Even in the right frame of mind, it is difficult to endure correction. But the benefit of godly sorrow far outweighs any temporary pain.
For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.
Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right. (2 Corinthians 7:10-11).
Do you like being told you are wrong?
Didn’t think so.
We are not wired to desire critique, inspection, or review. It’s tough enough when we approach an everyday task or a mindset with zeal and earnestness and find out we’re doing something wrong. What about when we’re talking about spiritual matters?
The fact is that perfection in this life escapes all of us. Even those who have chosen to follow Christ. Especially those who have chosen to follow Christ, because at some point we have come face to face with our own sinfulness.
The Goal of Godly Sorrow
The shame that comes from trying to hide or justify our deeds is a sorrow of our own making. But it’s nothing compared to the godly sorrow that comes from being confronted with our guilt before God. However, the benefit of godly sorrow makes any temporary grief worth going through.
Yes, according to today’s passage, there is a kind of sorrow that God actually wants us to experience. Because the benefit of such godly sorrow is salvation itself. This is the kind of sorrow that will lead us away from sin. In short, conviction.
In this particular instance, Paul is talking about the conviction that he previously brought to the Corinthians, in pointing out the things they were doing that were not godly.
1 Corinthians is a letter where Paul induces godly sorrow through conviction several times. It is clear from reading these letters he took no pleasure in it, but neither did he apologize for doing it. This is because he knew the goal of godly sorrow is repentance.
The Shortcomings of Worldly Sorrow
Paul contrasts the benefit of godly sorrow with the shortcoming of worldly sorrow. Rather than resulting in salvation, worldly sorrow results in spiritual death because it lacks repentance.
Worldly sorrow is guilt without conviction. It is walking in the state of already being judged for not believing in Christ (John 3:18-21).
There are several fruits that can come from guilt without conviction, but two stand out to me.
First, guilt without conviction may produce hopelessness. If a person has guilt gnawing at their soul, but don’t feel a need to repent then they have to figure out a way to live with the guilt. For many, the only way to do this is to numb themselves.
While not the cause of every addictive behavior, numbing oneself from pain is certainly a common cause.
A second possible reaction to guilt without conviction is callousness. Hopelessness is very similar to callousness. The distinction I would draw is that the pain from callousness seeks an alternative to pain, rather than its elimination.
If hopelessness drives a person to numb oneself, callousness will drive a person to revel in whatever experiences they see fit. Callousness is the seed for abuse and violence.
Worldly sorrow follows the pattern of this world and its godlessness (Ephesians 2:1-3). That is why there is no hope in it. That is why it leads to spiritual death.
The Other Side of Godly Sorrow
However, the benefits of godly sorrow are shown in the second half of today’s passage.
If parts of 1 Corinthians is Paul producing godly sorrow, parts of 2 Corinthians is Paul recognizing the result. Paul observed that his attempts to produce godly sorrow were successful, because he could see the evidence in the Corinthians’ behavior.
Paul uses words like earnestness, indignation, zeal. Perhaps the greatest evidence is that the Corinthians longed to see Paul, the source of their rebuke. How would they have been able to look Paul in the eye, other than Paul’s rebuke was received?
So what changed?
Since the Corinthians listened and accepted Paul’s rebuke, they repented. And since we know that God will always accept a repentant heart, the Corinthians walked again in the light of God’s forgiveness.
Christians experience the joy of being a forgiven people. God’s forgiveness is life for the follower of Christ. Eternal life, because when we repent, God extends the forgiveness made possible to us through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
This is how we understand today’s passage that says the benefit of godly sorrow is salvation.
It tells us that whether as a result of a believer sinning against us or clearly demonstrating ungodly living, providing a loving rebuke is biblical, necessary, and for the other person’s benefit.
And if we find ourselves at the receiving end of a rebuke and it is accurate, our first, best course of action is to come back to God in repentance.
More verses about conviction and repentance: