2 Corinthians 7:10 “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
A woman called me this past week, asking if I would visit her, because she was dying, having been told by her doctor that she had only weeks to live, and she wanted to discuss her funeral. She has had a very long illness. She has not been attending a church since she got married. When I sat with her we talked together for an hour, and at one time in the conversation I said to her that the one thought the devil would seek to plant in her mind was that she would be a hypocrite if she cried to the Lord for mercy now, at the end of her days, after living the whole span of her three-score years and ten without a personal knowledge of God. A little later she said that what she found difficult to accept was the idea that a person who had committed a terrible crime could murmur, “Sorry,” on the very next day and believe he was forgiven. It seemed to her so cheap. You could live like a devil, keep saying sorry, and so could think that all was be well. I believe that she herself has lived an outwardly moral life.
Her objection was understandable wasn’t it? Yet a person can express a true godly sorrow which is not in word only, declaring their grief and shame for what they have done, showing a repentance which is, in a measure, commensurate with their wickedness, and in response to that there is the mercy of God. Consider the dying thief who hung alongside the dying Saviour. He acknowledged that the fearful punishment he was enduring was deserved. He said to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and the Lord responded, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:42&43). Many men find that hard to accept, that at the eleventh hour there can be forgiveness. They wouldn’t do that, forgive a rotten man for his crimes. They would say that it was unfair, all too free and easy, but if you were the dying thief you might be amazed at the grace of God responding to you in such an extraordinary manner. Not the promise that today they will go to purgatory – not that at all – but to be with Christ in paradise! That is divine grace indeed. Men will nod sagely saying, “Paradise is for moral people.” But the gospel says that godly sorrow for sin, even the worst, brings repentance that leads to salvation.
But these words of our text also bear witness to something called ‘worldly sorrow’ of which the lady whom I met this week might have had in mind (though she would not have known it by that phrase), and mere worldly sorrow brings death. Two kinds of sorrow, leading to two utterly different destinations, eternal life, and eternal death. We must know the difference. Every preacher must make this very clear. It is clear enough in the Scripture.
1. WORLDLY SORROW BRINGS DEATH.
There are plenty of examples of worldly sorrow in the Bible. Esau’s tears, Rachel’s weeping, the repentance of Pharaoh, the humility of Ahab, the tears of the rich young ruler all showed a certain earnestness, a mood of sadness, sometimes a show of humbling – but not a godly sorrow. The prophet Joel admonishes, “Rend your heart and not your garments” (Joel 2:13). There are many who cry because of their circumstances, not because of love for God. If things on earth changed they wouldn’t be crying at all. They pity themselves rather than being troubled about the honour and attributes of God whom they have long snubbed. They wish to be delivered from their gloom, but not in the way that gives glory to God. They feel sorrow, but it is not from the Holy Spirit. They are still going to hell, but they enter it weeping – alongside the others who enter with laughter. What are the marks of worldly sorrow?
i] Worldly sorrow comes from a man’s awareness of the broken law. We see it around us every day. “Think of it in this way. If you possessed a fast car with up to, say, 140 m.p.h. on the clock, and the makers boasted that it could manage such a speed, you might argue with yourself ‘now what’s the use of having a car that does 140 if I can never try it out?’ So you head for the M1 Motorway and put your foot down. Before long 70 m.p.h. is left behind as a forgotten stranger, then you creep past 100, and 120. Then, deciding that you will admire the scenery at the same time, you look into your rear-view mirror and are alarmed to see a police car, with blue lights flashing and a couple of stern, beefy looking men in it, on your tail and signalling to you that they desire the pleasure of your company on the hard shoulder! It is very likely at that point that the presence of the law will give you worldly sorrow! And if the end of that episode is that the police book you, or you have your driving licence taken away for a year or two then you will most certainly have worldly sorrow. Why? Not because you are overcome with a sense of wretchedness for having broken the highway code, not because you have offended the policemen whose business it is to maintain the law, but rather because you are embarrassed, you are inconvenienced, you are annoyed with yourself, and you are angry that you were caught. You have got yourself into a mess. You are in a tight corner. In a word, your sorrow is because of the consequences as they affect you; yourself and the law are always the central points in worldly sorrow” (Richard Brooks, “The Godly Sorrow of Repentance,” “Reformation Today”, No. 64, p.14ff).
