Godly Sorrow

René Malgo

Dear friends, there is a wonderful word in Isaiah 57:15: “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

In the context of Isaiah 57 and 58, this contrite and humble spirit is related to “godly sorrow” (2 Cor 7:10). It is about repentance.

Repentance is not self-pity. That is what Paul calls “the sorrow of the world.” The world is saddened when it is caught, when it feels attacked, misrepresented, or misunderstood. This sadness brings nothing but death—says Paul in drastic terms—because it cannot save us. That is not repentance.

“Godly sorrow,” in contrast, is summarized in the psalmist’s exclamation: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight” (Psalm 51:4).

Repentance is a means of mercy. We will not lead a happy and fulfilling life if we reject and suppress godly sorrow. The apostle John writes: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). John addresses us believers here first and foremost. The means of repentance is given to us for our sake. God does not have to be reminded that we sin; He sees it.

Imagine the following scenario: The means of repentance is not at your disposal. Nowhere does Scripture say that God dwells among those who are of a contrite and humble spirit. He never promises believers to cleanse them and forgive them all sins as soon as they confess them. God no longer gives Christians the opportunity to repent. That’s just not part of it. We carry the loads that we pile up around with us. We would like to confess somewhere and get rid of the pressure of sin and guilt, but the Bible does not invite us to do so. It just says, “You are in Christ; live accordingly!” End of discussion.

Thank the Lord this isn’t the case! God’s Word calls us to confess and be cleansed. Repentance is a means of mercy. When the Holy Spirit convicts us and we break down before God, that is grace. When we are sad about our sins and confess before God, that is grace. Godly sorrow has a purifying effect. It is necessary. Our dissatisfaction, lifelessness, powerlessness, lack of motivation may not be due to our praying too little, reading the Bible too little, serving in the church too little, or doing too little good, but forgetting what it means to repent.

We have forgotten the fresh wind of the Spirit that can fill us when we surrender before God. We have forgotten what it means to weep for how Christ shed His blood and allowed His body to be destroyed for us sinners. We have forgotten that God does not dwell with those who have everything under control, but that He dwells with those who are of a contrite and humble spirit.

This godly sorrow produces real and good fruit: “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). In other words, our repentance ensures that we will not tolerate sins, but instead grow spiritually.

“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1). That could be exactly what we need most in this New Year. Maranatha—our Lord, come!

Midnight Call - 01/2018

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