Joy with Repentance

Dr. Don Green - 6/20/2021

2 Corinthians 7 is, in my opinion, the most emotion-packed chapter in the entire letter. Paul does not abandon all reason and logic for the sake of emotional argument but rather he weaves emotion-packed words throughout his well-reasoned argument. Let me illustrate—In these 16 verses he uses the words for encourage or encouragement 6 times, the words for grieve or grief 6 times, the words for rejoice or joy 6 times, the word sorry 3 times, and the word repentance 2 times.

But before he uses any of these words, he establishes what this part of the letter is all about in the first verse (the key verse in your study guide): 1 Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Corinthian 7:1) or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases this text in The Message: 1 With promises like this to pull us on, dear friends, let’s make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without. Let’s make our entire lives fit and holy temples for the worship of God.

Two weeks ago, Jon summarized the many promises of the first five chapters of this letter and now Paul says the only appropriate response to having these promises is “purifying ourselves” and “perfecting holiness” or to put it another way, abandoning what contaminates and pursuing holiness. What follows is a practical application of this depiction of the Christian life—abandoning evil and pursuing good, turning from sin and turning toward righteousness. In a word what Paul is calling for is repentance, the right kind of repentance—not a repentance that leaves regrets but a repentance that leads to rejoicing.

As you read 2 Corinthians 7, just look at all the joyful terms that Paul uses throughout this chapter:

  • In verse 4--I have great confidence; I take great pride; I am greatly encouraged; My joy knows no bounds.
  • In verse 7--My joy was greater than ever.
  • In verse 9--I am happy.
  • In verse 13--We are encouraged and We are delighted.
  • In verse 14--I boasted about you and Our boasting about you has proved to be true.
  • In verse 16--I am glad and I have complete confidence in you.

What brought about this joy (happiness and gladness) expressed in confidence, pride, encouragement, delight, and boasting? It is because of how the Corinthians responded to Paul’s earlier letter when he called them to repentance. Perhaps you remember the situation Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians 5 when he called out the man who was living in an immoral sexual relationship with his father’s wife, we assume his stepmother not his mother? In 1 Corinthians 5:1 Paul describes this egregious sin in this way: 1 It is actually reported [not just rumored] that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife.

That is quite a charge considering what Corinth was known for. The city of Corinth was infamous for its sexual perversions of all kinds so it is not surprising that some immorality would make its way into the young church. But the kind of sexual perversion going on in the church in Corinth was not acceptable even in the city of Corinth.

How does the church respond to that? In 1 Corinthians 5:2 Paul wrote: 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? It is a sad commentary when the moral standard of a church does not even measure up to the moral standard accepted in a pagan unchristian culture.

When the Corinthian church should have been grieving over that blatant sin, they were proud and boastful. Perhaps they were thinking “Look how far we have come in our thinking and how grown up we are in our freedom.” That is not unlike what often happens today when we see professing Christians suggesting that some moral standards are outdated or old-fashioned in our sophisticated society.

After receiving Paul’s first letter the Corinthian church was humiliated and hurt but by the time he sent Titus to check on them, they had repented. When Titus returned with news of their repentance, Paul rejoices. That is the background for this week’s message.

So Happy Father’s Day! What a text and what an important task Jon gave me, so let’s get started. I want to focus on Paul’s teaching on repentance sandwiched between Paul’s mention of Titus’ visit to Corinth and Corinthians reception of Titus in verses 8-11:

8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

Two Types of Repentance

In this text Paul contrasts a godly sorrow that brings repentance that leads to salvation and thus rejoicing with a worldly sorrow that brings death and leaves regret. It is the difference between surface feeling expressed in words and depth of feeling expressed in actions. There is one more thing to add to the list that you have heard over the last two weeks--we do not regard repentance from a worldly perspective.

My former seminary New Testament professor Knofel Staton described the difference this way: “Real repentance always involves a reorientation of one’s life. It is not enough just to forsake sin. One must also adopt a new ethical code. The inward action is to be seen by the corresponding outer action. Real repentance is both a turn from and a turn to. It involves both an abandonment and an acceptance—that is, an abandonment of the old ways and an acceptance of the new way.”