When time goes by the sorrow evaporates and that same law-breaker may think of purchasing a gadget for his car which will warn him of speed cameras and radar traps ahead. What he had experienced was not repentance. Judas had some trouble of mind for betraying his Lord but it wasn’t repentance. It was suicidal regret. It is one thing to be a disgusted and disappointed sinner but another to be a repentant sinner. Adam had a worldly sorrow after he broke God’s law in Eden. He hid from God and then blamed his wife, and then blamed God for giving Eve to him. Widespread guilt feelings are one of the characteristics of our age. All people are in the image of God and have a conscience. It can erupt at the sight of flashing blue lights in a rear view mirror, even if the police car just wants to overtake you on its way to an incident. If pain and frustration were sufficient to repentance then the damned in hell would be the most penitent of all creatures for they are the most in anguish. But true repentance depends on a change of heart not a conscious guilt from the broken law. There may be worldly sorrow through the law’s convictions, yet with no change of heart.
ii] Worldly sorrow centres upon the plans which autonomous man makes. Men and women always have their own schemes about getting right with God. For example, they plan to enjoy the sinful pleasures of the world while they are young and then, at the end of their lives, they will make their peace with God. So they have a scheme of how to get ‘the best’ of both worlds. Such men think that it is within their power to do something religious at their own chosen time and thus get right with God. The sinner is always saying in his heart, “Let me have another day, another religious duty, another religious course of study to take, another Sunday to go to church, and then things will work out for me.” He is always getting ready for grace, for setting in motion the actions by which a spectating God can reach out to him – after man himself has set it all up by saying a formula or sending for a religious man.
He is looking within himself for the answer because he knows nothing of Jesus Christ. But the Bible has a totally different approach. Salvation is a matter of God’s initiative, not man’s. “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Roms. 9:16). Man must cry to God to be joined to Christ, and be made a new creature in him, be born from above, and then he will have power to change his life. If he merely keeps going to church he can get proud of that, and also remain ignorant of what is his true problem. The Confession of Faith observes that some churches can become synagogue of Satan. He protests, “But you don’t know how serious I am about my religion. I have faith. I pray each day.” If that is you, let me say to you that church-going alone cannot work the true repentance God desires because, at bottom, while you are without Jesus Christ you are still asking God to baptize your sin, to ‘Christianise’ a heart of stone by making you a little more moral and religious. The heavenly Father, however, doesn’t hear such prayers because you are in reality asking Him for help so that you can continue a life which is independent of the God who gives a new heart, not ‘Christianises’ old hearts.
You can intensify your religion, becoming a church member or even a church officer. You may put more money in the plate, but it is all to atone for your sin, to show you are sincere, to make peace with God. The prophets of Baal on Carmel did this, praying and shouting and weeping for hours – all to no avail whatsoever. The New Testament calls this “will worship” – worship which originates with the human will and not with the will of God. But the truly repentant man turns from all that with its pathetic self-justification. He has discovered that he is “foul and full of sin” and that his only hope is through the work of Christ on the cross and the work of the Spirit in his own life. He turns from all of his activities and he looks to Christ for forgiveness. That is the beginning of repentance.
iii] Worldly sorrow centres upon what a man feels within himself. It centres on his own emotions. Mark Twain wrote his “Autobiography” in which he recalled many of the “repentances” of his youth. Every time a tragedy hit his small town it would engulf the young man: “Those were awful nights, nights of despair, nights charged with bitterness of death. After each tragedy I recognised the warning and repented; repented and begged; begged like a coward, begged like a dog.” But those were worldly sorrows not godly sorrows. They filled him with thoughts of the terrors of death, but they did not change him. A moth may burn its wings in the candle, and then, full of pain fly back into the flame. There is no repentance in the moth, though there is pain. There is no repentance in some men, though there is sorrow and trouble.
One day a man named Smarr was killed in the streets of Mark Twain’s town and that triggered off horrible fear in Mark Twain’s heart and mind especially when, “some thoughtful idiot placed a great family Bible spread open on the profane man’s breast.” He never could expunge from his memory that image of the dead man lying in the street with the Bible open across his chest. In his dreams he “gasped and struggled for breath under the crush of the vast book” as though he were in Smarr’s place – dead, without God, and without hope, under the Bible. That response was simply Mark Twain’s literary self-reflection. There is no reflection on the weight of sin that crushed Christ on Calvary making the Lord gasp for each breath for us. As John Mason wrote,
“His blood was shed instead of ours,
His soul our hell did bear;
He took our sin, gave us Himself;
What an exchange is here!”
