The Right Kind of Sorrow

Guilt. We all have felt it. We all have done something we quickly regretted and felt guilty about it but is there a good guilt and a bad guilt? In today’s headlines, we see a lot of remorseful people due to their behaviors becoming publicly exposed. But is it a godly sorrow or a worldly sorrow? The Bible tells us that there is a difference. If you look at 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul writes the following:

"For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death."

Repentance is the act by which we realize we have offended a Holy and Righteous God so we turn from our sins, begging God for forgiveness and we turn to Him and His ways. Repentance is always focused on our sin’s offensive attack on God and our desire to make that right. That focus is what separates godly sorrow from worldly sorrow. Godly sorrow is guilt over sin, guilt over offending and hurting God. Worldly sorrow is focused on us, it is feeling guilty because we got caught, because someone is going to think less of us or differently than the image we want to cast of ourselves or because our lust was left unfilled. 

It is a sorrow that is focused totally on our hurt, on how we have been offended and not treated fairly. Godly sorrow however ignores the offense of self and instead focuses on how God has been offended. Godly sorrow leads us to such a strong desire to make our sin right and to receive forgiveness from God that we commit to salvation with no regrets. David provides a perfect example of godly sorrow in Psalm 51.

When we express godly sorrow, we are committing to an earnest desire to change our ways and pursue righteousness. There is no attempt to justify or excuse the behavior. Our desire has been transformed from committing the sin to a desire to be as far removed from such a behavior again as possible. We recognize through true repentance, we are advancing our path to be more Christ-like.

We welcome the exposure of our sin to the light and desire to be washed clean of all wrongdoing. We desire nothing be hidden so that we can truly approach God with full recognition of our wrongdoing, admitting our sins, and seeking forgiveness from a truly broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).

When we express godly sorrow, we should not just admit the sin, but also be angry at our sin, just as our Father is. We should recognize that it is because of our sin that the Son of God had to come down from heaven and die for us, and any tolerance of sin should be considered as treason against the Almighty.

We should have such a deep yearning to be reconciled to our Father, so that we may experience the full fellowship afforded to us as His child. When we have this reconciliation—a true gift of God—we should experience a passion to serve Him and live for Him each and every day of our lives. To the contrary, where apathy reigns, we will find people full of religion but empty of Christ.

In godly sorrow, we recognize we have been set free from clinging to any guilt because of what Jesus did on the cross for us. As we focus more on Him and less on our own selves, the guilt, the bondage, the desire to let sin rule us, truly was crucified with Him on Calvary (Romans 6:17-20; Galatians 2:20).

We see too many examples of worldly sorrow in the media nowadays. Remember, if you are in Christ, you are a new creation, set apart for His purposes. Let your sorrow over sin be a godly sorrow, worthy of the price paid on your behalf.