But I was really sorry. I said so over and over again. And I really meant it. I was sorry for what I did. And it wasn’t the first time. It wasn’t even the second time. It was multiple times I’d stumbled over the same mistake. And I was really sorry.
But nothing changed.
Why? Why was I so gripped by this short-sighted behavior? Why was I so vulnerable to this “besetting sin?” And if I was really sorry for it, why did I keep repeating the same mistake?
Look at our lesson today in 2 Corinthians 7:10-16:
Brethren, godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point, you have proved yourselves guiltless in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong, nor on account of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your zeal for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God.
Therefore we are comforted.
St. Paul is commending the Corinthian church for actually dealing with the serious moral problem in their community he had written to them about in 1 Corinthians. They had shown their hearts were committed to having a godly community and their actions proved it!
But in writing them today, St. Paul reveals to us just why being sorry isn’t enough. If I’m going to actually overcome those stubborn mistakes, I’m going to have to actually repent! And true repentance isn’t just being sorry for my stumbles. In fact, being sorry for my mistakes can lead to repentance OR it can lead to deeper spiritual illness.
St. Paul calls feeling sorry for mistakes “grief.” I really like that. Because awareness of my sins usually feels like grief, and grief has everything to do with death. When I finally wake up to the destructive results of my self-centered choices, I feel like something is dying. It could be the false image of who I thought I was OR it could be my relationships with others or even God that is dying because I’m continuing to sin. But something is dying, and my sorrow over that death reveals which way that sorrow is going to take my life.
Paul tells us that “worldly grief” produces death. And I understand what he means. I’ve experienced this in my own life and I’ve watched this same scenario play out in the lives of others. Being so gripped by regret that you find yourself repeating the same mistakes over and over again or being swallowed by despondency and depression that you can’t move, all the while feeling sorry for your mistakes. But your “worldly” grief keeps you a prisoner instead of bringing you to true repentance.
But Godly grief is just the opposite. St. Paul says that godly grief “leads to salvation and brings no regret!” Now that’s what we all need – salvation and an escape from the dead end of regret. Paul goes on to say that the Corinthians’ “godly grief” has driven them to “clear yourselves.” The Corinthians allowed their sorrow for their behavior to produce a change of mind, a change of perspective. In their godly grief, they discovered helpful “indignation” and “alarm,” “longing,” “zeal,” and even “punishment!” Their godly grief produced true repentance that wasn’t pain free but the pain it produced healed rather than harmed them. Just as the surgeon’s knife wounds and heals, so “godly grief” may feel like punishment and even alarm. But, in the end, a grief that focuses on God’s goodness, His love, His grace, and His wisdom brings me true life and not the slavery of regret.
Today, have you so misunderstood repentance that you think it is simply being sorry for making a mistake? Perhaps it’s time to abandon the worldly grief that enslaves me to regret and embrace and even ask for that godly grief that leads to true repentance, that change of perspective that helps me see my sins and my failures from God’s perspective rather than the dead end of mere self improvement. Being Orthodox on Purpose calls me to that shift in thinking that makes me like Jesus Christ!
P.S. Dear Lord, I’ve too often stopped at feeling sorry for my mistakes and watched as regret poisons my relationship with You. I have so rarely actually entered into true repentance that my sorrow over my sins always left me enslaved to my passions. But Lord, I need Your help to finally have a godly sorrow over my shortcomings so that this grief will actually lead me to “change my mind” about how to look at this world and my desperate need daily for Your grace. Lord, have mercy on me and save me. Amen.