But the Lamb of God meant nothing to Mark Twain. He was sorry for himself, not sorry that he had sinned against a holy and loving God. He would acknowledge he was a depraved man, but that was in a spirit of self-pity. John Miller believes that Mark Twain’s “confession of sin was a thinly disguised criticism of God. What right does God have to load the sinner down with the weight of a vast book like the Bible? After all, God made human nature the way it is. If a man does all that human nature can do, what more is to be expected? In effect he asks, ‘If I have done all I can, why has not God done all He could?'” (John C. Miller, “Repentance and 20th Century Man”, CLC, 1975, pp..25&26). According to this mindset, it is God who owes Mark Twain a debt. Men have to forgive God for making them such rotten sinners. Anyone who could think like that has determined to keep God locked out of his life.
iv] Worldly sorrow results in men leaving many sinful ways, but not hating and turning their backs on sin itself. A man may part with some sins, but hang on to others. Herod heard John the Baptist preaching in the streets and we are told, “Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled (or the alternative manuscript reads, ‘he did many things’), yet he liked to listen to him” (Mk. 6:20). There were good things that Herod began to do, and there were sins which he discarded from his life after hearing John preach, but there were other sins he still gripped fiercely. A man may stop drinking alcohol only because he has discovered a better buzz which some drug will give him. He is exchanging one sin for another. His heart is yet unchanged. The man who was anti-police and anti-establishment as a student protests about such young rebels in his old age. He is now anti-student, crying “Flog ’em and hang ’em!” He still has a mean negative heart. An African sells other Africans to an Arab, who then sells those slaves to a European. The masters are changed, but the poor people are slaves still. So too Herod moved on from one vice dominating him to another and another. Not much of a life … remaining fast bound in sin and nature’s night.
A person may abandon a sin because of prudence. He stops smoking to excess because he is afraid of cancer. It is not in his best interest to keep drawing nicotine into his lungs. It will prejudice his health, and also the cost of a packet of 20 cigarettes is prohibitive. For prudential reasons he stops smoking. It has nothing to do with his body being the temple of the Holy Spirit, or his awareness that all his money belongs to God and that he must give an account to God how he spends it. Everyone will give up certain sins as they get older, but they keep living under the power of sin
People will turn in shame from especially gross and ugly sins. They become filled with remorse at their memory. They were once paedophiles, or they tortured children, or they were rapists, thieves, drug pushers, or perverts, but they feel today like Cain came to feel. Do you remember that killer, who, after he had murdered his brother Abel, cried, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” Cain was angry and downcast after the homicide. It was committing that particular crime that crushed him, not sin as such, which was his chief enemy, crouching at his door desiring each day to have the mastery over him and get him one way or another. No, it was for that one atrocious crime and God’s certain punishment that Cain grieved. He might have vowed that he would never murder another person again. But did he loathe and grieve for any other sin he committed?
v] Worldly sorrow leaves a man powerless to resist temptation. Worldly sorrow is simply turning in disgust from your sins; it stops short of turning in faith to Christ. Think of a wind-surfer turning his surf-board around and heading for the shore, but the wind is contrary, and the current is taking him further and further out to sea. What a fool he feels going out to seas so far. He needs some external power to take him home. He has nothing at all on his surf-board that can go against the wind and the currents. It’s no help his singing under his breath, “Search for the hero inside yourself.” That is called ‘whistling in the dark.’ That is the plight of the sinner who says, “I have made a mess of my life.” He’s no longer going down the pub where the shady deals are done, where the drug dealers are hanging about, and the prostitutes lurk. He’s been there; done all that and it has left him a ruined man. He has turned away from that lifestyle, but where is he going now? He needs new life, and energy. How can he live to the glory of God? How can he get home to God? What strength does he have for that journey? In the Bible it is not enough to turn around and then stop dead, there is a fight to be fought and a race to be won. Repentance over sin is always united to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Laying aside the sins that easily beset us is allied to looking unto Jesus. It is not enough to be sad about your life and cease some sins. You need an Almighty God to save you. You need to start serving him – presenting your body a living sacrifice to him each day.
