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 (Manna 49: After God's Heart)
Godly Sorrow
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Godly Sorrow

            For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Cor 7:10)

Worldly Sorrow Leads to Death

In the letter that Paul wrote to the Church of Corinth he mentioned two kinds of sorrows—worldly sorrows and godly sorrow, and the origin of these two are vastly different. Worldly sorrow comes from the world but godly sorrow is of God, which leads to salvation. But the conclusion of worldly sorrow is death.

So is it good for Christians to have sorrows? On our spiritual journey, it is inevitable that we will encounter both kinds of sorrows. However, we must avoid sorrows that enchain us to worldly burdens. And we must embrace the sorrows that are of God—sorrows that incline us toward divine goodness and away from wrong, which will improve our spirituality.

When God first created Adam and Eve, they lived in the sinless place that was the garden of Eden. God spent a lot of time with Adam and Eve and it was probably the most complete and perfect existence filled with peace and joy. But their curiosity and lust led them to disobey God’s command by eating from the tree that God specifically forbade them to take fruit. Their costly mistake exposed their shameful nakedness and caused them to go into hiding in great fear of the Lord.

It came to pass that the Lord arrived at Eden in search for the couple and He called out, “Where are you?” The all-knowing God had no need to search for them, but He gave them a chance to repent and to come out from their shame.

God opened a door for Adam to get out of his troubles: “Have you eaten from the tree I commanded you not to eat from?” God did not convict him right away but asked him whether he did something that the Lord had told him not to do. If Adam felt sorrowful towards his own sin and repented at that moment, God probably would have responded to him differently.

But Adam showed no sign of remorse for his earlier actions. Instead, he blamed the woman that God put in the garden with him as the cause of his predicaments. “Today, I ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because it was the doing of that woman, whom You designed.” Here lies a very serious problem—Adam was bold enough to go against God’s instruction but felt no need to own up to his wrongdoings.

God also gave Eve a second chance: “What is it that you have done?” In reality, God already knew what she did, but He opened a way for her to admit to her mistakes, to feel sorrowful of her actions and to repent. But she firmly took her stance before she looked within herself. “The serpent deceived me and I ate.”

Since these were the best confessions they could offer, God cursed them and from then on, Adam and Eve suffered from a different a kind of sorrow that was not of God but of the world, which came from the consequences of sin and led to their spiritual death. And this sorrow also condemns us today because it results from our stubbornness to repent for our mistakes, until finally, we lose God’s abidance completely and the anguish overflows.

This was not the intent of God’s creation. He does not want us to be consumed with the sorrows of this world. Instead, He wants all of us to live peaceably and with joy. But we often refuse to feel somber towards our own sins and we painfully burden ourselves with sorrows that lead to death.

Godly Sorrow Leads to Repentance

            You sorrowed in a godly manner… (2 Cor 7:11)

Paul described the progress of the Church of Corinth, which we should all embrace as our own personal progress.

Though there were many eloquent members in the Church of Corinth, there were also many problems among them. One major issue was the disharmony and divisions among the believers, who identified themselves to belong to either Paul or Apollos or Christ. Paul wrote and called them unspiritual infants.

Even though the church was filled with talent, chaos abounded because of the lack of order. Though they had knowledge, they stained themselves with their idolatrous ways. Over time, their sins fermented like yeast and ruined the believers.

The church is the body of Christ and Christ is the head of church. He is in heaven but His body is on earth. So the body of Christ is the same as the head in heaven. When there is sin in the church, Christ in heaven is sorrowful because His body is stained. This grieves the heart of God, whose sorrow also came into Paul’s heart.

And what is the heart of God? There are many manifestations of having the heart of God, and one of them is having sorrow towards sin. So Paul wrote this letter and warned the Corinthians to change their ways. If they didn’t change, then he would come with whips and rebuke. Paul had the authority because God was with him. Not only did he have stern words for the believers, his words came with God’s power and justice. And when they received the letter, they felt exceedingly contrite (2 Cor 7:8).

Paul said that he at first regretted writing the letter because he felt that its content was harsh. He had no intentions to hurt them but to instruct them with love and truth. But when Paul saw that the Corinthians were immediately inflicted with sorrow, he was glad and no longer regretful of his words.

When we examine the mistakes of Adam and Eve, we see that the consequences of their sin lasted an entire lifetime. But the sorrow of the Corinthians was instant and temporary because it led them to repentance, and so Paul was glad of their response to the rebuke.

