobedience. Every single one of your sins was keeping Jesus on the cross.
Finally, the Corinthians wanted righteous justice or punishment for their sin, no matter what the cost. This does not refer to punishment in order to pay for the sin, since Jesus suffered a costly death, once and for all sin. It refers to them being rebuked, corrected and disciplined through church leaders or godly counselors, and the Corinthians welcomed that.
The beautiful thing is that when we repent, God declares us innocent because of Jesus. He doesn’t count our sin against us. But because we still sin everyday, we need to actively pursue repentance everyday.
How will you react the next time you receive a godly rebuke? If you are in Christ, you are no longer a slave to sin. You are free to repent and to say no to sin everyday.