Grief is a part of life. And there are many types of grief. In particular, I want to talk about the grief we feel over our sin. First of all, let me say that it is right and good that we feel grief over our sin. If you feel no grief over your sin, beware!
In the words of Michael Scott: “There is such a thing as good grief. Just ask Charlie Brown.”
But not all grief is good.
Paul differentiates between two types of grief: worldly grief and godly grief. What is the difference between the two? Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11:
“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. 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. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!”
Paul wrote some difficult words to the Corinthians. They needed to be called out, so Paul did it. And what was the result? They grieved. Rather than apologizing for upsetting them, Paul actually said that he was glad that they were grieved. Why? Because they had the right type of grief and it led to the right result.
So what’s the difference? Godly grief breaks us with regard to our sin, but it leads to repentance, which leads to “salvation without regret.” In other words, godly grief leads us to a lack of regret. Godly grief does not pin us down in a feedback loop of guilty feelings. It pushes us to see our sin for what it is, to look to our Savior in repentance, and then to accept the grace that he offers.
Worldly grief, on the other hand, produces death. We feel guilty over our sin, then we beat ourselves up because of what we’ve done, and we get trapped in this vicious cycle of guilty feelings that leads nowhere but death.
So what type of grief do you feel over your sin? Is it the grief that builds upon itself until you find yourself buried? Or is it the kind of grief that pushes you toward your gracious Savior? It makes all the difference in the world.