You can go to your bank to withdraw some money and if you say to the teller, “I am not an evolutionist so please don’t give me a single =A310 note with that picture of Charles Darwin on them. I want just the =A310 notes with the picture of the Queen on them.” Then she will quickly tell you that all the new =A310 notes coming into circulation have the Queen on one side and Charles Darwin on the back. You cannot have the one without the other. “Ah,” you sigh, “just give me the money in fivers!” So the Bible says that the repentance which God gives and accepts back from you is always accompanied by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that looking to Jesus is the power that helps you keep turning from sin. Jesus is the wind beneath our wings. He is the current that will catch us and take us to heaven and keep us repenting every day of our lives.
Conviction of sin and a feeling that your life is a mess is of no value whatsoever apart from you also turning to God the Son. Sorrow over my life and giving up many sins cannot save me. Repentance is turning from, and faith is turning to. You must have both. To come to Christ, and to drink of Christ, is to believe on him and be saved by him alone. Salvation comes from union with the Lord through faith alone. That is the power that will assist you to fight against the stream, and resist the devil.
vi] Worldly sorrow causes someone to look to other men for assistance. He is depressed with life and he will look for a doctor, a priest, or a rabbi, or a psychiatrist, or a counsellor, or a preacher, or a pastor, or anyone who might become a substitute for Christ. He will think in terms of a clinic, or tablets, or a new therapy, or a new relationship. It is always to other men that he will be looking. Those of us who are ministers might have to say plainly to troubled people, “I am not the answer to your needs. You must look to Jesus Christ.” Bathe them in your concern, and cover them with your prayers. Open your home to them, and open your heart to them, but make it understood as clearly as possible that they are not going to find their salvation in you.
As Jack Miller said, “Tell them the facts. You are a sinner like them. The only place you can get grace is from Christ. To make this point very strong, more than once in our home we have taken a young person by the hand and placed him alone in a room with a Bible and said to him, ‘Don’t use me as your priest. Go to Christ alone.’ Encourage them by your own example. Let them see how you wrestle with your sin and how you break down your own defensiveness through honest, heart-searching prayer. Let them see that you experience the joy of forgiveness received from God as a free gift based upon the salvation of His Son” (op cit, p.36). It is to this transcendent Son of God we are pointing the world, not to men’s piety and intelligence. That cannot save you here. But even in the churches there are those who are preaching a very ordinary Jesus.
There was a columnist writing in the Times yesterday about this theme. Mick Hume said that “this week brought the launch of two dire, doomed efforts to make Christianity appear more ‘relevant’ to young people’s lives: a poster campaign that equates the crucifixion with body-piercing, and a film depicting Jesus as a modern 15-year-old coping with sex and drugs. The message appears to be that Jesus is ordinary, the divinity next door. Now don’t get me wrong, my neighbours are nice people. But I wouldn’t want to worship any of them” (The Times, September 8, 2001).
Hear these wonderful words about Jesus Christ: “Oh what love! Christ would not entrust our redemption to the angels, to millions of angels; but he would come himself, and in person suffer. He would not give a low and base price for us clay. He would buy us with a great ransom, so as he might over buy us, and none could over bid him in the market for souls. If there had been millions of more believers, and many heavens, without any new bargain his blood should have bought them all, and all of these many heavens should have smelled but one Rose of Life. Christ should have been the one and the same Tree of Life in them all. Oh, we under-bid and under-value the Prince of love, who did over-value us; and we will not sell all that we have to buy him; he sold all that he had, and himself too, to buy us.” Those are the words of the Scotsman Samuel Rutherford preached about 400 years ago in his sermons on “The Trial and Triumph of Faith” (Banner of Truth). See how God brings the one and the same message about his Son Jesus Christ to every generation.
We have the good news of the eternal Son of God who became incarnate for us and our redemption. So you don’t need to go on living in depression or with a festering conscience. You don’t have to depend on some wonderful man’s ministry to keep you following the Lord. There is a living Saviour, and you can speak to him moment by moment. He is the divinely appointed Mediator. Go to God by him. All he requires is a believing honesty, a willingness to entrust your sins to him without deceit or self-righteousness. Of course, you need to sorrow for your sins, but you need also the Man of Sorrows, the great Comforter in your life and on the throne for you. Your feelings, your tears, your resolutions to change in the end don’t matter unless they are accompanied by a living relationship and friendship with him as your Lord and God. If you think amiss of Christ you will never believe. If you think well of sin you will never repent. If you study to honour God you cannot do it better than by confessing your sins and laying yourselves low at the feet of Christ.
