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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Sinners should be Filled with the Godly Sorrow of Repentance
Text:LD 33 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 30:1,2,5                                                                                      

Hy 1

Reading – 2 Corinthians 6:11-7:16

Ps 51:1,2,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 33

Hy 47:1,2,5

Ps 32:1,2,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord, Christians are a happy people. At least, we’re supposed to be. Think of that New Testament command: “Rejoice always! I will say it again: Rejoice!” We can be happy—and we can be happy for good and substantial reasons. Because we have a Saviour. Because we have a life and a future. Those who belong to Christ have lots to rejoice about!

But that doesn’t mean we’re strangers to sadness. And I speak here not of the sadness because a loved one has passed away, or the sadness that we have in one of life’s disappointments. There are these things too, but God says that we should be sad for another reason altogether. Like when He commands sinners in James 4, “Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom” (v 9).

These can sound like confusing commandments: “Rejoice always,” says God in one breath, and in the next: “Don’t forget to weep, too.” It’s because as Christians, we have our feet in two worlds. Even within us we’re divided, where there is that continuing change from darkness to light, from death to life. It’s a transformation, but it’s messy, and it’s not yet done.

That’s how the Catechism describes our life, too: Our old nature is dying, while our new nature is coming to life. The one process brings us grief on account of sin (Q&A 89), the other fills us with joy because of Christ (Q&A 90). Today we want to focus on the sorrow of repentance, so we realize that there’s much to rejoice over in Christ Jesus! I preach the gospel to you as summarized in the Catechism,

Sinners should be filled with the godly sorrow of repentance:

1) the cause of this sorrow

2) the effects of this sorrow


1) this sorrow’s cause: Not everyone cries very easily. In fact, some of us haven’t cried for years! Yet as God continues his work in us, He wants each of us to grieve our sins. Sounds simple, but it’s impossible to be sorrowful for sin if we don’t realize what happens whenever we do wrong. So look at what’s involved in a “typical” sin, and why it should grieve us.

Start with the wrong-doers: you and me. Like everyone else in this world, we are creatures who have rebelled against our Creator. Yet you and I aren’t just “anybody.” Because we have been blessed beyond imagination, welcomed into the Father’s family, and granted the full rights as his children—all for the sake of the Father’s perfect Son, whom He rejected for our redemption! You see then, that for us to sin against the holy God, is more terrible. If all of mankind has no excuse, then we have even less.

Then a second thing to consider: our offenses. Countless times each day, there’s that sin. Which is, the apostle John tells us, lawlessness. Sin is when we break the holy law that God has spoken and written. And when we break his law—whether it’s by using foul language with our mates, or being greedy for more money, or by hating our classmate, or by neglecting prayer, it hurts our God deeply.

For (and this is the third thing) we’re sinning against him: God, the Creator and Judge of all. Our sins hurt him deeply, because it’s his law—the law that He gave us out of his grace to keep us on the path to life, the law that reflects his perfect wisdom. So when we sin, we scorn the God who’s told us what He wants.

So, fourth, who gets glorified whenever we sin? Who does it serve? It’s often ourselves. Usually our wrongdoing will do something to serve our cause. Sin promotes our own honour in some twisted way—as just one example, you share some gossip, and it makes you look better because they look bad. You’re getting glory. But even if a sin doesn’t serve us outright, it’s definitely Satan that gets the glory from sin. The one who first moved us to rebel against God rejoices every time we do it again. Satan rejoices, because his whole life is wrapped up in that one purpose: opposing God, wrecking the good world He made.

Beloved, this is what happens when we sin. Our sin might only take a moment of our time, it might be just a split-second of thought… But the next time we throw a harsh word at our sibling, the next time we fail to show kindness to our neighbour, the next time we surrender to pornography, or cave in to our anger—or we put something else in our lives before the God who saved us—this is what’s going on: the Father’s children, so privileged and blessed in Christ, are rebelling. God’s perfect will is being laughed at, and He’s being slapped in the face. And Satan couldn’t be happier. We just made his day!

