“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
SORROWFUL. PENITENT. CONTRITE. These don’t sound like positive words. But if we’re looking at life from the perspective of the Scriptures, they are some of the most positive words in the dictionary — not because they are comfortable but because they are conducive to our salvation. Ponder with me their importance.
There are a handful of texts in the Bible (I call them “fundamental” texts) that describe the heart of the person who is truly turned in God’s direction. We might think, for example, of Micah 6:8 or Deuteronomy 6:4,5. Out of all the texts like these, none is more helpful to us than David’s cry in Psalm 51:17: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” I believe this basic truth would have been the background of Jesus’ statement of blessing in Matthew 5:3,4: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Godly sorrow is not an end in itself; it is a part of the path that leads us back to God (2 Corinthians 7:8–11). Without sorrow for our sins, we will not seek salvation with any deep passion or fervent desire. And in the end, it is this sort of seeker who will be rewarded. It is not the one interested in intellectual information or theoretical philosophy, but the seeker of salvation who will find the object of his desire. And as often as not, it is our tears that show what is most important to us in regard to God (Luke 7:36–50).
If we’re seeking salvation, we will naturally be eager to experience the joy God has promised to us. We long to be reconciled to Him. There is, however, no shortcut to salvation. The path to heaven passes through the territory of repentance, and as anyone knows who has been there, it is a painful place to be. But the horror of our sins has to become real to us. If that does not happen, the Promised Land will not seem much better than the wilderness. “Until sin be bitter — Christ will not be sweet” (Thomas Watson).
Ah! happy they whose hearts can break
And peace of pardon win!
How else may man make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from sin?
How else but through a broken heart
May the Lord Christ enter in?