The Israelites understood that the state of their relationship with the Lord was contingent upon the covenant they had with Him. If they rebelled against God by refusing to keep His commandments and served false gods, they were judged (Num. 32:15; Deut 28:36, 2 Chr. 7:19; Jer. 9:13).
These judgments consisted of God sending plagues and diseases (Num. 16:46; Hab. 3:5) or allowing them to be defeated by surrounding nations (Lev. 26:17; 1 Ki. 8:33 Ezek. 15:7). However, if the Israelites repented, God would restore their land, defeat their enemies, and forgive all of their iniquities (Ex. 34:7; 2 Chr. 30:9; Mic. 7:18).
In the New Testament, after Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness for forty days, He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea to begin His ministry. From this point forward, Jesus continually preached on repentance and the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:15). The most common Greek verb that Jesus and the disciples used for repentance was metanoeo: a change of mind that leads to a change of lifestyle.
In the epistles, Paul addressed many issues that the Corinthian church struggled with concerning repentance. These issues included divisions, immaturity, immoral church members, lawsuits, and warning against idolatry (1 Cor. 1:10; 3:1; 5:1-5; 6:1-11; 10:14). In the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul continues to exhort them in the Lord by discussing with them the difference between worldly and godly sorrow.
“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point, you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter (2 Corinthians 7:8-11).”
Paul knew that the sorrow the Corinthians experienced was not out of self-pity, pride, or despair as a result of getting caught. He gives two examples. First, they were not defensive toward Paul when he rebuked them for their immoral behavior. On the contrary, they were angry over their own sin because it had brought shame to their community and offended Paul. This is an example of holy anger that gives glory to Him (Jam. 1:20).
Second, the Corinthian believers did not justify their sinful behavior or view themselves as victims. Their sorrow produced sincerity and helped restore their broken relationship with Paul. They were quick to ask for forgiveness. This is the opposite of a victim mentality and the way that Christians should react in conflicting situations. Only the Holy Spirit can produce such humility in a person to admit their own wrongdoing and work diligently to change it (Matt. 11:29).
Practical Guide that Leads to Transformation
- Read Luke 22:54-60 and Matthew 27:3-5. Compare and contrast Peter’s biblical repentance versus Judas’ temporary regret. Does your repentance look more like Peter or Judas? Be specific. What do you need to change to have godly repentance?
- Find a friend or personal loved one (parent, spouse, sibling, etc) who can keep you accountable to repent in a godly manner. Commit a time, preferably in the morning, of confessing your sins before God and asking for forgiveness. Meditate on these verses (Ex. 15:26, Ps. 86:5; 103:3, Isa. 43:25; Jer. 30:17; Matt. 9:2-6; Eph. 1:7).
- Repentance is not only a turning from sin but also changing more into the image of God (sanctification). Biblical counselors call this “putting off” and “putting on.” Here is an example: If I am complaining, I need to repent of this sin by forsaking the thoughts and the actions that contribute to it. Next, I need to put on a characteristic that is comparable to the Lord, such as “having joy and thanksgiving.”
- List at least 3 sins that you are currently struggling with. Write them out in order from the least to the most tempting.
- Pick out the sin you struggle with most and work on the process of putting off and putting on. Make sure that this repentance is both a change of mind as well as a change of action. Keep a journal of your progress.
Heavenly Father, convict us of our sins and lead us to true godly sorrow. May our sorrow lead to a spiritual growth. As we recognize our sinful actions, may we also be reminded of your grace and mercy. Remind us once again that there is no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus. Thanks for being so merciful to us. Give us the courage and wisdom to share this truth to the world. In Jesus’s mighty name. Amen!