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. —2 Corinthians 7:9-10
Two Ways to Distinguish Godly Grief from Worldly Grief
This is crucial to notice. The opposite of godly remorse is not always remorselessness. The powers of darkness in the world are much more subtle than that. There is a grief, a regret, a remorse which is “of the world” and not “according to God.” You can feel sorry for something in a worldly way which leads to death. So what we need to do is distinguish godly regret from worldly regret.
I would suggest two ways to distinguish them.
- Worldly regret is when you feel sorry for something you did because it starts to backfire on you and leads to humiliation or punishment. It’s the reflex of a proud or fearful ego. Pride will always regret making a fool of itself. And fear will always regret acts that jeopardize comfort and safety. So feeling sorry for something we have done is in itself no sign of virtue. But godly regret is the reflex of a conscience that has wounded God’s ego, not its own. Godly regret grieves that God’s name has come into disrepute. The focus of godly regret is God.
- A second way to distinguish worldly regret from godly regret is that godly regret is owing to God’s Word putting its finger on sin in our lives. Worldly regret is owing not to God’s Word but to the attitudes of men whose praise we don’t want to lose. We can feel extremely sorry for something we have done if we detect that the people around us think it is stupid or silly or reprehensible. The word of man not God becomes the criterion of guilt.
So in summary, godly grief, or godly regret, is the uncomfortable feeling of guilt when the Word of God shows you that what you’ve done is sin and thus has brought reproach on God’s name. (Of course, if other people have been hurt by your sin, godly regret will want to redress the wrong and so remove the reproach upon God’s honor.)
Godly regret is the regret of a God-saturated heart, not a world-saturated heart.