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Godly or Worldly Sorrow?

Acts 8:18 ‘And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whosoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.’

Indignant, Peter rebuked Simon the Magician. The gift of God could not be purchased with money and Peter added angrily, that Simon’s heart was not right in the sight of God.

Peter’s remedy for the magician’s presumption? ‘Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.’ (verse 22). Peter calls Simon to repent of his wickedness so that he might be freed of the bonds of his iniquity. Hearing this, Simon asked Peter to pray for him so that he could avoid the destruction that Peter said would come upon him (verse 24).

Simon may have sincerely feared condemnation, but his request to Peter is not motivated by sincere remorse. In asking Peter to pray for him, Simon is more concerned with the judgement of God that may fall upon him, rather than being genuinely sorry for presuming that he could purchase the gift of the Spirit with money. His repentance was the kind that does not lead to eternal life. It is a worldly sorrow. However, repentance unto life is godly sorrow that leads to salvation. It is sorrow for the fact that one has offended the LORD and not merely a fear of God’s punishment. If the desire to escape the consequences of our sins is the only thing that moves us to repent (as in Simon’s case), then we have not truly turned from our sin.

Repentance saves; mere regret and remorse kills (leads to eternal death). The sinner will reluctantly try to stop sinning enough to get ‘God off his back’, so that in time he can return to the sin that he or she loves when the guilt (over being caught out) has faded.

‘Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience. ‘ Westminster Shorter Catechism 87.

Repentance that leads to life involves a true understanding of sin and recognizing God’s mercy in Christ. It consists of grieving and hating our sin while turning to Jesus and endeavoring to obediently follow Him.

2 Corinthians 7:11 ‘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.’

Godly sorrow produces life and fruit. Paul has nothing but resplendent praise for the congregation in Corinth whose godly grief led them to sincere repentance. Instead of being indifferent to their sin, as Simon the Magician was, they attacked it with vehemency in order to clear themselves. They longed for the favor of God upon their lives and zealously pursued church discipline where appropriate. As a result, Paul says they have proved themselves innocent in the matter of sin.

When we sin, we ought to feel guilty. We have disappointed God and possibly hurt another who is made in His image. These things ought not to be so. We long for the sunshine of God’s smile to warm our hearts again. This kind of Godly sorrow leads to repentance and transformation, and it is the pleasing fruit of a transformed life. As we yield to our Heavenly Father’s loving discipline, we will enjoy His favor and blessing. His rod of correction when we do wrong may be painful for a time, but Godly sorrow results in joy and no regrets. Let us be quick to confess our sins and always take pains to have a clear conscience towards both God and others.

‘Blessed God,

Ten thousand snares are mine without and within, defend me.
When sloth and indolence seize me, give me views of Heaven;

When sinners entice me, give me distaste of their ways;
When sensual pleasures tempt me, purify and refine me;

When I desire worldly possessions, help me to be rich towards you;
When the vanities of the world ensnare me, let me not plunge into new guilt and ruin.

Create within me a pure and loving heart, so that in your mercy I will be found innocent
in your sight. Amen.’

About Jennifer Woodley

Jennifer is an Australian freelance writer who lives in a small rural town in sunny Queensland. She is passionate about encouraging others on their journey with Christ through writing and mentoring. Jennifer is a school chaplain, wife, mother of three adult sons and loving grandma of one adorable grandson. More of her writing can be found at www.inhisname6.com and www.faithwriters.com.

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