That is consistent with what was happening when John the Baptist came preaching a baptism of repentance in Luke 3:8: He addressed the crowds by saying, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Worldly sorrow is regret that I got caught or that there were unintended consequences from my actions. It is the all-too-common apology that says, “I am sorry but …” and what follows are excuses and explanations of self-justifying behavior.

It is obvious that the kind of repentance God desires is much more than merely feeling some remorse or even saying I am sorry. It is showing that sorrow with metanoia--an afterthought, a change of mind. In military language it is an about face. In driving it is a U-turn. That is what Paul saw in this church’s response and why he rejoices over the Corinthians’ repentance.

The Results of True Repentance

Paul lists in first-century Greek bullet-form the results of godly sorrow (fruit of repentance). Look again at verse 11: See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.

Here’s his list of the results of repentance seen in the lives of the Corinthians:

  1. Earnestness. No longer a careless, casual indifference toward sin, but an earnestness about confronting the sin.
  2. Eagerness to clear oneself. The Greek word for eagerness literally means defense (apologetic) but not self-defense of making excuses, but rather clearing themselves of any complicity in the wrong by making right the wrong. By correcting the situation, by not condoning the sin, and by changing their own perspectives they could “clear” the bad reputation the church was getting for letting the sin go unaddressed.
  3. Indignation. An inner wrath over the sin and over the scandal that the sin and their reactions to that sin had brought to the church and had caused their broken relationship with Paul.
  4. Alarm. The Greek word for fear here suggests being alarmed over possible judgment if there was no change. An alarm over God’s displeasure and over the way that sin had hurt themselves, others, and the reputation of the church.
  5. Longing. Includes a longing to change, a longing to be more effective, a longing for reconciliation, a longing for Paul’s approval, and ultimately a longing for God’s approval.
  6. Concern. The Greek word for zeal implies being enthusiastic for pleasing God and making things right. Their zeal is a reversal of the apathy that had previously characterized them.
  7. A readiness to see justice done. Means to make something right. Often think of justice as punishment for the one who has sinned but it also involves forgiveness and acquittal when the sin is confessed and wrongdoing has ceased.

The ultimate result is expressed at the end of verse 11--At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. Once they were guilty but now they are innocent. Once they were complicit in the sin but now their slate was clean, they have been forgiven of their sin. Why? Because of their godly sorrow that led to their genuine repentance.

Repentance in the Lives of Two Disciples

What does this kind of repentance look life in everyday life?

In his commentary on this text N.T Wright illustrates the difference between God’s way [godly sorrow] and the world’s way [worldly sorrow] in two of the central characters of the gospel story—Judas and Peter. Their responses reveal “two types of sadness; two end results.”

  • There was Judas who was paid to betray Jesus and took the high priest’s servants to the Garden of Gethsemane where they would find him in the dark, and as Wright says, “was plunged into the darker depths of the world’s way of sadness.” Here is Matthew’s account in Matthew 27:3–5: 3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. 4 “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” 5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
  • Contrast that with Peter who followed Jesus to the high priest’s house, where he proceeded to deny three times that he’d ever known Jesus. On realizing what he’d done, “he went outside and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75). That was the first step towards the restoration that as Jesus appears to him after the resurrection (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5) and restores him to his ministry by the lakeshore (John 21:15–19). The difference is that Peter’s sadness led him to repentance, and that was a cause, ultimately, for rejoicing.

Repentance in the Lives of Two Ministers

Through more than 50 years of ministry, I have observed far too many ministers experience some kind of moral failure followed by a more serious failure—the failure to accept responsibility in genuine repentance.