Without him you face the grave. That is what Paul says here. “Worldly sorrow brings death.” You keep going down, sinking in misery, vain regrets, bearing all the consequences of your folly, increasing isolation, and so on. Think of the suicides and the murders of entire families by one of the parents which seem to be reported almost every month. Worldly sorrow drives men to despair. Remember Judas Iscariot. He had been party to many intimacies with Jesus, along with the other disciples. Yet when he had got his money after betraying our Lord he was no happier, and those who had taken Jesus were now utterly disinterested in him – so much for partners in crime! What fair weather friends they were. Judas couldn’t bear it. He was utterly alone. All men despised him. He could not deliver himself from the consequences of his own actions. He was in despair and death seemed the only way out. Judas stands as the classic example of the unconverted man expressing his pain and regret in the only way he knew how. Worldly sorrow brings death! Do you see how important this theme is? That we are talking here of life and death.
2. GODLY SORROW LEADS TO SALVATION.
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (v.10). What are the distinctive marks of godly sorrow?
i] Godly sorrow brings about a comprehensive repentance, not just a turning from our sins but from our Sin (with a capital ‘S’), repenting not just for what I may call twig and leaf-sins but for the root and trunk-sins too. You can understand the difference I am sure; one is the outward fruit, and the other is the inward bias. The Lord Jesus said that the heart was the source out of which our words and actions come. Or consider the much larger picture of a fallen groaning creation. We grieve for the thorns and thistles of our world, but we lament more the sin of our first parents that brought that curse upon the world. So too we are sad about our sins, but more over the virulent power in our own hearts that causes us to act as we do. Let me use this illustration: consider the first person in Britain who in 1825 introduced Fallopia japonica, Japanese Knotweed. This is a plant that quickly forms massive thickets; it is tenacious, virtually indestructible, impervious to chemicals or to pollution; it grows through concrete and spreads. At the end of his life fifty years later the man who brought it to England in some flower-pots would be lamenting the first cutting he took from Asia back in 1825, not simply the way it had taken over his own garden dominating it, and the effort needed to curtail the spread of that one plant. He was ruing the day he introduced it into these islands. So it is with the godly; the godly will sorrow over what their father Adam did in defying God bringing death and the curse into the world – “Alas for my father – my father Adam.” The godly also sorrow over the fact that they were born in sin and shapen in iniquity – the root and trunk of original sin. Then they also go on to lament their individual sins – the twig and leaf sins. That is godly sorrow.
Remember king David who wrote the 23rd Psalm. Psalm 51 is another of his compositions, but its tone is very different. It shows David after he had been convicted before God of his sins – adultery with Bathsheba, which led to the murder of her brave husband Uriah on the pretext that dead men tell no tales. But David did not say in that psalm “O Lord, what will people think of me now – the king of Israel in this mess – soon it will be all over Jerusalem. Please help me to salvage some of my reputation and hold onto my kingdom before it’s too late’; nor did he bow down and confess that he had sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah (although, of course, he had). What he did say was, “for I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight …” (Ps. 51:3ff.). David had no doubt about the seriousness of his sin as first and foremost a root and trunk-sin against God himself.
Then remember the prodigal son; he took his share of his father’s wealth, went off to the bright lights in search of freedom, let it rip with wine, women and song, and then ran out of money, friends, employment and hope. Then he came to his senses, deciding to go back home and he began rehearsing this confession: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you …” (Lk. 15:18). Not, “please bale me out”. Both David and the prodigal are brought to the place of humiliation and heaviness of soul before God, because they had seen that in all their sinfulness a basic rejection of God himself was evident. It was against heaven that they had sinned. It was that root and branch-sin that was the cause of the leaf and twig-sins. Their sins in root and leaf were abhorrent, odious and vile before the One whose “eyes are too pure to look on evil” (Hab. 1:13) and who is light “and in him is no darkness at all” (I Jn. 1:5). Neither king David nor the prodigal son were taken up with the consequences of their covetousness (though sin has consequences), but rather with a new understanding of sin that they had never had before – God’s view. Here is godly sorrow – grief for sins because it comes from a sinful nature; grief for sin because God hates it, because it is a great offence and a cause of dishonour to him, grief because it is an insult to his glory, holiness and excellence.
