I’m sorry. These two words can hold the power to restore broken relationships whether between best friends, married people, parent and child, or humans and God. And yet, when someone keeps saying the words and never change behaviors, it doesn’t take long for us to not believe them anymore. They may very well be genuinely sorry on some level. Maybe they’re sorry they hurt another person. Maybe they are sorry they let other down. Maybe they’re just sorry they got caught. However, if they are not actually sorry for the behavior, the behavior will not change.
2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation, but worldly grief produced death.” Repentances equal changed behavior and a changed heart. To be repentant means we turn away from a negative behavior and replace it with a positive or godly one. When we disappoint others or God, we may regret our words and/or actions, but regret in and of itself is not godly sorrow. We all have something tucked away in our lives that brings regret…but we don’t have to live with regret. If that regret leads us to true repentance, we can stand on the promise of God found in Isaiah 43:25: “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” If God chooses to forget our sins, then we do not need to live carrying the weight of them around with us.
Worldly grief, on the other hand, may cause you to feel sorry for something you said or did, but more because it begins to backfire and brings humiliation or punishment. It carries with it pride and a strong ego. It regrets action that places comfort and safety in jeopardy. It regrets losing the praise of men, making man rather than God the criteria of guilt. In comparison, godly grief bring humility and a brokenness over what was said or done. It recognizes that words or action has wounded God’s ego rather than its own and grieves that it brought disgrace to God’s name. While worldly grief focuses on self, godly grief focuses on God. Godly grief is the result of allowing God’s Word to reveal and expose the sin in our lives as we recognize that our sin is a disgrace to God’s honor.
Godly regret is a good thing. It can be painful, but because it bring our sin out into the open, exposing it and makes us confront it, it allows us to see our need for a loving Savior to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Just as a physical pain can warn us of a disease, godly grief warns us that there is sin that needs to be dealt with. If we reject godly regret, we are rejecting God’s invitation to repent and turn away from the sin.
Repentance is not the same as grief or regret, but rather the result of feeling regret and grief. So many of us go through life living with regret because we’ve never taken the step of repentance. We can tell God we’re sorry all day, every day. However, God knows our hearts and he knows if we are truly sorry or not. When we are truly sorry, the attitude or behavior that brought on the feeling of regret will change. So while godly grief comes first, the next step is repentance which then leads to a changed heart. A changed heart will produce a changed life.
Whether your sin has offended God or your words, actions, attitudes have offended another person, saying, “I’m sorry” really means absolutely nothing without repentance, a changed heart, and a changed life. Once you tell someone or God that you are sorry, the expectation is that something will change. If nothing changes, then you are not truly sorry that you have done something wrong or hurt someone. You’re only sorry that you got caught or that the comfortable relationship you share with that person is no longer comfortable.
Paul added in 2 Corinthians 7:10 that “worldly grief brings death.” In a spiritual application, worldly grief stops us from repenting and as a result not accepting God’s free gift of salvation that gives eternal life. If we are a Christian and have worldly grief over a sin God reveals to us, we do not lose our salvation but the close, intimate relationship we have with God cannot exist with unconfessed sin or sin that we are not willing to confess. In a life application, worldly grief can bring death of whatever relationship we have with the person we have wronged. In a marriage, it can be the death of the marriage, resulting in divorce. Between friends, it means a severed friendship. Between parents and children, it means the death of trust. Between coworkers it could mean the death of respect.
Our pride that causes us to hold on to these sins and bringing death to our relationships simply isn’t worth it. To live without regret, begin by getting on your knees before God with godly regret and confess your sins with genuine repentance. Then if your sin has cause offense to another person, go to them and ask them to forgive you. Whether they say the will or not, doesn’t matter. Even if they have no trust in you at all, live a changed life that is the result of a change heart and they will notice. Repentance will bring life back to the relationship. It might take time, especially if you have said “I’m sorry” over and over again and continue doing the same thing. However, they will notice. Even if they never forgive you, keep living the changed, repentant life because God will notice and he knows if your sorrow for your words, attitudes, actions are genuine or not. Choose godly sorrow that leads to salvation and eternal life.