In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul expressed shock at what he had heard the congregation found acceptable in the actions of some around them. There was sexual immorality in their midst, and they weren’t addressing it. Paul said this must be corrected. The man committing this sin – since he was unrepentant – must be separated from the church and given over to the world – to Satan – in order for him to come to his senses, if he would.
In the second letter to the church, Paul acknowledged he learned that the congregation did what he directed, and in so doing, had repented of their consent to the sin they had tolerated. We don’t have a record of exactly what happened, whether the church wrote Paul a letter explaining how they handled the situation, or if he’d learned by word of mouth. The one thing we know is that they turned strongly from their sin of allowing this man to continue doing what he did, toward a grief that consumed the body for their tolerance of the man’s actions.
To that end, Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 7:8:
For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while.
Their grief in getting right before God caused Paul grief. He regretted having caused them such distress, but he knew it had to be done. The importance of Paul’s rebuke is contained in 2 Corinthians 7:9:
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.
The church had to feel such sorrow at their actions that it broke them and brought them to the place of repentance. It was true grief, rooted in God, and because of that, He was gracious to them.
There is an anguish that is worldly. It brings regret – often great remorse – but it doesn’t lead to a change in mind, heart, or behavior. A man may cheat on his wife. When the affair is discovered, it could lead to divorce and the loss of parental rights if there are children. He may feel immense shame and guilt at the moment, but when those feelings pass, he may justify his actions and go right back to seducing a neighbor’s wife. It may become a lifestyle that brings no real satisfaction, since the emptiness that caused him to stray in the first place is never truly addressed.
Godly sorrow, on the other hand, causes a change that leads to transformation. Paul tells us this in 2 Corinthians 7:10:
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
When affliction or heartache cause one to bring his pain to God, and he truly repents, a miracle occurs. If the person isn’t born again, his life may turn around in salvation. If already a believer, through Godly repentance, it should strengthen his faith and resolve to sin no more.
The bottom line is that outside of a Godly response to sin, the actions of the flesh lead to death. It’s one thing to fall into sin; it’s another altogether to dive into it.
Inadvertent sin can and should be recognized by the believer soon after committing it so that it can be confessed and dealt with. Sin that is justified leads to more and greater sins. Ultimately, they lead to a place outside of God’s will where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The lesson is that we must recognize sin, whether in our own body or the Body of Christ. We must address it and repent of it. Anything less and we run the danger of being cast back into the world – just like that man in Corinth – where Satan can have his way.
Let us grow in our zeal for God and do all that He commands. The grace, mercy, and favor He pours out on us as a result will far eclipse any sin and its momentary pleasure.