“Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing” (2 Corinthians 7:9).
PAUL HAD WRITTEN them a very harsh letter, which made him sad, not because he had done anything wrong, but because he was anxious to know if it would be understood and fulfill its purpose. This letter also made the brethren sad, because it caused them shame and pain.
Now then, the brethren being sorry produced happiness for the apostle. Why is that? It was a sorrow which did not sadden. This message which left them sad also reached their hearts. And then they were led by God to recognition and repentance, and this not only gladdened the apostle’s heart, but also heavens. «For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death» (2 Cor. 7:10).
Esau had a conflicted heart, which did not result in a changed life. David recognized his sin and was restored. Judas was filled with remorse; he did not feel pain because of his sins, but because of the consequences, and committed suicide. However, Peter wept, repented of his weakness, and experienced true conversion.
Therefore, the need for repentance is not only for unbelievers. Believers also need to repent. This implies «a change of opinion,» feeling pain over sin, and separating from it. Disobedient believers need to repent, not in order to be saved, but in order to restore their communion with God.
Distressing the brethren upset Paul, but he was consoled in knowing that this discomfort was temporary. Even a call to repentance should be done with humility, in order to restore and not condemn. It should be done with the heart of a shepherd, and not the claws of a wolf.
Sadness according to the world is superficial, it produces discontentment, resentment, bitterness, loss, pain and death. Sorrow according to God is profound, it leads to forgiveness, peace, health, profit, joy and life. It leads us to understand that we have offended God and our neighbor, to fix the problem, reorient our life with the purpose of not repeating the offense, showing fruits worthy of repentance. All of this is only possible by the grace of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit.
«Repentance comes not from unwilling nature, but from free and sovereign grace . . . The more you try to produce penitent emotions in yourself, the more you will be disappointed. However, if you believingly think of Jesus dying for you, repentance will burst forth… He who died for you can, by His gracious Spirit, make you die to sin; and He who has gone into glory on your behalf can draw your soul after Him, away from evil, and toward holiness» (Spurgeon).