“For you were made sorrowful according to the will of God…For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.” (2 Cor 7:9-12)
Repentance, like love, is a passionate pursuit that produces action, resulting in transformation. In the same way John tells us to not love with words, but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18), repentance in word without follow up in deed and in truth is worthless. The definition of repenting is to change our minds. Paul said the bridge between the world and the kingdom [see http://marketplacesaints.net/kingdom-marketplace-part-iv-an-entirely-new-perspective] was to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Rom. 12:2). What is that, but repentance?
As in all things, Jesus gave us the perfect example of biblical concepts as He repented on the cross for everyone who ever had, was, or would be living until the end of the world. 2nd Corinthians 7 perfectly describes the atonement Jesus provided there, and just how passionate, action-packed, and transformational it was. It begins by saying true repentance is defined by being “made sorrowful according to the will of God.” Isaiah 10 tells us the Father was pleased [His will] to grieve and crush His Son. On many occasions Jesus made it clear to His disciples His mission from the onset was to die for the sins of the world, so there is no question it was the Father’s intent that Jesus would repent for the sins of His people.
But Paul says there is another sort of sorrow: worldly sorrow that produces death. Godly sorrow comes from the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and while it is never pleasant to feel His heavy hand upon us (Psalms 32:4), it is that which leads us to repentance and confession, which in turn leads always to healing (James 5:16). Satan’s sorrow, which comes about through human conscience, produces shame and not conviction. It locks us in to our sin, causing regret, anxiety, depression, all manners of physical symptoms, and even death.
True repentance comes without regret – no strings attached. Jesus had a chance to negate the cross, or at least to attach any number of strings to it, when He was contemplating His immediate fate in the Garden of Gethsemane. He put that all to rest when He spoke those famous words, “Nonetheless, not My will be done but Thine” (Luke 22:42). Jesus was reassuring His Father the terrible suffering He was about to endure for all humanity in a way no one else could, His suffering – His repentance – would be “without regret” knowing it was His Father’s will.
The passage moves on to display the passion and the action of Jesus on the cross. What an amazing thing, to take something so painful and tragic and turn it into passionate action!
- What earnestness [in His mission of salvation]
- What vindication of Himself [see below]
- What indignation [see below]
- What fear [of God: Isaiah 11:2 tells us Jesus would have “the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, and He would delight in the fear of the Lord.”]
- What longing [to return to His Father’s side]
- What zeal [There’s a reason they call it “The Passion Play”]
- What avenging of wrong [Jesus hung on the cross to avenge every wrong done to us by the forces of darkness that had been, existed at the time, or would be done until the end of the world]!
Jesus met all of these challenges, including the temptation to give in to shame. In Hebrews 12 we read His vindictive, indignant reaction: “For the joy set before Him [Jesus] endured the cross, DESPISNG THE SHAME!” He refused to focus on the shame worldly sorrow brings about, but rather fixed His hope on the joy set before Him! We need to heed His example and despise the shame and the one who brings it, and focus on the joy that always comes with true repentance, confession, and healing.
Finally, Paul speaks of the repentant proving themselves innocent in all matters, obviously including the ones for which the repentance was originally sought. Jesus certainly checked this box. Though “the sins of the world:” past, present, and future, were laid upon Him Jesus proved Himself innocent in all of them. He did that not by fighting, not by resisting, but by submitting to His Father’s care. This is the one of the great paradoxes that exist between the kingdom of man and the kingdom of heaven on earth: that we fight, vindicate ourselves, and gain vindication not as the world does it, but by humbling ourselves, and submitting to God’s wisdom and grace.
Oh yes, brothers and sisters. Jesus did repent for all of us: willingly, without regret, and with passion and zeal! Then He not only proved Himself innocent in all matters, but purchased our innocence as well. Do we display the same characteristics in our repentance for far less transgression like that of our Savior? I know too often mine is not. I’m sorry, and I do feel the conviction of the Spirit. But passionate, full of zeal, and transformational? Does it really change who I am, or is it a quick fix that too often finds this “dog returning to his vomit” (Prov. 26:11)? Do I “despise the shame” and get incensed enough to do something real about it, or just learn to live with it? Do I vindicate myself by transforming from what I was into what God has for me?
Time is quickly passing for feigned repentance, as it is for feigned Christianity in general. Now is the time for all who are called by His name to “humble themselves and pray and seek His face and turn from their [our] wicked ways, so He will hear from heaven and will forgive our sin” (2 Chron 7:14). I fear it is far too late for our land to be healed, but the restoration of a soul is always just a truly repentant heart away.