8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.
~ 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 (NIV)
Why are we surprised by our sin?
Rebelling against God and committing idolatry is not meant to be natural; after all, we were created to love God and obey Him joyfully. But it should not surprise us to know that, willingly or not, we all fall short of doing what is right. We disobey God. We fail to love others. We are more concerned with our well-being than with the welfare of those around us. Because of this, it should not surprise us when we recognise our sin, or when others point out our sin to us.
Seeking God’s forgiveness and mercy is not a one-time-historical-act that we look back on with sentimental memories; trusting in God and receiving His forgiveness is a lifestyle for the follower of Jesus. And since receiving forgiveness is to be expected in our lives, then confessing our wrong-doings and seeking repentance is also to be expected as well. Repentance means to turn away from something as an act of condemnation and seek to live in a contrary way. Repentance is the first step of becoming a Christian whereby we deny our lives, turning away from the way in which we lived, and seek to live in the way of Jesus (Mark 1:15, Mark 8:34-38).
It is a humbling experience to be faced with your sin – many of us don’t cope well with it. We may respond with defensiveness, bewilderment, and denial. But while it is true that not every claim of sin might be legitimate, the heart of the Christian when receiving rebuke and correction is humble, quiet, patient, and thankful sorrow that leads to repentance. A friend from church once said to me “James, if you point out where I’ve fallen short, then I’ll prayerfully do my best to repent of my sin and grow from this experience”. That was a far cry from the way in which I knew I tended to respond upon being confronted by my sins.
Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 demonstrate that sorrow over one’s shortcomings is not a unique experience for Christians alone. It is universal amongst humanity when we recognise our failures in a legal sense (guilt) or a communal sense (shame). But while sorrow is common, the response to the sorrow is not. Godly sorrow leads to repentance; in other words, sorrow that is pleasing to God leads back to God in the admission of the wrong, repentance from the wrong, and forgiveness for the wrong. However, worldly sorrow leads to death. I take it that the reason why is that worldly sorrow does not lead to repentance – it can result in (for example):
- Wallowing in one’s wrong
- Resolving to try harder next time
- Denying the wrong ever happened
- Blaming others for the wrong
The gift of God in Jesus Christ is eternal life and the pouring out of His Spirit that helps us to put to death the sin in our lives (Romans 8:13). Followers of Jesus have the great assurance that as they have been justified before God and forgiven by Him, they will also be glorified and freed from sin (Romans 8:22-30). But until then, we expect to repent.
Examine your heart today: do you ready yourself to humbly, quietly, patiently, and thankfully grieve over your sin and repent of it? The next time someone points out some shortcoming or wrong you have committed, evaluate its legitimacy but do not be surprised that you may have fallen short and need to repent. After all, repentance is a lifestyle for followers of Jesus.