Do You Grieve Sin in a Godly Way?

Many of us are painfully familiar with the sorrow that follows sinful acts. Whenever the cheap thrill of a transgression wears off, our souls swell with regret, frustration, and maybe even despair. But this is a good response, isn’t it? Only regenerate hearts respond negatively to sin, right?

Our grief certainly can be evidence that the Spirit has given us a new heart—if it is the right kind of grief.

The apostle Paul wrote:

“ . . . 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. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” – 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 (emphasis mine)

There are two very different kinds of grief we might feel in response to sin: godly and worldly. The former works for our spiritual benefit. Godly sorrow produces repentance that leads to salvation without regret! The latter, though, is spiritually fatal. Worldly sorrow may appear on the surface like an appropriate and righteous response to sin. However, it doesn’t fan faith into flame and produce repentance that leads to salvation. It smothers faith and produces hopelessness and powerlessness that leads to death.

So how do we figure out which kind of grief we are experiencing? I think it’s pretty simple: we must determine why our has sin has made us sorrowful. What are we really grieving?

The chief concern of godly sorrow is God. The person who mourns sin rightly is the person who grieves over the way sin dishonors God and the way it fractures his or her fellowship with him. For example, let’s say a woman has been having an adulterous affair for a number of years but has recently decided to end the affair and confess to her husband and pastor. Though she is definitely sorrowful over the embarrassment this sin will bring on her and her family, her relationship with the Lord is what concerns her most. She hates that she has offended the One who loves her and delights to satisfy her with every good thing. She hates that she has fractured her fellowship with God. More than anything else, she longs to enjoy unhindered fellowship with him again. And this longing is what has driven her to confess her sin and put an end to it. Whatever the temporary consequences of her adultery might be—and they could be severe—she knows she can face them with the forgiving Christ by her side. This woman has experienced godly sorrow that produces repentance that leads to salvation without regret!

On the other hand, the chief concern of worldly sorrow is self. The person who mourns over sin wrongly is the person who grieves solely over the temporary consequences of sin. For example, let’s say a man who professes to be a Christian is caught in adultery. How his sin has affected his relationship with God does not concern him nearly as much as how it is going to impact his earthly relationships. He grieves over the tremendous embarrassment he has brought upon himself. He laments his soiled reputation. He can live with God’s displeasure toward him, but he can’t bear for others to see him for the man he really is! Swallowed up by his despair, he decides to quit his job, divorce his wife, and move across the country to start a new life. This man has experienced worldly grief over sin. His sorrow will never produce repentance that leads to salvation but only debilitating hopelessness that will lead to spiritual death—unless God intervenes.

And the good news is that God often intervenes! I speak from personal experience. There was a time in my Christian journey that I lost sight of God and was concerned only for my personal happiness. I hated the sins that were running rampant in my life—but only because of their adverse effects on my emotional state. I despised the dark and heavy feelings of guilt and shame that always followed a sinful act. I wasn’t so much concerned about loving and pleasing God as I was about just being happy (with or without Jesus!). I wallowed for a while in my worldly sorrow and made absolutely no progress toward real repentance. But God, in his great mercy, eventually revealed to me the ungodly nature of my grief. He gave me strength to pull my eyes away from myself and fix them again on him. And as I set my eyes on him (by reading and meditating on his Word), I began to feel great remorse and disgust over my sin because of the way it dishonored God and interrupted my fellowship with him. This godly sorrow produced exactly what Paul said it would: repentance that leads to salvation without regret!

If today you find yourself experiencing worldly, self-centered grief over your sin, I plead with you to open the Word of God, look in Christ’s direction, and pray that the Holy Spirit would give you the invaluable, life-producing gift of godly grief. And don’t stop looking and asking until he gives it!

