“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10 NKJV).
IN AN AGE WHEN “FEELING GOOD” OUTRANKS EVERY OTHER VALUE, IT IS HARD FOR MANY TO SEE THAT OUR FIRST RESPONSE TO THE GOSPEL MUST BE GRIEF. Yet if the gospel is about redemption from our sins, we are not ready for what the gospel offers until we see our sins for what they are and grieve them in a godly way.
Nowadays, the purpose of the gospel is often perverted. No longer do people understand it to be about the remission of sins and the restoration of a right relationship with God. It is no wonder, then, that godly sorrow and repentance are minimized in modern preaching. Nevertheless, the gospel is about sin. Godly sorrow grieves the treachery we have committed against God. And it alone produces the repentance that leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).
In the life of Christ, it is interesting to note who the people were whom Jesus welcomed. It was not the poor, the underprivileged, or the oppressed per se. These social statuses meant little to Jesus unless people in these conditions came penitently — seeking His forgiveness with godly sorrow. If they came with this attitude, they were welcomed, but no more than people from any other status who came with the same penitence. Jesus was looking for those who saw their need for His forgiveness, regardless of their external circumstances. So if we ask which people would be “blessed,” Jesus said it was “the poor in spirit . . . those who mourn . . . those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:3-6). To those whose hearts were not broken by sorrow for their own sins, Jesus had nothing to offer of any unique or lasting value.
But if the first thing the gospel produces is sorrow, doesn’t that “negative” message turn people away? For some, it certainly does. It did in Jesus’ day, and it does now. But let’s not misunderstand. The gospel is the most positive “good news” the world has ever heard. But it produces the joy of forgiveness only when a person has first gone through the process of godly sorrow. It gives us a new beginning, nothing short of a “new birth.” But the new life comes only after a conversion that is bathed in bitter tears.
“Repentance is not a fatal day when tears are shed, but a natal day when, as a result of tears, a new life begins” (Ilion T. Jones).