It has been observed that repentance is one of the hardest commands to obey. It is not always easy to change one's mind and reform his or her life. There are many biblical examples that teach true repentance, but for this study let us consider the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians, Paul addressed many problems with the church. However, when Paul wrote 2 Corinthians about six months later he had a much more pleasant tone. Why? Because the Corinthians had truly repented! Let us learn from 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 what true repentance requires.
First, true repentance requires the realization of the nature and consequence of our sin. "For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent [regret it ASV], though I did repent [regret it ASV]: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season" (2 Cor. 7:8). Paul's writing of 1 Corinthians brought to their attention the grievous sins they had committed and the consequences of those sins (cf. 1 Cor. 5:11-13). Because of this confrontation, the Corinthians were made sorry, and thus repented. Paul did not regret that he confronted them with their sins, because his letter accomplished its purpose of making them sorry for their sins. Suppose that Paul had never brought these sins to their attention. Would they have been made sorry? Would they have repented?
If we are to truly repent we must also realize the nature and consequences of our own sins. The consequences of sin are spiritual death and separation from God (Isa. 59:1-2; Ezk. 18:20; Rom. 6:23). It is no wonder then that Jesus said, "But, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Lk. 13:3).
Second, true repentance requires godly sorrow. "Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of [which bringeth no regret ASV]: but the sorrow of the world worketh death" (2 Cor. 7:9-10). Paul's previous letter, accomplished its purpose--repentance (cf. 2 Cor. 2:3-4). Note that the Corinthians were made sorry after a "godly manner" and that their sorrow is described as "godly sorrow." Godly sorrow is literally "sorrow according to God." That is, godly sorrow is the automatic result when we see sin as God sees sin. God hates sin (Prv. 6:16-19; cf Ps. 1:6)! Therefore, we must hate sin (Ps. 119:104; Prv. 8:13) and be of such a disposition that sin rends our hearts and causes us to seek forgiveness from God (Mt. 5:3-4; Jms. 4:8-9). Note also that godly sorrow works towards repentance, thus leading to salvation. There is a difference between mere sorrow and repentance. Sorrow may lead to repentance, but it is not repentance. One can be sorry without repenting, but true repentance can never occur without first being sorry after a "godly manner." Repentance is a change of will, produced by sorrow for sin, which leads to a reformation of life (cf. Lk. 15:17-20a). Godly sorrow is also contrasted with the "sorrow of the world" which "worketh death." Sorrow of the world is a sorrow which results from worldly considerations rather than sin. We can be sorry for something merely because we "got caught," or because we lost respect in the eyes of men, or because we lost out on some worldly activity or fleshly lust. However, such sorrow leads to death because it does not lead us to true repentance. Only when we realize that sin is an offense to God and results in our separation from Him, will we have godly sorrow which "worketh repentance."
Third, true repentance requires a reformation of life. "For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (2 Cor. 7:11). The Corinthians had changed! They now had an earnest care (cf. "carefulness") for their present course (cf. 1 Cor. 5:2). They removed the evil from among them and were thus self-vindicated (cf. "clearing of yourselves"). They now possessed a righteous anger (cf. "indignation") with themselves that they allowed and tolerated such sins as were mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians. They now had a "fear" for the measures Paul could have taken had they not responded to his word (cf. 1 Cor. 4:21). They now had a longing (cf. "vehement desire") not only to be restored to God, but to gain a restoration of favor with Paul. They now zealously sought to make up for their past indifference toward sin. They now had properly disciplined the offender(s) according to Paul's instructions, thus leaving "revenge" (avenging ASV) to God. Through this reformation of life the Corinthians proved themselves to be pure in this matter and, therefore, showed that they had truly repented.
True repentance requires: (1) the realization of the nature and consequences of our sin; (2) godly sorrow for our sin; and (3) a reformation of life. God calls all to repentance (Acts 17:31), and He is longsuffering to that end (2 Pt. 3:9). Whether one is outside of the body of Christ or an erring child of God, one must truly repent if he or she is to find favor with God (Acts 2:38; 8:22). Have you truly repented?
by Brian Kenyon via POWER is a monthly publication of the Southaven church of Christ. This article may be re-printed and freely distributed. If this article is to be cited in other work please credit the author. The contents of this article may not be altered in any way.
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