David ponders in Psalm 51 why it was that he sinned as he did? Was it because of the bad companions he had in the army – the four-mouthed lustful fellow soldiers? Was it because of the temptation that wealth and power bring in their train? Was it because of his own psychology, or Bathsheba’s beauty? Was it that particular night she had chosen to take a bath in an exposed place? Why in the world had David done it? The king goes to the root and trunk-sin: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5). David sinned because he was a sinner, just like the rest of us. The fruits of sin come from a heart that is sinful. Godly sorrow recognises that.
So godly sorrow is comprehensive. It recognises the root and trunk-sin of original sin, but it also confesses the sins that flow from it, the twig and leaf-sins. These are far more observable than the dark hidden roots which are providing them with their life and strength. Consider laziness, for example, against which few preachers these days will say a word, but which results in many people pestering passers-by for money when there have never been so many jobs available in the country. The book of Proverbs gives us instruction in righteousness, and one thing it says is, “Don’t be like the sluggard.” We act in a lazy way because the roots of laziness are in our hearts. The fruit needs to be destroyed and replaced by work, but also the roots of laziness must be confessed and mortified by the power of the Spirit. Jack Miller tells a salutary story of encountering one such person:-
“A young woman was brought into our home in a very weakened physical and emotional state. We were told that her emotional problems were so serious that there was danger she might die. What were we to do? It was clear that she had only consented to stay with us because she was ill. Nevertheless, she was convinced that her life would soon come right side up. After all, she was a devout fundamentalist who had already ‘accepted’ Christ.
“After she gained some strength, we laid out a program of light work and household responsibilities for her. But it didn’t come off. She resented each task as soon as it became monotonous. Work made her literally sick. Desperate, we had no place to go but to God. From him we learned to deal truly with her in love. In effect we said, ‘You must get up and work even when you do not feel like it because this is what Christ commands.’ However, it was like pushing string. She had no confidence that she could do anything well. Outwardly she would accept a responsibility but underneath she rebelled against any task that crossed her will.
“As we daily repented of similar sins in our own lives, the love of Christ entered into us with special power. We began to understand and freely to forgive. There was nothing in her that was not in us also. The difference, however, was that she knew nothing of the joy and power which comes through believing repentance. Finally in a dramatic confrontation she was converted. She met Christ the Lord and saw what his claims really were. The resistance to discipline was broken and a new life emerged. But for this to happen, the Lord had to dig up the root sins of rebellious pride and unbelief. It is her contention that before this uprooting took place she had been trusting in ‘eternal security’ and not in Christ for salvation.
“Now she is able to work a full-time job and no longer needs the shelter of our home. When strength permits, she willingly volunteers to come over and help out with household chores. In a new way she lives by faith, and the awareness of the love of God so fills her life that now my wife and I really find ourselves being taught by this vital Christian. This is not to suggest the young woman is turned into a super Christian. But the difference is fundamental, so much so that it is difficult even to identify the new person with the old” (op cit pp. 45-47).
Do you think that woman will ever regret what happened to her? Where is the true Christian who will cry out, “Oh for the old life!”? He is nowhere to be heard and seen. Where is the Christian who wishes he had never known Jesus – wishes he had never known godly sorrow – wishes he had never been enabled by the Spirit of God to repent of his sin and believe upon the Lord Jesus? There are plenty of people who made temporary professions of following Christ, but no believer in his right mind will ever regret that God worked in his life – brought him into contact with true Christians, stretched out his hand to him, lifted him from the mire, established his feet on the rock of Jesus Christ, and put a new song in his mouth even of praise to God. No! Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.
So we are saying that this woman’s heart was sinful, and as a result she was doing sinful things. The change in her was not achieved by, as it were, cutting off the flowers of Japanese knotweed – the idleness and the excuses – but by going down to the roots of her life, who she was and why she was in the state in which she was in, and dealing with that. Christ has come into the world to make you face up to your sinful heart. There can be no outward change of twig and leaf unless there is a root and trunk change in man’s soul. “A new heart I will give you and a new spirit will I put within you.” You can’t purify the water by painting the pump. When the woman’s heart was changed then she saw her laziness for what it was, and confessed that sin. Then she could progress to her heart sin and like David confess that her sins existed because her heart was rotten. She was a sinner and thus she sinned. “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Once she saw the shame of this one sin grace was hers. She who repents of sin as sin, implicitly repents of all sin. So the godly sorrow that brings repentance has a comprehensive view of sin – sin in the root and trunk, and sin in the twig and leaf.
ii] Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to trust in the Saviour. This “salvation” which Paul speaks of in our text, is not a theological term, it is no intellectual matter. It is found in the man who is called Jesus. That was the name God gave to him because it means, “Salvation is of the Lord.” Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost. He saved by his righteous life and by his atoning death as the Lamb of God. He has taken away the sin of the world. That means when I have entrusted myself to him, my sins are as though they never were. What a magnificent and even incredible concept that is.
“Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou my God shouldst die for me?
For those of us who have truly repented then our sins do not control or modify our relation with God today. It is as if they weren’t there. There is no defilement. He has taken away our sin, past sin, present sin, future sin. He has put it all away, as far from us as the east is from the west. So far has he removed our transgressions from us. How far is that? It is an immeasurable distance. Men cannot measure it. Angels cannot measure it. Can God himself measure how far the east is from the west? Can your conscience grasp that? Here you are today, such a forgiven person, utterly without guilt before God. There is no need at this very moment to feel any condemnation whatsoever, because this truth is the whole truth about the way things are between you and God. There is no barrier between you. There is no impediment at all. All your sins are forgiven. The Lamb of God has taken them, and he will never never give them back, not a single one of them. He has taken complete responsibility for them. There is nothing upon you at all. Every speck, spot, wrinkle and any such thing has been imputed to him and he has dealt with them to the total satisfaction of his Father. There is absolutely nothing left. The single determinant of your relationship with God today is what happened on the cross of Golgotha. Nothing else matters. Nothing else is relevant. Our sin will never be mentioned against us any more, for ever. The depths of the ocean of oblivion have covered the Egyptians of our sins, there is not one of them ever to be washed ashore to be seen by man again. The Lord has triumphed gloriously. The Red Sea waves of the Redeemer’s blood have rolled over all our sins; they have sunk to the deepest depths like a stone. They are gone; they are all gone, and gone for ever.
There are only two factors in the equation: what Christ did, and how God responded. The way you may feel, how you can struggle, the winters you feel you occasionally pass through, how you fail, and what you achieve – none of that is relevant to how it is between you and God. The only thing that matters is how Christ dealt with all your sin on the cross. I do not believe that the heart that knows that will take advantage of it because godly sorrow for your sins won’t let you. I want us all to be assured in the depths of our hearts that the Son of God made a good, decent and proper job of the work that his Father gave him to do, and on the basis of that there is forgiveness for every sin.
The repentance brought in by godly sorrow is focused on our sin, and also on the Saviour, Jesus Christ, and how he has covered all our sin for ever. His great accomplishments, the satisfaction he rendered to the Father, the ransom price he paid, the wrath of God utterly propitiated by his Son – this is what our faith pleads. That is what the Lord has done all by himself, not by giving you knowledge of your sin and need, not by enabling you to weep, not by encouraging you to repentance, not by challenging you to mortification, and not by commanding you to live a holy life. If my salvation today in the eyes of a holy God depends on my sorrow, and my repentance, and my faith, and my mortification then before God I have no hope because there is imperfection in them all. But the Word of God was made flesh without any assistance on my part, and alone he lived a blameless life, and on the cross he hung by himself under my load and there all alone he died. The only contribution I made towards salvation was my sin and shame. He – all by himself – accomplished my redemption. What could be more glorious? What could be more liberating than that? He paid it all. My contribution was my guilt. So I glory in the cross. My sinful self my only shame; my glory all the cross.
So the gospel comes to us and it tells us of the glorious completed work of Christ, of sins forgiven, hell subdued and peace with heaven. That is good news for the world, and then it calls on all who have heard it to repent. ‘Turn around,’ it says. You cannot repent too soon. There is no day like today. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is God’s, not your own. If we put off our repentance for another day we will have one more day to repent of, and a day less in which to repent. You cannot repent too soon, because you do not know how soon it may be too late. God says ‘Today!’ If God’s today be too soon for your repentance your tomorrow may be too late for his acceptance. God who promised forgiveness to them that repent has not promised repentance to them that continue in sin.
Turn from all your sin, the root and trunk-sin, and the twig and leaf-sins, and turn to Christ alone as your Redeemer. I am asking that your whole person turns around, surrenders to Christ and appropriates him as your Saviour, henceforth to follow him alone.
9th September 2001 GEOFF THOMAS