  • Most recently a young minister friend was forced to resign from a ministry for his lack of judgment and moral failure; only to move on to another ministry several states away and be confronted there with the same pattern of behavior a few years later. It appears that other than some sorrow for getting caught and some regret over the loss of his reputation, there has been no genuine repentance, certainly no fruit in keeping with repentance.
  • Contrast that experience with the one I described in detail about 10 years ago in an article I wrote for the Christian Standard entitled, “Celebrating the Restoration of a Broken-world Brother.” It told of the repentance and restoration of one of the ministers of our church who was asked to resign following a confessed sin and an acknowledged act of deception with the elders. That issue also included articles by both the minister and his wife as they spoke of the lessons in grace they had learned over an 18-month process of restoration.

Within days of his confession and resignation this minister initiated conversations with some of his ministry friends that led to our service as his Restoration Team. Based on the advice of Dr. John Walker, Executive Director of Blessing Ranch (where the minister and his wife spent a week in intense counseling), we sought to engage in a coordinated effort between the Ranch, the local church, and a Restoration Team under the oversight of a local eldership.

Our work was directed toward the six processes which Gordon MacDonald describes as essential for restoration in his book Rebuilding Your Broken World: confession, counseling, discipline, comfort, advocacy, and declaration of forgiveness to the church.

Our brother demonstrated an openness and a transparency that sprang from genuine brokenness. During the first few meetings he was asked to describe in detail what he had done, to express in what ways it was sin, and to explain why he did what he did. He stepped out of ministry and spent two years as an over-the-road truck driver to provide for his family. In addition to these actions our brother took the initiative to account to his Restoration Team on his personal, spiritual activities and to seek pastoral oversight. Throughout the process he continued to take full responsibility for and to show greater understanding of his actions. We concluded that throughout the entire process our broken-world brother not only expressed appropriate words of repentance but also demonstrated these appropriate fruits of repentance:

  • appropriate brokenness by seeing the need for an intimate relationship with God to be restored;
  • the courage to confess his sin to his wife, children, and fellow Christians and to encounter his own fear and failure with honesty and conviction;
  • the integrity to name his sin as an affront to God and others; and
  • the justice to seek reconciliation and to make appropriate restitution, if necessary.

On a Sunday evening almost two years after the resignation occurred our church held a public Celebration of Reconciliation service. This moving, meaningful service included the following elements:

  • appropriate songs celebrating God’s grace
  • words of affirmation for our forgiven brother from the restoration team
  • Our brother openly confessed his sin to the congregation, sought their forgiveness and expressed gratitude for their support.
  • The minister’s spouse expressed her thanks to the congregation and read two very personal letters that had encouraged them through the restoration process.
  • The chairman of the elders spoke words of forgiveness and reconciliation for the minister. A word of exhortation was given to the congregation that since this brother’s sin had been forgiven any future discussion of it would be viewed as a sin and would be treated as such by the elders.
  • Laying on of hands and prayers of blessing.
  • The elders observed the Lord’s Supper with their restored brother and his wife.
  • The congregation was invited to come to the front to share in the Lord’s Supper and to express words of forgiveness to their restored brother.
  • As the elders dismissed the couple and the congregation to the Family Life Center, they invited anyone who had an unresolved issue or a need for reconciliation to join them for prayer.

I concluded my article this way: “Our efforts at restoration were rewarded and our prayers for reconciliation were answered. A forgiven brother was restored to fellowship within God’s family and our church provided a powerful witness for the community of the redemptive work of Christ. Today that minister is again active in ministry in another church, thriving in his faith.”

So here’s the application for each of us. It is where we began: " With promises like this to pull us on, dear friends, let’s make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without. Let’s make our entire lives fit and holy temples for the worship of God. (Eugene Petersen, The Message).

Scripture Verses

2 Corinthians 7:1-16; Matthew 27:3-5

Worship Playlist

Love So Great by Hillsong

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus

Tremble by Mosaic MSC

Another in the Fire by Hillsong

Study Questions

  1. How do God's promises and our fear of God both lead us to repentance?
  2. How did the Corinthian's sorrow and grief bring cleansing, sanctification, and joy of a restored relationship with Paul? What do you need to repent of today?

Apply It!


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