Fresh off a 2am night shift, I walked into my kitchen to find an upturned wastebasket with the garbage bag on the floor. Around the corner, I came face-to-face with the furry culprit — my cat.
With a sheepish look of guilt on his face, he scampered to hide under the table, leaving half-gnawed chicken bones in his wake.
Guilt, as cute as it may be on a feline, is no laughing matter. Deserved or not, it can be a crippling force that keeps us obsessing over past mistakes, wasted time, and lost opportunities. As believers in the finished work of Christ, we’re told that we are free from guilt and condemnation. At the same time, we know the importance of conviction over our sins. It’s easy to find oneself on a seemingly never-ending treadmill of regret, shame, and guilt.
Thankfully, Paul gives us a blueprint for dealing with guilt in 2 Corinthians. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was a fairly harsh one. The church was plagued by infighting and serious sexual sin, and Paul needed to set them straight. But in his second letter, Paul is happy to find that his warnings “caused them pain”!
Sorry, not sorry, Paul tells the Corinthians. They needed to understand the damage that sin was doing to them, their church, and their relationship with God. But Paul goes on to differentiate between merely feeling guilty and what he terms “godly sorrow.” And it’s the latter that bears good fruit and results in true freedom.
The result of worldly sorrow is death. Godly sorrow, on the other hand, leads to repentance
First, the cause of godly sorrow is understanding the seriousness of sin. Paul notes that their “pain” and sorrow was a result of the Corinthians grasping how terribly they’d fallen short of God’s standard. They took Paul’s words to heart and recognised the consequences. This is “sorrow as God intended” (2 Corinthians 7:9).
Second, and most importantly, the result of godly sorrow is repentance. Worldly sorrow is crippling, stifling, and leaves one in the depths of sadness. Paul says the result of worldly sorrow is death! Godly sorrow, on the other hand, leads to repentance.
Paul notes that godly sorrow in the Corinthians produced a zealous desire to actually change their behaviour. “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!” (2 Corinthians 7:11). The real mark of godly sorrow over sin is its end result ― repentance, renewal, and a refreshed zeal to serve the Lord.
Do you feel overwhelmed by guilt and regret for your past mistakes? Our Saviour is not a cruel schoolmaster, waiting to point out where we’ve failed. Instead, He desires that we genuinely grieve the sin in our lives because we understand its gravity. He invites us to repent and accept the forgiveness offered through the cross. And finally, He exhorts us to use the lessons from those mistakes to fuel the next steps of our walk with Him.
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