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The Centrality of Repentance

Godly sorrow has emphasis on the relationship with the person of God, instead of the consequences of the sin.

May 19, 2021

Today, I would like to talk about the centrality of repentance, which looks back to guilt. I think this is wonderful because we have been talking about a conscience that has a sense of guilt. I hope you are seeing how intricately important it is to have a biblical view of the conscience, and to understand what guilt is, and how it operates. It is important for us to understand, because so much of what we do with people comes back to that.

I want to take us to the book of 2 Corinthians and deal with this concept of guilt and repentance. We will read 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 and then from there, we will try to explore this concept of guilt and repentance.

Please turn to 2 Corinthians 7 beginning with verse 10. It says, “For godly grief produces repentance, without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold, what earnestness is the very thing this godly sorrow has produced in you. What vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! Everything you have demonstrated yourself to be innocent in the matter.”

I want to use these verses and began to bring forth an idea of guilt and repentance.

The Six Categories of Sorrow

  • Common Sorrow

Common sorrow is that there are difficulties. There is disappointment. There is death in your life. And there is sadness in your soul because of these things. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” “Weep with those who weep. Rejoice with those that rejoice.” Jesus wept over the death of His friend. And so, there is sorrow that we have, and it is called common sorrow. The issues of life have come up and you are reacting in sorrow. This is common sorrow, because again, there is no sin involved in this. There is sorrow, but your heart is at peace. You feel the sadness as it relates to the situation. Now, we acknowledge that common sorrow is still under God’s sovereignty and we must accept what God has allowed.

  • Chosen Sorrow

If you do not submit to what God has prescribed for you, according to your role and responsibilities, you will move into what we call, “chosen” sorrow. Chosen sorrow is grumbling and complaining which produces sorrow in your heart. The Bible says, “Do all things without grumbling or complaining” (Philippians 2:14-15). Chosen sorrow is when you are choosing to do the opposite. 1 Thessalonians says, “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will concerning you,” but you are choosing to grumble and complain. Now, if we understand it, common sense tells us that we will have our own emotions involved. We will have disappointment, death, and difficulties. We will feel sad, but again, here is the transition. If I do not accept what God has allowed, if I do not submit to what God has prescribed according to my role and responsibility, then I can move from common sorrow and into chosen sorrow, which is sin.

Now, could we prove from the Bible that chosen sorrow is sin? We could go to the Old Testament when they grumbled and complained in the book of Numbers. We can go to the book of Philippians and see the opposite, “Do all things without grumbling and complaining…” If God tells you not to do it, and if you do it, remind yourself what is said in 1 Thessalonians, “…in all things give thanks.” Well, if you are not giving thanks in all things and you are grumbling, that is sin. So, therefore, that is a chosen sorrow, is that sin? Yes. If that is sin, what is your conscience going to produce as a result? And what are you going to experience? Sorrow! That is the third category of sorrow, “conscience” sorrow.

  • Conscience Sorrow

Notice how this works. There’s a common sorrow, then if you don’t accept God’s will, if you don’t submit to what He says, you can grumble and complain which is chosen sorrow, which is going to produce conscience sorrow.

As I am working with people who have gone through tragedies and difficulties, I am trying to track them through these sorrows. I want to help them see and love them as they work in the process. Now, here is where it gets sticky. This is where we going to come into the context of these two sorrows that we are going to talk about. Second Corinthians will build on where I’m going to go. With worldly sorrows, and godly sorrows, when you have conscience, you are going to go one or two directions. You either move into worldly sorrow and what I call “casualty” sorrow, because it fits the alliteration. What are the casualties? Oh, it is worldly sorrow, meaning it is sadness that now you are consumed with. You wonder what is going to happen to you. You are consumed with how you got caught in the consequences. You are not interested in change. So that means you keep doing this, and that got you in the situation, which ultimately is going to lead you to death. We see that in 2 Corinthians 7, which is the worldly sorrow leads to death.