  • Lyle Nelson

    When I think of this question, I think of it in terms of our reaction to “getting caught”. God “catches” (sees) every sin we have ever committed and will commit. And He hates every one of them. It is only because of the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for us that our sin can be forgiven if we confess it and repent of it. But if we are trying to become godlike, which should be every Christian’s primary goal in life, we should hate all of our sin, because God hates it. That is godly repentance.
    But if we don’t really care what God thinks about our sin, then our focus begins to turn to the impact of “getting caught”. If no one catches us, then we’re “home free” and the sin has no perceived impact on us. But if we are caught, then all sorts of factors determine the level of guilt that we feel such as, we may feel differently about a sin a stranger catches us doing as compared to the same sin known by our spouse. There may be legal ramifications that affect the impact on us. Perhaps fines or jail-time. Our reputations in the family and the community. How widely is the sin known? Does it impact our employment, either now or in the future? Our chances for promotion. And the list goes on and on…. That is worldly repentance – when factors such as those listed above determine the extent to which we feel guilt and shame about our sin.
    It is my prayer that all of our repentance would be godly, totally independent of the world’s knowledge of it or reaction to it.

  • Back in November 2016, I had an argument with my wife and lapsed in internet porn. No one saw and I deleted my internet browsing history. I was not caught and there was no record of it ever happening. But I couldn’t pray. I didn’t even want to admit to God that I had messed up. For the first time since the stroke, I felt abandoned by God, even though He never left. The problem was that He knew about my sin and I was unrepentant. I tried to sweep it under the rug by deleting my internet browsing history. God knows all and sees all, no matter how we try to cover it up. I was out of communion with Him for three days until I could admit before him that I screwed up. A lot of it was related to pride, that I had only had one other relapse that year.

  • Deanna Greiling

    My brother involved himself with a married woman. He has never acknowledge the relationship to be adultery. “Her marriage was over,” he said. I also found a note where he encouraged her to leave the marriage. He was intent on ensuring she got divorced.

    She was married for 31 years. Her husband, who cornered me, had no faith. He left that up to her. He said, “We had a good marriage.” In his mind, it was not over. They had a tough life that did challenge their marriage, but they worked through the events. He even attempted to mend their marriage. She refused because she had my brother.

    She attended and was involved with the Catholic faith. From her own words…God brought them together for a reason. He is a loving God who forgives.

    This belief along with everyone sins…so what, kept them together with no thought of God’s truth about adultery. They moved in together while she was still married. No concern about sexual sin either. They bought a house together a year after they met. Two years after they began the relationship, they married this year. I found this out by a fluke with Facebook. My brother has said nothing to his parents or I about getting married. He avoids us.

    I am the one who confronted my brother and then her because she wanted to befriend me. I was clear about the Scriptures and stated to her they needed to end the relationship. She called me evil and said she was going to take my brother away from me.

    I rarely see my brother. We once shared everything with each other and had a good relationship. I actually was discipling him and his son. He has called me a liar, jealous and controlling. Like he took all the truth I talked to him about and spat it back at me as lies. A life of obedience is a controlled life. One that mirrors Christ through obedience to His truth.

    I am mystified that they are now attending a Bible teaching church. The same one I attend. As far as I know, neither one has repented of the adultery. I met her before she got involved with my brother. From how she talked about God, I decided she was not a follower of Christ. She needed salvation.

    My brother was baptized in his early teens. He attended Bible teaching churches since he was 3.

    Both of them just keep moving in this sinful relationship like they have done nothing wrong. From everything I am aware of, it is like if you sin long enough it is no longer sin and everyone will get over it.

    God opened my eyes to see what my brother was hiding. I spoke His truth when the fact was exposed. For now, God has asked nothing more of me. I endure through the hate and the loss of two people, my brother and his son from his first marriage that ended years ago due to her adultery.

    I do not want to mislead them about their true position with God. I have prayed for God to clarify it with them. And I know God sees that position clearly and I discern it.

    Since the Holy Spirit convicts, she has way too much comfort in her sin. She still comes across as a non-believer. Yet…she appears to be taking in the Bible’s truths as her privilege.

    God says much about His position on adultery. Without their repentance that leads to salvation or restoration with God, their confidence makes no sense.

    I discern her belief is not biblical or supported by Scripture. She is in for a surprise when the truth finally gets through. Especially working through my brother’s deception.

    As for my brother, he was taught the truth. It is like he took what he wanted, has the family he longed for and now what does he pursue going to church? All along it is like they are living in their own fantasy bubble.

    It has also been upsetting to observe all the celebration of their sinful relationship from others in the community.