“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.
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, … and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance
These are some of the most terrifying words in the New Testament:
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit,and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” (Hebrews 6:4-6)
For anyone but the hardest core Calvinist, these words are enough to make one shudder. No one wants to fall away. But we often do what we know we shouldn’t. The mind is willing, but the flesh is weak. Though we may be born again, the old man lurks incessantly beneath the service and around every corner. The struggle is real.
Most people, however, (me included) tend to read these words out of context. As an isolated statement, we might be strongly tempted to believe these words speak to sin, especially those nagging, habitual, ingrained sins that we have a hard time overcoming. We feel as if, one day, we will sin one too many times and will have fallen away – completely lost and irredeemable!
But the context speaks to something different than the direction our mind is prone to go.
The statement in Hebrews 6 quoted above is prefaced with the following introduction:
“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God ….” (Hebrews 6:1)
What is the “elementary doctrine of Christ”? What are these “dead works” from which we must repent? This is the key to keep from “falling away”.