Thursday, September 01, 2016

Responding to Our Own Sin: Godly Grief v. Worldly Grief

During my quiet time this morning, I read 2 Corinthians 7. Before reading, I asked God to impress on me what verses and what truth He wanted to impress on me today. I was struck by verses 9 and 10:
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.
Scholars tell us that 2 Corinthians may be a mashup of different letters the apostle Paul sent to the first century Christians in Corinth. So, we can't be entirely certain of the specifics (which probably don't matter), but we do know that Paul had confronted the Corinthian Christians for a sin. And we also can understand from Paul that his previous sharp words had brought to the Corinthians a sense of grief.

In the chapter, Paul lets his readers know that he hated that his words had hurt the Corinthians. (Although he also didn't regret saying or writing to them in the way he had.) Here, in verses 9 and 10, Paul expresses joy over the impact of the Corinthians' grief. It led them to authentic repentance, which combines genuine, God-induced sorrow for sin and a genuine, God-induced turning to Christ that lets the repentant know that their sin is forgiven, their relationship with God restored. (Biblical repentance always involves these two elements.)

Paul says that what the Corinthian Christians experienced was "godly grief" for their sin. He contrasts that with "worldly grief." The distinction between the two is worth considering.

As I read these verses, I thought of Judas, chosen by Christ to be an apostle, but who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. With this act of betrayal, Judas found himself to be revealed to "important" people--the Sanhedrin, religious leaders of his and Jesus' fellow Jews--as a duplicitous, money-grubbing traitor. Exposed for what he really was, Judas returned the thirty pieces of silver, then killed himself.

This is how "worldly grief" for sin acts: It may have genuine regret for the sinful act. But that regret doesn't account for God being the one Who, in C.S. Lewis' phrase, "chiefly offended" by our sin.

Worldly grief is self-driven and self-referential: It lets self or other people be the judge and jury of our souls (and these judges and juries always hang the defendants); or, it lets the opinions of the world (vox populi)--fickle, self-serving, uncaring, to embarrass, humiliate, rationalize away, or otherwise kill the grieving person. It stews more about the reactions of others than about the Word and will of God.

Godly grief will listen to authentic people of God who lovingly condemn us or call us to account for our sin. But godly grief will only listen to others' condemnation as they speak the truth of God, as revealed definitively in God's Word, the Bible.

Godly grief comes from measuring ourselves by God's Law and being aggrieved at how our sins hurt God. But, unlike worldly grief, godly grief doesn't leave us hopeless or dead, spiritually and physically.

Repentance, the gift God grants to those who experience godly grief, as Martin Luther pointed out, drives us to the cross, where the Gospel--the good news--is found: The Gospel that God loves sinners and because of that love, took on flesh in order to bear the deserved and fatal condemnation for our sin, then sets free those who take that same cross for themselves, surrendering them to death, so that the forgiveness Christ died to give to us when He went to the cross, will be ours. This is what happens when we heed godly grief for our sin.

Last week, I told a friend that if Christians lose their salvation, it won't be because of God. It will be because they either drifted lazily or willfully into lifestyles of no repentance: no regret for sin, no joyful restoration to God because there is neither repentance or faith.

When this happens, there may be worldly grief over sin--the "Oops! I got caught" or the "Oops! Oh, well, everyone else is doing it" or the "Oh, no! I'm a sinner and that's just the way I am and nothing will ever change and I'm going to hell" or the "There is no God, no hell, and it doesn't matter. I'll try to do better next time"--kinds of grief. But all such worldly grief ends in death and separation from God.

Godly grief leads to the cross and to restoration. That's what I'm banking my life on.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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