  • Casualty Sorrow

We see this idea of casualty sorrow in the book of Genesis after God confronted Cain. If you think about where Cain’s response came from, he first of all slit his brother’s throat. God asked him a question and he said, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” A very arrogant and ugly attitude. He lied as God pronounced judgment on him. What is Cain’s response now? “They are going to kill me.” That is casualty sorrow.

Is that all you have to say, Cain? “Now, they’re going to kill me?” You are not concerned about the distance between you and God, nor the damage you have done to your family by killing your brother. Your concern is now that something bad is going to happen to you, according to what you provided. That is casualty sorrow—you have not repented. You have not changed. You are just sad about getting caught, sad about what is happening, but you’re going to stay in the sin which is going to lead you to death.

  • Contrite Sorrow

The other sorrow is what we call “contrite” sorrow, which is what we see in this passage. That is the godly sorrow. This sorrow means that not only am I broken over my sins, but I am ready to do what I need to do to make things right with God and to make things right with others. Do you see the progression here?

  • Chastisement Sorrow

Now the last category of sorrow is mutually exclusive, and we see this that it does not necessarily fit with the others. It is the “chastisement” sorrow. We find it in Hebrews 12, “No discipline for the moment seems joyful, but sorrowful. But afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness.”

If you think about these categories of sorrow, there is a common sorrow, that if I do not deal with it properly, I will move to the chosen sorrow. Chosen sorrow is a sin. Then I will have a conscience sorrow, and from there I will move to one of two directions. Either I am going to move into casualty sorrow, which is worldly sorrow, and means that I get caught up in getting caught. There is no repentance. Or I am going to move into contrite sorrow, which is godly sorrow and is when I am willing to be broken and move into doing things right. Then the mutually exclusive one is chastisement sorrow. This is when I experience the pain of the discipline that is designed to move me to righteousness.

God is disciplining me. It might affect my communication, or how I might behave, or whatever it is, and it is producing righteousness. But I am feeling the pain of the discipline. Now again, that was mutually exclusive, it could go at any area. But I had to talk about these sorrows because from there we see from the conscience sorrow that you can move into one of these two sorrows mentioned here in 2 Corinthians 7:10 and so from there. Does everybody see the bridge?

When Sorrow Functions as God Intends

Here’s what we want to see when we talk about the concept of sorrow. That is the ungodly one’s sorrow over sin functions as God intends. When you talk about God, it is our first step in helping someone move into the practice that leads to salvation. Let us deal with this concept for a moment. I’ve got some passages there for you. And for the sake of time, we will just cover 2 Corinthians 7:10-11. But these passages show what happens when sorrow functions as God intended, when you are operating in godly sorrow, you are going to move into genuine repentance. That is the idea, but let’s explore the definition here of godly sorrow. Godly sorrow can be defined as, “having grief over sin as in regards to a relationship with God.” A person is grieved over the reality that he has offended the almighty God. This person has a sense of guilt with the desire and will to turn away from that which has offended God. Godly sorrow has emphasis on the relationship with the person of God, instead of the consequences of the sin. In other words, the person is sorrowful because of offending God, not because of the punishment he will get. This is why we call it contrite sorrow.

Sorrow, godly sorrow, leads us in a direction of repentance towards God. Repentance is the act of changing one’s mind resulting in the change of action toward sin. It is not merely feeling bad and seeing sin differently. It is seeing sin from God’s perspective resulting in a change of purpose in life away from the sin. This is why we call it contrite sorrow. Listen to me closely. When you’re counseling someone, if they have contrite sorrow, if they really have this, or what we call godly sorrow, you’re not going to have to try to push and pull them to repentance and change. They will be driving you—“What do I do next? Tell me what to do. How do I handle this? Okay, but what about this? What do I need to do?” They are so broken and ready for change because they are being motivated by God in the sorrow. They want to make things right!