So can you understand why there should be sadness among those who love God and who desire his glory? Like the Psalmist says in Psalm 119, “Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed” (v 136). That’s what God wants, calling out to sinners in Joel 2, “Even now, return to me with fasting and weeping and mourning” (v 12). We have to see its misery, and so it’s a necessary part of the dying of the old nature: that we “grieve with heartfelt sorrow that we have offended God by our sin” (Q&A 89).

Well, if we actually cried for every single offense we committed, our tear ducts would’ve worn out a long time ago. So we don’t actually cry because of our sins. But even without tears, we have to truly grieve for sin, with a sorrow that’s real. With good reason the Catechism emphasizes that it has to be “heartfelt” (Q&A 89).

This brings us to 2 Corinthians 7. In this chapter Paul mentions the two kinds of sorrow for sin that a person might experience: you might be filled with a godly sorrow, or there might be a worldly sorrow. Let’s take a closer look.

Why is Paul writing about this? He often wrote letters to the churches. Sometimes they were letters of praise and thanksgiving. Other times they contained rebuke and admonition. And to Corinth Paul had recently written the latter kind of letter: “I made you sorry with my letter,” he says (v 8). It could be that Paul is referring to the letter found in our Bibles, First Corinthians. More likely, he’s thinking of another letter that he wrote them (a letter that is now lost), but one that was even more stern. Perhaps he had to rebuke them for their idolatry, or for sexual immorality, or for listening to false teachers and abandoning the true gospel.

At any rate, his letter sent tremors through the congregation. They read what the apostle had to say, and they were cut to the heart. He was right! They were living in sin. They were acting in a way that denied who they had become in Christ! This was terrible! As Paul describes it, great sorrow filled the congregation. You can imagine that there’d been more than one Sunday with lots of crying in the pews. Not much rejoicing there.

But, says Paul, “I do not regret it” (v 8). Sure, he regretted that he had to write what he did, but once the “tear-jerker” had its effect, he felt a lot better. “Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance” (v 9). Paul didn’t just want to make the Corinthians cry with a salty, empty show. He wasn’t happy with some crocodile tears. He wanted those tears to lead to action!

And then he writes a powerful truth, “Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (v 10). There’s those two kinds of grief for sin. He doesn’t really explain what worldly sorrow is, but you can imagine that if godly sorrow for sin brings repentance and produces good things like diligence, indignation, fear, vehement desire, and zeal (v 11), then a worldly sorrow for sin does nothing. It’s useless. It produces nothing good. This kind of sorrow is superficial, and doesn’t deal with what’s really wrong with us.

It’s the “sorrow of the world…” Makes me think of examples of well-known people who have been found out doing some crime. Maybe it’s a politician, or a celebrity, or an athlete whom we thought was almost blameless. Suddenly there’s a video clip of them doing or saying something terrible. Or their bleary-eyed mugshot is in all the morning papers.

Then they can be really remorseful for the television cameras and newspaper reporters. “It’ll never happen again. It was a moment of weakness,” they sob, “I’ll make things right.” We can be cynical when we see this: “They’re sorry all right—they’re just sorry they got caught!” They go into “damage control,” they hire a public relations firm, and then lay low till it goes away. We call it worldly sorrow.

But isn’t that such a human thing? It’s not hard to be sad about sin. Why are we sad? Maybe you’ve done something really bad, and there’s a feeling of guilt that you can’t shake off. It doesn’t sit right with you. You start to dislike yourself, you feel down. Or maybe by your sin you’ve brought shame to your family—you feel bad about that. Other times there’s difficult results that we’re going to have to live with. And we could be upset about these things. Guilt feelings eat away at us. We don’t like disappointing others. Shame is painful.

But feelings pass. There’s nothing more temporary than our feelings! Point is, we could have a lot of distress over our sin, and still not change. You feel bad after what you did on Friday night, but by next weekend you’re OK. Or you feel convicted by the Sunday sermon, but not enough to change. You know the elders and your parents are right, but you still can’t bring yourself to repent. When the sorrow’s gone, the heart is still closed.

