By: James MacDonald– Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher from a century ago, was preaching on repentance week after week. A woman came up to him after one of his sermons and said, “All you ever talk about is repentance. When are you going to preach on something else?” He answered, “When you repent, madam!”
2 Corinthians 7:9-11 gives us 2 marks of genuine repentance. Paul didn’t lay them out in any specific order; he wasn’t trying to give a chronology. Paul wasn’t trying to give us a thorough accounting for everything related to repentance; he was just trying to give a sense of it. I’m going to present them in a progression that makes sense to me.
Paul was feeling the weight of his tough love toward the church, knowing some had been hurt by his tone or words. He said, “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while” (2 Corinthians 7:8). No one wants to do that. Paul continued, “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting” (v. 9). If the outcome of a hard-to-teach, hard-to-hear message and series like this one is that we actually think differently because we repented and changed, it will be worth all of it. Likewise, Paul could see a bigger picture. “For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us” (v. 9). No loving parent likes to discipline their child, but discipline shows love. As Paul described the response of the Corinthians, he mentioned the five fruits of repentance we will now examine.
1) Grief Over Sin
First, a fruit of repentance is grief over sin. Paul also calls this “godly grief” twice. “For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).
By the way, repentance precedes confession. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But real confession is a lot more than saying, “Whoops! I sinned. It’s sin, God. Now we agree, so I’m cleansed from all unrighteousness.” Trust me, God has a lot more to say about your sin than simply agreeing “It’s sin.”
In fact, you can’t say what God says about your sin confession until you see what God sees. Repentance is the process of allowing God to change your mind’s eye so you don’t see your sin the same way. The first example of the change is to have grief over sin. This is what Paul meant by “godly grief.”
That word grief there, lupeo, is used twenty-six times in the New Testament and half of those usages are in 2 Corinthians. Half of the 2 Corinthians usages are in this passage. Here we have 25 percent of the entire New Testament teaching on the feelings that accompany repentance. The word is grief. It literally means soul anguish. It’s what the disciples felt when Jesus announced His death and resurrection in Matthew 17:23, “‘And they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.’ And they were greatly distressed.” It’s what the rich young ruler felt when he realized he loved his riches more than the opportunity to follow Jesus: “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matt.19:22). Grief is literally soul pain as opposed to worldly grief.
Do you see the contrast in Paul’s words? There’s a worldly grief: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). What does worldly grief produces death mean? Well, that can’t possibly mean physical death or there would be no distinction.
If Jesus doesn’t return beforehand, we’re all going to die physically anyway. So that wouldn’t mean much to say that worldly grief produces what everyone’s already going to experience. Paul’s not talking about the first death; he’s talking about the second death—the lake of fire. Paul is talking about hell. When Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death,” Paul isn’t talking about physical death. He was warning the Corinthians and us that a lifetime of shallow, worldly repentance leads to hell.
That’s a lifetime of saying, “Sorry, God. Whoops! I did it again. I always do it.” That’s not the way a saved person talks.
What has been an example of godly grief in your life?
If we don’t love the truth more, and if we don’t love each other more or don’t see a growing pattern of Christ-likeness in our lives, we may be settling for worldly repentance. If what we say and think is: I’m sorry I feel bad. I’m sorry I got caught. I’m sorry I looked bad. I’m sorry you don’t like this, God—that’s worldly repentance. Men who repent worldly are not changed. They’re not safe. Women who repent with worldly grief are not changed. They’ll do it again. Worldly grief is not grieving over sin.
2) Repulsion Toward Sin
The phrase in 2 Corinthians 7:11 is “For see what earnestness.” Earnestness means haste, hurry, or diligence. It says, “I’m done with this!” There is also indignation—feelings of strong displeasure which results in saying, “What used to rouse me now repulses me. What used to please me now it sickens me.” That’s what repentance generates in us.
But of course in all sin there’s deception. Because Satan is an angel of light, he makes things glitter and glow, but repentance includes detecting the rationalizations that allowed me to see something as being attractive that actually, ultimately, now, and eternally is ugly.
When was the last time you were earnest about dealing with sin?
James MacDonald is the founding and senior pastor of Chicago’s Harvest Bible Chapel; the host of the radio show “Walk in the Word”; and the author of several books and Bible studies, including Lord, Change My Attitude; When Life Is Hard; Vertical Church; and most recently, Authentic.
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Adapted from James MacDonald, Think Differently Bible Study. © 2017 LifeWay Press. Used by permission.
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