Now, let me ask you guys a theological question—the word, “trinity” it means tri-unity. Is that right? What does trinity suggest? Number 3? Does it mean that God, the God, the God? Is there a junior Holy Spirit anywhere in the Bible? So, stop trying to play it. You are not the Holy Spirit. We get in trouble because we keep trying to be what we are not. One plants and one waters. It is God that gives the increase, it is God that brings people to their senses. You cannot break people. You cannot make people come to the truth. You can present it. You can model it. You can care for them. But God must be the one to bring people to their senses. Stop trying to be the Holy Spirit. It will frustrate you. Your ministry and your counseling are to be the instrument of the Holy Spirit. Does that make sense? So, is there any junior Holy Spirit? That is nowhere in the Bible, right? Therefore, we need to stop it and accept that when a person is broken, it is not so much because of what we said. It was that God decided to use us in that moment. It is not about us; we are the instrument that God uses. We can say the same thing to someone else and they can be just as hard-hearted.

As a Fellow, I do train a lot of people in counseling and I will purposely give them a strategy to work with people and they will come back and I will tell them to rate how it worked. Well, they get all excited, and say, “I can’t wait for the next session!” and then they use the same thing with someone else. They will say, “I don’t know what’s going on. I did everything you told me to do. But it didn’t work.” I will reply, “This is wonderful!” “What do you mean, ‘this is wonderful’? I failed!” I will say, “See here’s the problem. You thought you were doing something. You are the facilitator. You are not the one that makes the changes and I am glad this happened early in our counseling together versus later. Now, you will be humble and recognize you are the means. You are not the end. You do not determine the outcome because you are an instrument. You could do the same thing, but it could have different results because you have different hearts that you are listening to. Jesus talked about the four categories of the listeners, you know, the first one, the second, the third, and the fourth. I could see that you weren’t thinking about that. You were thinking, ‘I can do this.’”

It’s the same thing when I am speaking to an audience. One crowd will say, “Oh! God really spoke to me!” And I can go to another crowd and produce sleepiness. You know they are looking at their watches and it’s just not working. What did I do wrong? Nothing. It is the condition of a heart that I cannot create nor determine. Once we learn that, we can be free to be faithful and free to serve.

When it comes to godly sorrow—again the work of God in the heart of individual—they want this. And you are going to help them in the process. The destination of godly sorrow leads a person to salvation. Salvation is a deliverance from sin resulting in right relationships and a lasting fellowship with God.

That passage talks about sorrow leading to salvation. He is talking to believers. The context would seemingly mean that the salvation is more about sanctification. But the word, “salvation” is used to talk about that aspect of sanctification, or the passage could be talking about how one’s sorrow leads them to salvation. The point that I am making is that you could argue for both. If this is a salvation that results in right relationship, that is salvation. Or it could be fellowship that is coming back in line with what you already have. You must have the text to identify which one that it is talking about. I want to help you see that it could be a both/and. It is in the process that will help you make sense of it. I wanted to explain that. As you look at the passage and you think about this, you can see it from that standpoint. Again, the direction and destination of godly sorrow is one’s sorrow over sin and how that functions according to the standard.

Worldly Sorrow

Sometimes, we will not repent of sin, resulting in death. I want us to think about that for a moment, because this is what we deal with a lot of times in the arena of counseling. Do you have people whose hearts are not broken? And because their hearts are not broken; they are sad, but they are not ready to repent. We keep dancing around the issue instead of challenging them. There are only three reasons why a Christian does not obey God.

  1.  It could be a lack of knowledge. They may say, “I just don’t know what to do.”
  2. Lack of skill. They may say, “I have the Bible knowledge, but no one has ever showed me how to do this.”
  3. Lack of will. This is where they tell you, “I refuse to do this. I know what to do. I know how to do it. I refuse.” The Bible calls that “stubbornness.” Is that right? What does the Bible tell us to do when someone is stubborn? Rebuke them. Admonish the unruly, and if they are not willing to accept the admonishment, what is our next course of action? It is the process of church discipline.

Once it is confirmed that I’m dealing with the believer and they are not obeying God, and I recognize that the reason is that it is one is stubborn, that means that you have a worship of something else other than the God that you serve. If you’re willing to deal with it, then I will work with you. But if you are not, then I’m going to rebuke you and we will move towards church discipline. Because what you are telling me is, “I know what to do. I know how to do it, but I won’t do it.”