So Paul’s words warn us. Don’t mistake your guilt-feelings for something good, like godly repentance. Don’t think that self-hatred is the same as “the dying of the old nature.” Shame is not renewal. Do you remember how the Israelites used to put on sackcloth and ashes when they were upset? We don’t do that, but it’s still easy to give the impression that we’re humbled over sin. In prayer we can ask for forgiveness every time. Each Sunday we can listen with long faces to the law. Or we can be very Reformed, and say how we’re still far from perfect.

But what if we’re deceiving ourselves? What if it’s not real? The Spirit says that worldly sorrow brings only death. It’s that serious: it brings death! Why? Because this sorrow fools us. It fools us into thinking that we’ve done something about our sin, that we’ve repented, and God still loves us. Worldly sorrow brings us to right to the gates of God’s mercy, but it doesn’t push us to go inside.

Beloved, the sorrow of true repentance is more than this. It’s understanding that we’ve offended the Father. It’s knowing that we need to change, and that only God can help us! And then in that grief, it’s turning to God through his Son, Jesus Christ. It’s praying urgently for his grace. It’s beginning to put things right. This is the kind of a sorrow will have a real effect.


2) this sorrow’s effect: Worldly sorrow for sin is a dead-end road. But godly sorrow leads to a real turning, to a growth in faith, and desire for holiness. It’s this kind of productive sorrow that filled the Corinthians when they received Paul’s rebuking letter. “Observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner…” Paul writes (v 11), and it’s like he can hardly contain his excitement, as he describes all that has come about in their lives.

“What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication!” (v 11).There were lots of results! Let’s look at each of these, and try apply them to our own repentance.

“See what diligence” resulted from their repentance, he writes. In their sorrow, the Corinthians became very earnest. They realized that sin wasn’t something to fool around with, but they needed to take it seriously. So they were eager to do everything necessary to correct their wrongs. They’d humble themselves. They’d forgive each other. They’d exercise church discipline. They earnestly wanted to make it better—and so should we.

We’re sometimes pretty half-hearted about our sins. We get used to them. After a while, sinning is just part of our life: “It’s just going to be this way, I’m going to get angry. Or I’m bitter. I just need to drink to deal with stuff. I’m never going to be really involved in church life.” We’ve made peace with our sin.

But repentance means not accepting it. The status quo isn’t enough. If we’re in Christ, each of us has to diligently desire something more: to do better, to be stronger, to take action and to grow. God helping us, that’s repentance.

See what desire to “[clear]… yourselves” has come about, Paul writes. Instead of being known as sinners, the Corinthians wanted to clear their name. No longer would they be known as the church that tolerated immorality or division or false teaching. No longer would these Christians be called a disgrace to God’s honour. No, now they’d work on a new reputation: a reputation for being holy, and doing good.

It’s dangerous, of course, when we worry what people think of us: what they think of our abilities, our looks, our personality. But sometimes we do need to care! We shouldn’t be content with having the reputation of being lazy, or having a critical spirit. We shouldn’t be happy if we’re only known as someone who’s good at sport, or if we’re known as someone who doesn’t care about much besides gardening or earning money.

Be concerned about your reputation! Paul says it’s a fruit of repentance, that we clear ourselves. That when it comes to our walk with God, we’re known as one who walks closely with him. For example, be known as someone who’ll always speak an upbuilding word. Be known as someone who’s willing to serve others, who’ll do much for the suffering. Be known as someone who loves the Bible and trusts in God.

And “see… what indignation” fills you, writes Paul. The Corinthians were indignant: Looking back, they couldn’t believe what wickedness they had tolerated. They’d been so foolish, thinking they could have fellowship with the devil and with God at the same time! With indignation, their sorrow for sin was turning into hatred of sin.

That’s necessary because we often tolerate sin, instead of hating it. Don’t we sometimes make excuses for transgression? We protect our sins with well-worn excuses: “Oh, it’s just a stage,” we’ll say. Or, “It’s only a little harmless fun—it doesn’t hurt anyone.” But this is not indignation. Indignation is hating sin, and pushing it away!

