A Tale of Two Responses: Worldly Grief and Godly Grief

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Not long ago my husband and I had a weekend that would make for great reading in parenting books. Multiple children required discipline for sinning against someone else, but the contrasting responses from two of our children in particular clearly displayed biblical truth. One child faced the consequences of speaking unkind words and name-calling: When your words are not sweet, you deserve no treat (no sweets of any kind for the rest of that day). His brother had faced the same exact consequence the previous day, but the stakes were higher on this day—there were two parties to attend where the sweets would be plentiful. When he realized he was attending two parties and could have no sweets, he became angry. Instead of repenting, he justified his unkind words toward his sibling. He compared his offense with the one his brother committed the day before, arguing that his consequences were unfair because his brother only missed dessert for one day, he was missing dessert at two parties. There was no remorse for his unkind words and no consideration for the sibling he hurt. I grieved over the condition of his heart.

The following day, another child broke a friend’s toy. He was prodded by other friends to pull the head off of a toy and he acquiesced. When I sat him down to talk about what happened, I explained that following Jesus means doing the right thing even if others are encouraging you to do what you know is wrong. I explained that he sinned against God because was not loving his neighbor as God commands and he was not being an example of Christ. His countenance fell with those words. There was a change in his demeanor brought about by the Spirit. He quietly said, “When I did it, I didn’t think about that. I’m so sorry. I don’t want to sin against God.” He displayed a soft heart that desired to honor the Lord. His consequence was that he would have to help pay to replace the toy. I told him the cost of the replacement was $21; he could give $10 or $15 from his piggy bank. I would let him decide what he felt was appropriate. He ran to his room and came back with $20—everything he had.

As a parent, my heart soared when my 8-year-old felt deep sorrow over his sin and gave all the money he had to make restitution. He recognized that he had sinned against God and hurt his friend, then he went beyond what was asked to make things right. I was reminded of the Corinthians. Paul wrote a letter to the church in Corinth confronting their sin. This letter made the recipients grieve but resulted in them turning from their sin and walking in obedience. Paul’s words to them in 2 Corinthians 7:9 reflect his joy over their response: “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.”

Paul contrasted two possible responses to sin. “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Worldly grief is sorrow one feels over being caught in sin and facing its consequences. This produces death. Godly grief happens when your sin is exposed and the Spirit enables you to acknowledge that you have offended the Lord and failed to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This sorrow leads to genuine repentance and abundant life.

Our response when we are confronted with our transgressions reveals whether we have worldly grief or godly grief. John the Baptist exhorted the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). That is, turn from your sin and do the things which reflect a repentant heart. Thomas Watson writes, “Repentance is a grace of God’s Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed.” Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and sinner, provides us with a great example of the fruits of repentance. When standing face to face with Jesus, Zacchaeus declared, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8). Zacchaeus acknowledged his sin and pledged lavish restitution beyond what he had taken.

As believers, we must acknowledge that when we are confronted with our sin, it is the kindness of the Lord. When our sin is brought into the light it is a form of discipline from a loving, heavenly Father who knows that sin will rob us of the good blessings that come through obedience to His commands. “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). Understanding this should lead us, by the power of the Spirit, to a change of mind about our sin, genuine sorrow for our offense, and actions of restitution and obedience. The Lord’s exhortation is clear: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).

May we be a people with hearts like my son displayed—those who grieve their sin, turn from it and bear fruits in keeping with repentance.

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