There is not much counsel for stubborn person, is there? Now, if they keep coming back, you keep challenging them. You can say to them, “Listen! We are really wasting time here because you don’t like knowledge or skill. You are being stubborn, which means that you worship something above love for God and love for others. And until you deal with this worship, we are not going to get anywhere in our dialogue.”

If we understand that when a person with worldly sorrow is saying, “I see the sin, I understand, but I don’t want to give it up.”

I call it, the “Yeah, but” Christian. Have you ever met the “Yeah, but” Christian? Every time you give them some truth, what do they say? “Yeah, but …” and then you tell him something. “Yeah, but …” and the whole thing is, “Yeah, but …” because they understand but they don’t want to let it go. Well, there is not much more we can do with that. Over the years, I used to try to get into debates and fight and all of that. It’s time-consuming. Time goes by, and we say, “Wait a minute, the Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome, but kind, able to teach, and patient in correcting those in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance.” God may bring them to their senses; that has changed the way I counsel someone who is resistant and stubborn.

We start to move into a whole other ball game of discussion. I will say, “Because I can’t break your heart. I am here to serve you. I cannot bring you to your senses. I can give you logic, I can give you insight, I can show you different things. I can parade people around you who have gone through what you have gone through. But your heart here needs the power of God.” I want us to think about this when we talk about worldly sorrow, it can be defined as grief over the consequences of sin, it is the grief in connection with the results it brings. This person has a sense of guilt, yet he is not willing to turn away from the sin. The world mourns the consequences of sin without considering God. A person functioning in worldly sorrow has a fear of what’s going to happen to them as a result of getting caught. It is remorse over sin. You change your mind about the sin, but do not change the purpose or your life to move away from the sin.

I want you to think about someone from the Bible who had remorse over their sin and saw it was wrong, yet did nothing about it. Judas—that is the ultimate picture of a worldly sorrow man. “I shouldn’t have done this. How could I have done this to an innocent man?” That should have moved him to repentance. He should have bowed down and worshipped God and served Him. What did he do? He hung himself. That’s what we’re talking about—the epitome of worldly sorrow.

Another example of worldly sorrow would be pharaoh. He said, “Okay, Moses … Okay … Okay. Okay. Okay Okay, I know, tell God. Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay.” And then as soon as the reprieve came, what did he do? Back to the thing in hand! That is the concept of worldly sorrow. “Yeah, I know it’s been much better. I know it is bad.” As soon as there is some relief from it, they turn back to sin.

If we understand the direction of world, and we see that worldly sorrow leads us away from God instead of to Him, and when we focus on relief of pain instead of relationship with God. Worldly sorrow leads to a preoccupation with self instead of preoccupation with God’s redemption. Therein lies the problem with worldly sorrow; what is the destination of worldly? It is sorrow that leads us to death. Death is separation from God, resulting in a disconnect from the power, the provisions, the promises, and personal presence of God, and all that results from that disconnect. This is why we call it “casualties.” Open it and it can lead you to death. It can fall under the category of physical death or eternal death for the unbeliever.

See where we are going here logically with this? When we talk about sorrow and guilt and repentance—when it is godly, it should lead us to real change. When I am listening to people and they talk about how sad they are, I’ve got these categories according to Scripture my mind. Are we talking about common sorrow or are talking about chosen sorrow? Are we talking about conscience sorrow are we talking about casualties? Are we talking about contrite sorrow or are we talking about chastisement sorrow? And as they are talking and I’m listening to them, I’m doing a categorization in my mind to figure out what’s the best approach now to deal with this person so that I can be strategic and careful and my connecting with them.

Wouldn’t it be awful if you have someone with common sorrow and you beat him over the head and said, “You shouldn’t feel that way! Shape up!” versus putting your arm around them, giving them a tissue, and just sitting with them.

Or, when someone who has chosen sorrow, and you put your arm around them and give them tissue when you should be giving them a stern talking to. You know what I mean? Here is where we are going with that.

Now, let’s go a step further. There are certain indicators of worldly sorrow. What does it look like? I want you to take a look at this; we’ve talked about some of these passages a little bit—sorrow over what will happen to you as a result of your sin, but no concern over how your sin has dishonored God or damaged others. When you see that, that’s worldly sorrow, that’s casualty sorrow as you are working with people.

