“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
2 Corinthians 7:10
Imagine this scenario: an alcoholic is trying to beat their addiction. They may have been making a little bit of progress even. Then one night, they lose the battle, they get drunk again. The next morning they wake up with a hangover of guilt, disappointment, hopelessness, and shame. They convince themselves they’ll never be able to quit, never be good enough, or don’t deserve it. The spiral continues.
Now imagine this second scenario: the alcoholic find out about Jesus. As they are getting to know God, they resolve to quit drinking. Unfortunately, they fall into temptation and get drunk again. The next morning they wake up with guilt and shame like the other, but scripture, along with encouragement from other believers, encourages them that they’re not disqualified, unloved, or unworthy because of their mistake, but that there is still love, hope, and forgiveness.
Which one is more likely to follow through with their decision to quit?
I’d wager that it’s the second. In the first scenario, the failure leads to shame and guilt. We’ve all been there. It may not be a struggle with alcohol, but we’ve all had sin struggles like this. And when we fail yet again, we beat ourselves up, we hide our sin because of our shame, and we spiral. But that’s not what God wants. Sometimes we feel like we have to punish ourselves by hating ourselves, thinking poorly of ourselves, or denying ourselves grace and forgiveness. That kind of grief is worldly, and it only produces death. It’s a tool of Satan to trap us in our sin, to convince us that we’re unlovable or unforgivable, and to keep it all hidden.
On the contrary, there is godly grief. Godly grief comes from the knowledge that your sin has gone against the will of God, and a hatred toward that sin. It’s a strong and pure desire for that sin to no longer rule over your life. It is still grief, certainly, but it is not self-flagellating. It comes from the pain of knowing that your sin has separated you from God, and a desire to be restored to him. It is not self-defeating or hopeless. It’s painful because you know you hurt someone that you love, but it also immediate resolves to learn from the pain and to never let it happen again.
Learn to know the difference between the two. One leads to death, and the other to salvation. It is a very important difference. Don’t let your shame and guilt lead you to self-punishment and hopelessness. Instead, be assured of the forgiveness of God and His unconditional love for you, and let the holy grief of betraying that love turn you back to him.
We fall short of your will for us so often. It’s hard sometimes to balance grace and guilt. Let us not succumb to worldly grief, but to godly grief that produces repentance. Let us always return to you and humbly seek and accept forgiveness through your son, Jesus.
In His Holy Name,