“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) (ESV)
When I read this, I immediately ask myself, “How do I measure up to this standard?” Have I exhibited a godly grief that produces repentance that leads to salvation? I think that’s the natural inclination.
I search myself, my past and present experiences, my behavior and my orientation toward God, and I measure myself on the scale that is presented, not just in this passage, but in any passage. Scripture is not just a prescription; it’s a barometer.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) (ESV)
I felt that active and sharp character of the Bible when I first read it in college, and it is not any less active or sharp in its affect on me today. If I am conscious of the “interaction” of the Scripture in relation to the thoughts and intents of my heart, it provides a third person view, in effect, into my self in relation to God.
Still, I am tempted to think, “How can I measure up?” Regarding the verse above, I am tempted to consider how I can generate a godly grief that produces repentance that leads to salvation. My mindset is, “How can I do that?” or “What does it take to accomplish that?”
As I dive deeper into the verse, though, I begin to see something else. That something else gets to the heart of my relationship with God. It is the heart of the Gospel.
Anyone who is born again by the grace of God knows that salvation is a gift.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) (ESV)
Yet, we continue to focus on our “own doing”.
The immediate inclination to see how we measure up isn’t the problem. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. The Holy Spirit makes the Word of God “active” as we read it, interacting with us, probing and judging (revealing) the thoughts and intents of our hearts as they really are.
It isn’t that God needs the Scripture to perform this function of revealing the thoughts and intents of our hearts. God already knows them. He knows the words we speak before we even speak them. He sees us yesterday, today and tomorrow at the “same time”. He sees us “outside” of time, surveying the entirety of our lives at once, knowing each moment in its fullest aspect.
We need Scripture to reveal the thoughts and intents of our hearts to us! And we need the Holy Spirit to perform His surgery on us, healing us, washing us, renewing our minds and working in us to will and to act according to His good purpose.
The barometer of Scripture is the starting place. From there, the results depend on how we react. Do we yield to the gentle hand of the Holy Spirit, or do we forge ahead in our own efforts? Do we yield to God’s grace, or do we plow ahead in our own strength?
When we open up the verse above, we begin to get a sense of the difference. Using the resource of biblehub.com (2 Corinthians 7:10), we can tap into a richer vein that Scripture provides by looking at the Greek definitions of every word.
You can do that on the Study Bible segment to the column left of the column displaying various translations of the particular verse. The verse is shown in context, with the verse before it and the verse after it. The particular verse is highlighted with hyperlinks to the definitions and mini concordance of each word in the verse. My take on those Greek words is as follows:
Godly [divine] grief [pain, sorrow, distress, vexation, heavy sorrow from the heart that brings a person down, mourning] produces [works, performs, practices, accomplishes – the opposite of inactivity] a repentance [change of mind, change in the inner man, improved spiritual state] that leads to [into or towards, moving as in penetration into or towards] salvation [God’s rescue that delivers believers out of destruction into His safety, deliverance, preservation] without regret [not to be repented of, about which no change of mind can take place, not affected by change of mind, irrevocable] but worldly [of the world, ordered or arranged, surface, ornamental, put on] grief [same as above] brings [same as above] death [physical and/or separation from life].
What I see when I take the time to break the verse down is different than the initial reaction. I see that not I, but “godly grief”, produces repentance. Godly grief works in me actively, like the effect of Scripture does, bringing about repentance (change within me) that delivers me from my sin into God’s salvation.
Again, we are saved by grace. It isn’t anything that we do. Salvation is what God does in us.
Godly grief isn’t anything that we can trump up. At best, we can only allow it to do its work in us. At best, we can only give ourselves to this process by which God accomplishes a change within us.
And this change is without regret…. As I read this at first, I was inclined to “test” myself. Has this change within me been “without regret”? What about all the times I have fallen back into the same old sin? Does this mean that I have changed my mind again, that I have regretted the salvation I have achieved?
Ah, but I don’t have a salvation that I have achieved! See how the self creeps in, wanting to take credit, assuming that there is something that I must do?
Maybe the phrase, without regret, doesn’t refer to me at all. Maybe Paul is saying that the salvation God has gifted to us is without regret. That word, which can mean irrevocable, suggests to me that maybe this speaks of God: God doesn’t regret the salvation He has given us stemming from the godly sorrow that works a change in my inner person.
Notice that repentance is primarily, fundamentally, in its essence, a change of mind, a change in the inner man, an improved spiritual state. Of course, repentance can be tested by its fruit, but fruit isn’t something we manufacture. Fruit is the outgrowth of the inner change.
This verse contrasts godly grief with worldly sorrow. The word translated “grief” in both instances in the ESV is the same: lype. The difference is in its source. Grief that is sourced in the work of God produces repentance that leads to salvation. Worldly grief that is not sourced in God, grief that is ordered, arranged, ornamental, put on, does not produce repentance that leads to salvation.
The difference is in what God does, rather than what we try to manufacture ourselves. The difference is the gift of God, rather than our own efforts.
We can only receive what God gives us. We can’t manufacture it. We don’t stir up godly grief within us. The Holy Spirit does the stirring. We can only yield to it, and, in the yielding, God does His work in us.
The things to ask ourselves are these: Am I grieving the right things? As a result of grieving, am I yielding to God? Or am I moving away from God? Am I softening through the grieving process to allow God to work within me? Or am I hardening my heart, even in resolution to “do better” next time? Am I giving myself up to God? Or am I committing more within myself to my own efforts?
One way produces repentance that leads to salvation. The other way brings death. Godly grief leads us out of ourselves into God’s life giving grace. Worldly grief brings us the inevitable fruit of our own trajectory without God – death.
Each tree bears its own fruit, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15. Godly grief, grief sourced in God’s grace, leads to life. Worldly grief, grief sourced in ours own efforts, leads to death. This is the very heart of the Gospel: God’s gift, rather than our own striving.