What about when you have sorrow over sin in the situation, but you are unwilling to let go of the treasure that keeps you in sin? That is a big one, and away from genuine fellowship with God, you feel bad, but not bad enough to repent. You just want relief, but you do not want to make the changes. You still want to do what you do. You just do not want the consequences and the pain that comes with it. When you see that, that person is walking in worldly sorrow—sorrow over the situation, acknowledgement of sin, an acknowledgement of the character of God, but no reverence for God. There is fear of God’s judgment in the matter. That is what we saw with Pharaoh. And that is what we see a lot of times when people have worldly sorrow—sorrow for the situation, acknowledgement of sin, and acknowledgement of the character of God, but preoccupied with relief from the pain of the sin while continuing to practice the sin. When we see these type of things ladies and gentlemen, these are indicators that the person has worldly sorrow.

How do you know a person is truly broken? How can we tell if it’s godly sorrow leading to genuine repentance? Well, again, there are some indicators of what we call contrite sorrow. Again, repentance is the act of changing one’s mind, resulting in a change of action toward sin. It sees sin from God’s perspective resulting in a change of purpose and life away from the sin. There is an earnestness, a sense of urgency, or a diligence to turn away from that which is sinful and walking towards that which is right in the sight of God.

Vindication of self is making sure that the record has been set straight in the matter of the clearing of oneself as a result of being forgiven. There is indignation. There is a hatred and disgust with the sin that has been committed. In other words, a person has a hatred for the sin committed. It gives the indication of what the person hates. God hates sin. Does the person hate the sin or is bothered by the sin? Is there fear, where one is afraid of wrath of God? I suggest that there is a fear of the discipline of the Lord that is healthy. Does the person have a desire for reconciliation and connection with God? I desire for a right relationship with God, I have a zeal, a passion, for seeing things done right and according to God’s will; a passion for God’s will to be done in specific matters.

Now avenging of wrong is making sure that justice is done. It has to do with seeing justice done for the sin that was done. A person who is truly repentant will seek to avenge the wrong. And, in the matter of seeking to be clean of sin for which one has committed, one is pursuing holiness in the matter. Therefore, to seek to be innocent in the matter is to seek to be pure or clean.

What Does Repentance Look Like?

I want to go in the direction as to what the practice of repentance looks like. You will have people who will come to you and they are really broken. They will really want to make the changes, but they will need guidance into how to do this repentance properly. So, what I want to do, is to give you some practical tools that I think could be helpful to you in leading people, as well as yourself, into the proper manner of repentance. I have a simple formula that I will share with you.

Confess, repent, replace. Can you say that with me? Confess, repent, replace. Now every good Bible writing on change comes back to those central themes. They can be said in different ways but any real change in your life is going to be a confession of the sin, a repenting of the sin, and the replacing of the sin. We just say it different ways because you get bored. If every sermon I said, “confess, repent, replace,” you would tune me out. I just come up with different ways to tell you the same thing. If you listen to my sermons, and you hear the conclusion, you are going to say, “He just said that a different way.” Absolutely, because you would not listen if I said it the same way.

If you want to break it down, as soon as a person is broken, as soon as the person has been redeemed, as soon as the person now comes to Christ, he has a lifestyle of confession, repentance, replacement. God shows him something about his life. There comes the conviction. He is convicted about it and will own it. There is a confession—now he turns away from it; he repents. He replaces it with new living in that area; something new shows up. He is convicted, now there’s confession, now he repents. Now he replaced it with a new thing. How long do we do that? Until Jesus returns, we have a lifestyle of repentance and a lifestyle of sanctification.

I am going to give you a bunch of details up here. But if you miss all the details, what am I telling you to do? You got it. The next sermon that you hear? Guess what the pastor is trying to tell you to do. Okay, I’m just giving away the secret, so you have to take my pastor card in a minute. But again, that is the nature of progressive sanctification—confession, repentance, replacement.

