Sunday, March 5, 2017

Godly Grief

Today, we’re going to start by taking a look at something that happened in Corinth. There had been a problem in the church there. So, Paul wrote to them about it. This letter had some strong comments about the situation and what the believers needed to do. It was quite severe. We don’t have this letter, but we do find in 2 Corinthians that the saints had responded well to what Paul had written them. Listen to what Paul says about their response.

For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it — though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a Godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this Godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! 2 Corinthians 7.8-11

Paul wrote to them about some sin, and they dealt with that sin. They dealt with it quite well. They repented. And Paul was ecstatic.

I want to use what happened there to talk about a familiar theme. I want to talk about repentance. I want to help you to understand a bit better what you are called to do when it comes to dealing with your sin so that you can respond as well as those Corinthian saints did.

Let’s start by considering some poor responses to sin, responses that will show as inadequate repentance. One response is to minimize the sin. ‘It’s not all that bad. I didn’t kill anybody.’ This kind of attitude leads to a repentance that is halfhearted, at best. There’s not much to it. After all, the sin wasn’t anything terrible.

Then, of course, there’s the opposite: the sin is seen as so awful that the person is overwhelmed. This person is so crushed by what he did that he is actually unable to repent. This happens to someone who thinks that he isn’t all that bad of a person - and then he finds out that he actually is. He finds out how much of a sinner he really is. He cannot repent because he is shocked at what he has discovered about himself. It immobilizes him. He never actually repents.

Then, there’s what I’ll call the magical response. This is like the child who’s been told to say he’s sorry for some offense - or else. Not wanting to feel the consequences of a refusal, he says the magic words. ‘I’m sorry.’ But he’s not sorry at all. Plenty of people confess their sins to God without actually being sorry for them. But they’ve said the magic words, so everything must be okay.

All of these fit into a category. And Paul gives this category a name. He calls it ‘worldly grief’. It’s a kind of being sorry, but not the right kind. It’s either minimizing what happened, being overwhelmed by what happened or simply saying words that you don’t mean about what happened. It’s the wrong kind of sorrow. And, as Paul tells the Corinthian saints, this kind of being sorry, ‘worldly grief’, results in death. It will kill you.

Let me offer an example of worldly grief: Judas.

Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders… Then he went and hanged himself.   Matthew 27.3,5 NASB

Please notice that Judas was sorry for what he did. He really was. He felt honest remorse. But this was worldly grief. And we know that because of how he responded. He didn’t repent. Instead, being overwhelmed by what he had done, he committed suicide. Not everyone who gives himself to worldly grief will commit suicide, though some will. But all will have to deal with an angry God who will curse them for their failure to repent.

Now, let’s consider a better response, how the Corinthian believers responded. One thing that is obvious in Paul’s description of their response is the intensity of it.

For see what earnestness this Godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!

The Corinthians dealt well with their sin. They repented from the heart. And the reason behind their repentance was something Paul calls ‘Godly grief’. They had the right kind of sorrow. This kind of sorrow understands what happened. ‘I sinned. And I did that against God!’ A person with this kind of sorrow doesn’t minimize what he did. He isn’t overwhelmed by it either. And he doesn’t use magic words. He sees reality. He has offended God, a most serious matter. But he knows the wise way to respond to that. Repentance. This leads to God’s blessing, as Paul explains.

For Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation …

It was because of this Godly grief that the Corinthians had the intense response that Paul commended. They realized what they had done, were grieved by it and repented of it. And as a result, they experienced God’s rescue, His salvation.

An example of this kind of repentance that comes from Godly grief is David when he responded to his sin with Bathsheba. Let me remind you of the awful things that David did. First, he stole another man’s wife. And this man, Uriah, was a loyal friend of his who was off fighting his battles. David thought everything was fine, that Uriah wouldn’t find out, until Bathsheba told him that she had become pregnant. So, what does David do. He schemes to cover up his sin. But that didn’t work. And that led to David murdering the man. These acts are horrible. 

Now, listen to David, once he comes to his senses.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. ​Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Psalms 51:3-4

Do you hear what he is saying? No minimizing here. David admits his sin. He labels it as something that is evil. And he even says that if God were to condemn him for it, He would be justified. This is Godly grief.

But notice where this Godly grief goes. Listen to David’s boldness.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. ​Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! Psalm 51.1,2

He doesn’t ask that God overlook his sin, or even that He simply pardon it. He boldly asks that his sin be erased from the record books, blotted out, expunged. And then, he asks that any lingering sense of the guilt of his sin that he was experiencing would be washed away. He wants to be completely clean of it all. How bold!

But David isn’t finished with his bold requests.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Psalm 51.10

David is not satisfied with merely being forgiven and washed. He also wants to be changed. And what he’s look for is not merely a change in his habits, like watching bathing women. He wants a change deep within. He wants a heart that is eager for what is good and hates what is evil. And so, he asks for it.

This is what Paul means by Godly grief.

For Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation … 

David was saved from this sin.

So many Christians today would not dare to ask for such things, especially if they were in the same situation - at least not until there had been some suitable penance. But not David. And why? Because he understood the Gospel better than many do today. The Gospel that Jesus has established - in contrast with its counterfeits - makes it possible for people who commit horrific sins, people like us, to come to the Father and ask for complete forgiveness just like David did.

And it all starts with Godly grief.

Let me be clear as to what I want you to work at. The goal is not to have the intense response that the Corinthians did. Whether that happens or not is secondary. The goal is to grieve over your sin with a Godly grief. How that shows will be different for each of you. But the inner reality of a Godly grief instead of a worldly grief - that must be the same. And if that Godly grief is there, then real repentance will result. And the promise of the Gospel is that such a Godly grief will lead to salvation from your sin.

The question at this point is obvious. How do we develop this Godly grief? There is no secret trick. The only way is to get to know the Father well. And that’s because Godly grief isn’t about being shocked that you’ve broken some rule. That results in worldly grief. Godly grief shows up when you understand that you’ve offended the Father. You’ve attacked the loving relationship that He has granted to you. But being able to see your life and your choices in terms of your relationship with the Father takes us back to things like meditation on the Gospel and prayer. Living well, which includes Godly grief over sin, is all about knowing the Father well.

As you get to know the Father better, there will be a growing Godly grief at your sin. And the result of this Godly grief will be repentance and faith. It will result in being honest about your sin. No excuses. No minimizing. Instead, you will clearly acknowledge what you did as evil. And then, you will come to Jesus for forgiveness and for change.

Now, why am I preaching on this? Well, first of all, it’s because the Spirit guided me to this topic. And I don’t say that just to sound religious. But I think that one reason He guided me to it is that sin is minimized these days. And I’m not talking about the world when I say that. The world has always minimized sin. The problem is that this is a growing problem in the Church. Christians are minimizing sin. As a result, repentance, if it happens, is shallow. Instead of a Godly grief, there is, too often, a worldly grief. And that leads to death. I don’t want that to happen to any of you.

One consequence of this worldly grief among Christians is that the Church has become too much like the world, only with some religious words and habits stapled on. But how can we draw people to Jesus if the difference between us and them is so superficial?

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