There were so many problems in Corinth and the faith of the believers was dwindling, but they were able to rise up from their backsliding. And that turning point was when they received Paul’s letter and when their spirituality took flight.

In today’s society, there are believers who never feel the need for regret and are complacent with themselves. I have a great personality, I don’t slander, I do not wrong others, and I live harmoniously with everyone. In this case, there is no apparent reason for sorrow. But if we want to elevate our spirituality, we must experience godly sorrow.

How come I still cannot change myself despite having believed so many years? How come I can never have self-control to turn off this sinful television program? Why do I waste so much of my precious time on useless activities? How come I’ve done nothing for God all these years while He loves me so much?

When we are compelled by His love and He lives in us, we often feel the guilt of owing much to the Lord. This is the sorrow we identify with because we see ourselves plainly and realize how much we come short of all that our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us. If we feel this, our spirituality will start to grow and improve, and the results of such sorrow are good and edifying for us.

The Blessings of Godly Sorrow

In the book of Revelation, John wrote to the seven churches, one of which was the Church of Laodicea. This church felt that they had everything and was not in need of anything, and that was the reason why they couldn’t grow. They felt that they were pious but they were oblivious to their spiritual maladies. So to God, they were wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.

This wretchedness should be reason enough for the Laodiceans to feel godly sorrow, but they were ignorant and couldn’t improve themselves. So John wrote them a letter and revealed their true spiritual condition with the hope that they would change. Otherwise, if they continued being lukewarm, God would spit them out. Therefore, having godly sorrow motivates and calls us to improve upon our spirituality.

The Lord wants every one of us to feel godly sorrow towards our own weaknesses, and He teaches: “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted” (Mt 5:4). This is the second beatitude, and the mourning mentioned here comes from the first: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

Those who are humble are the ones who are poor in spirit, for they feel they are short of God’s expectations. If we feel poor in spirit we will open our hearts and receive God’s words, and we can also accept the suggestions and criticisms of others.

If we are humble in heart, God’s spirit will fill us when we pray. When His spirit moves us and His words enter into our hearts, His light will penetrate deeply. That is the moment that our sins are revealed and we realize that we are not much better than the Pharisees.

On the surface, we look to be God-fearing and humble, but deep down we have so many sinful thoughts. Once these sins emerge and are revealed, we will begin to understand this mourning. So this is actually how God sees me—I’m actually like this.

Once we have such a lowly heart and feel the need to repent and change ourselves, we will become one who is very gentle. That is why those who mourn are also meek, because we will rebuke ourselves and feel the heart of repentance. Those who are strong and stubborn often lack this mournful heart.

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Luke 8 records the prayers of two people. One of them was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. Looking at the Pharisee, the first thing he did was to count what sins he did not do, which was why he felt he was better than others. He then counted all his accomplishments—he fasted twice a week and gave a tenth of all that he received. From these things, he was obviously better than the tax collector.

But let’s look at how the tax collector prayed. He stood at a distance, unwilling to look up at the heavens, and he asked for mercy for the sinner in him. He knew all the sins he had done and he knew that among the people he robbed were widowers. He rebuked himself gravely.

How did God view these two men?

Towards the tax collector, who mourned with godly sorrow, God justified and showed mercy. God accepted him and He was willing to elevate such a person. If a person deems himself as righteous and thinks of himself as flawless and belittles the sinners, he is nothing before God. Those who are humbled will be exalted, and those who are exalted will be humbled.

“For thus says the High and Lofty One—I dwell in the high and holy place” (Isa 57:15a). God is the one who is high and holy, and He has thousands of angels praising Him and glorifying Him. Compared to God we are merely tiny particles of dust.

But such a holy and majestic God is willing to abide with lowly people like ourselves, and what is the condition for His abidance? He wants us to be contrite and lowly in spirit. Having a sorrowful heart is a manifestation of being humble and lowly, and God wants to revive the spirit of such an individual.

David’s Sorrow

When David broke three of the Ten Commandments, he thought no one knew of his wrongdoing. So God told the prophet Nathan to reveal David to his own sins, and David was grief-stricken by his mistakes. His heartfelt repentance can be found in Psalm 51.