And “see what fear” has come from your repentance, says Paul. Fear—for the Corinthians knew that they offended God, the heavenly Judge. They trembled, not because they suddenly thought they’d be condemned to hell. They trembled, because now they realized a little of what sin means: lawlessness, scorn for God, and glory for the devil.

As we said earlier, we need to reflect on the character and the meaning of sin. We need to, because we often sin without even thinking. Sometimes we make a choice to do something we know is wrong. But more often, we sin without even being aware of it. This is the way we’ve always lived and thought. But let us grasp a little of what our sins mean in the sight of God, the righteous Judge.

Be alarmed, and then be filled with “vehement desire” says Paul – a desire to do God’s will. That’s what has to replace sin. We can’t just get rid of our evil, and then leave empty our hearts and minds. Rather, when we break our bad habits, when we resolve to do away with sin, we have to replace these things with what pleases God.

That must be our new longing: “Now I long to keep God’s commands. I long to show him my love, and show it to my neighbor, too. I long to fill my heart and life with new thoughts, and new activities—ones that bring honour to my God.” A vehement desire!

And then hold on to that longing with “zeal.” Having repented from their sin, the Corinthians were zealous, committed to remaining faithful.  That’s needed, because it’s tiring, being holy. None of this is easy, doing God’s will. For we usually know what’s truly right. Many of us recognize our weaknesses: “I have to be more diligent in prayer and devotions. I really should stop wasting so much time online. I need to be a stronger leader in my family.” We know the good we should do, yet we find it so hard to get up and do it.

But pray that God’s grace and Spirit might produce zeal in you. Zeal is that determination, that living resolve, to do better while depending on Christ more. “I don’t want to go that old way anymore. I want to serve my faithful God—now and always!” Beloved, pray to have that desire, more and more. God will hear your prayer, and answer it!

And finally, the sorrow of the Corinthians produced in them a spirit of “vindication.” That is to say, they wanted to see justice done, and wrongs put right. No longer overlooking sin, they were going to meet it head-on. If they needed to be rebuked, then they’d receive it humbly. If a member needed to be disciplined, then that’s what they would do. And in this fruit of repentance too, they showed they were serious about their sins.

If we’ve truly repented, we’ll show the same: we will have a desire that wrongs are put right. We’ll warn our fellow saints who are sinning. Or if we realize that we’ve left a mess behind us—a mess in our relationships, a mess in our family—we’ll try to bring healing and harmony again. We’ll reach out with forgiveness. We’ll show kindness. As far as it depends on us, we’ll try to live at peace with all men.

Godly sorrow, the Spirit says, “produces repentance leading to salvation” (v 10). Remember how worldly sorrow for sin only leads to death. It produces death, because you still don’t see your need for God’s grace. But when you’re truly grieved for your sins, and humbled, know that God won’t turn you away. He grants abundant mercy to those who ask him sincerely.

“Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted” (v 10). No regret—that’s quite a statement. Even after we’ve sinned terribly, done things that have caused us deep embarrassment and pain, after we’ve committed sins that have lasting effects, even then, we can be free of regret. We’re at peace, because we’ve gone to the right place. The Father overlooks all our sins, and so should we. His grace in Christ allows us to carry on!

And then for believers, sorrow is never where it ends. No, godly sorrow always turns into godly joy! As our Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt 5:4). Those who truly mourn receive the comfort of Christ’s gospel, when we’re comforted with having the complete forgiveness of all our sins!

That’s why right alongside a constant sorrow for sin, the Catechism says we now have “a heartfelt joy in God through Christ, and a love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works” (Q&A 90). Listen to that: for the repentant sinner there’s also joy and love and delight! In Christ and through his Spirit, these things are real, these things are possible.

May God give you joy—the joy that comes from knowing the Son as your Saviour.

May God give you love—a real love for him, an active love for the people around you!

May God give you delight—the delight that comes from doing the Father’s will.

Beloved, if you have tears of godly sorrow, God will most certainly wipe them away, just as He wipes all the sins from your account. Be glad then, and rejoice always, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2017, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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