Let’s talk about that in detail. Identify where you may have been thinking, speaking, or acting in sin towards God in a particular situation. Identify where you may have been thinking, speaking, or acting in sin towards others in a particular situation. Identify where you may have been thinking, speaking, or acting in sin in response to unfavorable circumstances. Now, I want you to notice something, and this is on purpose, when people are dealing with sin it’s in three categories, basically. It has to be with circumstances, with other people, or with God. And again, it comes from issues of their own heart, but I want you to think about that when people come to talk to you about their problems. What do they tend to mention? People and circumstances. They do not include God, but God is in there when people are upset. What do they tend to be upset about? People and circumstances, they just do not recognize that they are upset with God. When we start to help people deal with sin, and they truly desire to repent, help them see that their thinking, speaking, or acting in sin is really towards God. Whether in particular situations, or towards people, let’s help them identify and work through that. Identify what you want or desire, that you cannot control, that you are not getting from God in your circumstances.

Here is another obvious reality, if I am not willing to obey God and love others, then there is something I want more than loving God and loving others; something that gets into the worship at the heart of certain desires. That is how a person can know what is right, and still do wrong; because my knowledge of right is not what is motivating me. My worship of my own desires is what is motivating me. Therefore, I know what you are saying. I can agree with what you are saying, but I am going to go over here and do what I want because I do not value what you are saying. I value what I covet in my soul. And what I covet is not knowing Christ, not becoming like Him, not being useful to Him, but some aspect of creation and lustful desire of my heart.

And if we do not start thinking that way, we will think that people are not obeying because they just do not know. See as a pastor, I have spent years in seminary training. I want everything to be resolved in a Bible study because I like doing Bible studies. Guess what I want to do? “Let’s have a Bible study on that! Let’s have a preaching on that!” because that’s what I am geared to do. But many of the people that I talk to choose sin, not through a lack of knowledge, or a lack of skill. It is a lack of will. “I don’t want what you’re selling, pastor. I just show up here to ease my conscience. I want what I have been worshipping apart from you. And what you are saying is right, and yeah, I agree with that. But this is what I treasure.”

And if we don’t get there with people, we’re going to be frustrated. We will say that I taught him this. I have talked to many pastors. We sit down and they’re doing counseling. Well… Yeah… and they’ll get arrogant with me, “I know that Nicholas.”

“Okay but let me finish.”

“Yeah, I know that.”

“But see, if you just listen, that’s the problem.”

“What do you mean the Bible says that? If you can stop trying to pastor me …”

“Listen to me. Let me help you.”

You have made the assumption that they don’t do right because they lack the knowledge. They have shown you they have the knowledge, and they have shown you that you’ve taught them well, but you’re not doing an exposition of their heart. You just do an exposition of Scripture.

You must do exposition of their heart, meaning this, you have got to help them to see where their heart is contradicting the reality of what God says. You must help them see where their heart is not in tune, because of their worship of something else.

“Pastor, you have got to do that with yourself first. And your problem is you are too busy teaching, but you are not paying attention to your own heart. And if you could just listen to me, I love you enough as a fellow brother to help. You see this. I would want to do a Bible study on that too, and I have done a Bible study on that.”

But their problem is not a need for another Bible study. It is a personal confrontation so they can see the issues of their heart! Well, let’s do a Bible study on that. No, I am being facetious. But you do get the point I am making, right?

Confess. There we go. Does that sound familiar to you? Confess. Repent of lusting after those wants or desires you cannot control, that you aren’t getting from God of the circumstances. Confess and repent of ungodly thoughts, words, actions—towards God, towards others and circumstances.

Identify the thoughts, words, actions, or desires. God is seeking to sanctify you through your circumstances. Discipline yourself to think, behave in, relate in ways that are pleasing to God. Identify the various ways you can show thanks to God for what He is allowing your life. Lay out a daily schedule of tasks that you are responsible for doing, and work on accomplishing them, apart from your feelings. Identify some key ways that you can serve others. Do it apart from your feelings. Focus on speaking words that are edifying, learn to receive and cultivate hope that comes from trusting God.

Can you summarize what I just said? Do you see what I did? All that detail comes back to that reality. And my encouragement to you is to get strategic in various applications of the same reality, which is confess, repent, replace.