David also knew that God could not be bribed with offering (Ps 51:16-17). Just because we offer Him some money or objects doesn’t mean that our sins are immediately atoned for. Does God, who created the heavens and the earth and owns everything, need what little things we can offer?

What does God want, then? He wants our hearts; specifically, He wants a heart that recognizes unrighteousness and a heart of repentance. If we have this mournful heart and we repent, God will forgive us because He wants to accept us.

When David was younger, he experienced the joy and sweetness of God’s abidance, but he lost that closeness with God because of his sins, which daily rebuked his conscience. He also wanted to revive his spirituality and he asked God, “Create in me a pure heart O God…” (Ps 51:10).

David beseeched the Lord because he wanted to live a favorable life in God’s eyes, and he needed to have a pure heart and steadfast spirit to do so—neither of which comes easily to any person. For we carry the sinful nature of the flesh, and even if we want to do good it will be hard because the flesh is weak. It is not until we receive God’s help will our hearts be pure and our spirit steadfast.

David asked God to not forsake him and to allow him to be before the Lord, “[R]estore to me the joy of Your salvation” (Ps 51:12). David also knew very clearly the lifestyle of a sinner (Ps 51:13), but he determined that he will teach transgressors and turn other sinners back to God, so that they can experience the joy of the Lord.

This is the good result of the one who has godly sorrows. We should not hide our sins, and the best and right way is to come before God to repent with mourning.

Lot’s Sorrow

The Bible also tells us the story of a man named Lot and the cities Sodom and Gomorrah. The people in these cities committed great sins that were violent and adulterous, so God burned the cities into ashes so they can be a living testimony and reminder for the generations to come. In fact, many cities around us today are probably equivalent or worse than Sodom and Gomorrah.

God is looking for people like Lot, whom He called righteous, and when God finds such a person he wants to save them. Lot was one who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men. When he saw the wickedness of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah he felt sorrowful towards them. When you see the sins of another, do you grow numb and desensitized by their ways? Lot was often tormented by the sins of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Pet 2:8). Living among them, Lot was beset in his righteous soul.

What does it mean to have a righteous soul? Part of having a righteous soul is to have a pure and sinless conscience. Everyone has a conscience but how come some people are not aware of sin? If a mirror is covered with dust, how can we see our reflection through it? If our conscience is covered by sin we will not realize our wickedness and our conscience is useless.

Today, how can we have a righteous soul? We must have our conscience cleansed by the power of the Holy Spirit. If a person commits sin and doesn’t admit or refuse to admit then this is very dangerous, because his conscience is dead and the fate of such a man is very frightening.

Long for a Higher Spirituality

            Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub, where it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed with linen, who had the writer’s inkhorn at his side; and the Lord said to him, “Go through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it. To the others He said in my hearing, “Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity. Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the temple. (Ezek 9:3-6)

Here mentions that God’s glory is about to depart from Jerusalem because the sins of the people living there were more frightening than the sins of the people in Sodom and Gomorrah. Their hearts were so stone cold that there was no understanding of right and wrong, and no godly sorrow for their own sins.

They even persecuted and killed all the prophets that God sent to warn them to turn back from their ways. This was the final straw, after which God’s anger poured down like fire.

But before the great destruction, God sent angels into the city to put marks on the foreheads of those who grieved and lamented over the detestable works and deeds of the people. The killing started with those without a mark, and the angels began with the unmarked elders because they were the ones who led the people away from God to worship idols. So they were the first to face punishment and justice.

Each one of us needs to take these as warning for ourselves. The way of salvation has been opened for us and every day that we live in this wicked and crooked generation, we are susceptible to the wielding and manipulations of Satan. Temptations and opportunities to sin will come from every side, so we must remain alert and pursue after spiritual growth.

We must mourn with godly sorrow at the sinfulness of this society and keep ourselves somber. We must also fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit and thirst for it to empower us. If we see the degeneration of those around us, then we must sigh and grieve for them and pray to God. And if we have been seduced by sin, we must return to the Lord in all lowliness, confess to Him and cry for His mercy.

Whatever the state or condition of our relationship with God, we must long for a higher spirituality and look to the Lord to give us the joy of His salvation. Only by returning to God will our faith be renewed, and we can once again receive His blessings and taste the sweetness of being close to Him. Then when we are strong we can pray for others, teach them, and turn sinners back to the Lord.

May the Lord empower us and give us strength.

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Publisher: True Jesus Church