Regret, Sorrow, Repentance, and Belief
Matthew Lesson #127
July 10, 2016
“Father, we are so grateful for Your grace in our lives, understanding that there is no burden placed upon us to change, to reform, to somehow meet a starting standard before we can be saved, before we can trust in You, that You provided everything. You provided more than enough: a perfect Savior, a perfect salvation, a perfect plan. And the issue is not for us to change to be saved, but to just accept and receive that which has been done for us.
Father, as we study this morning, may we be reminded of the goodness in the greatness of Your grace and the need for us also once saved, to continue to press on in our spiritual life and spiritual growth.
We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me this morning to Matthew 21. We’re continuing our study in this last week of the life of Christ [on earth]. I’ve really been impressed as I have been reading through the last part of Matthew and then trying to correlate what’s going on in Matthew, with what’s in the synoptic Gospels, Mark and Luke, as well as much additional material in the Gospel of John.
Just think about this, we’re looking in Matthew, and Matthew gives us a pretty extensive account of the last week, and it started here in Matthew 21 and goes through Matthew 25 before we start getting into the arrest of Christ. So we have five chapters, most of which is not in the Gospel of John.
In the Gospel of John, we have a focus on what Jesus taught His disciples the night before He went to the Cross, and we see the focus on what is called the “Upper Room Discourse,” and that Upper Room Discourse takes us from John 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17. That’s five more chapters. So that’s 10 chapters in the Gospels that focus on what is going on in just the last week of our Lord’s time on this earth.
There is so much there. You could spend years just studying through these particular chapters, and each one has different emphases. As I read and as I’m studying more in this last part in Matthew, certain things begin to pop out, certain things become a little more apparent that you don’t normally hear taught, you don’t normally hear, you’ve got to really dig in a lot of different places, and fortunately, the Lord’s made some material available to me and aware of in the last for five months to help me prepare for this.
So today what I want to do is, without going into the next parable in Matthew 21:33, I want to focus a little more on the overall structure of what’s happening in Matthew 21 and 22, and then drill down on something I brought up that’s emphasized within this previous parable, which focuses on using the word for regret or sorrow. Also, we don’t have the word “repentance,” but that’s often confused. And then the word for belief. As I was going back through my notes, I’ve taught here and there bits and pieces of this, but I’d never really developed out a detailed study on repentance, even though most of what I’m going to say, you’ve heard here or there in the past.
What we see in this particular structure is that as Jesus has come into Jerusalem with the “triumphal entry”, where His followers are singing to Him from Psalm 118, “Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna to the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” This is a recognition that Jesus is more than just a man, that He is the rightful Messiah, the King entering into Jerusalem. They understand this. Matthew makes it clear by quoting from Zechariah 9 that this is the King who’s coming, riding on a donkey. That takes place on one particular day.
Then Jesus goes in and cleanses the Temple. We have this “in your face” confrontation with the religious leadership, because of all that is going on inside the Temple, all of the money changing, the selling of animals for the sacrifices, whether they’re the birds or the lambs, or whatever.
All of this is free enterprise gone amok, because this whole thing is run by what is essentially an organized criminal effort by the high priesthood, the family of Annas, who had been high priest. At this point Caiaphas, his son-in-law, is the high priest. This was a racket, and they made anybody who had a booth where they exchanged money or sold sacrifices, sacrificial animals, could make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. So it’s a moneymaking scheme and was not concerned about worshiping God. It was concerned about increasing their own personal wealth.
Jesus spends the night probably with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany, comes back, and as He approaches, in verse 18, we saw that next morning He comes in, He sees a fig tree and there’s no fruit on the fig tree, so He is cursing the fig tree.
That’s just not some arbitrary action by Jesus. It’s a training aid, a visual aid. The fig tree in the Old Testament often represented Israel and He’s depicting this judgment on Israel because of their lack of fruitfulness.
That’s not happening in isolation in this context. If you read to the next parable that we will study next week, the second parable in these three that are listed together, it talks about a vineyard and a man who builds a vineyard and the winepress and the tower, and he leases it out to tenant farmers, the vine dressers, and when the time comes near, we’re told, that he might receive its fruit, he doesn’t get it.
See, there’s no fruit on the fig tree. The owner of the land isn’t receiving the fruit from the vineyard. It’s the same points, the same principles are being made and tied together.
I want you to see here’s how these threads run through this. It extends actually down through Matthew 20–22 and into Matthew 23 where we have Jesus’ final pronouncement of woes and judgment on the Pharisees. All of this is connected. We come along and we look at this so much in these little bits and pieces, that we don’t see how this whole thing played out in a very short amount of time, and we don’t necessarily understand all the nuances from the Jewish culture behind that.
So after Jesus has cursed the fig tree, then He goes the rest of the way to the Temple, and we’re told in verse 23, “Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?’ ”
We studied this a couple of weeks ago, and the point is that Jesus doesn’t really answer the question. What He does is, and all through the section, it’s not just the way He handles this, but all through these confrontations, Jesus is doing a major one-up on the Pharisees in terms of rabbinical methodology and theology and how they would handle things. They ask Him a question, and He returns the question. This was typical if you read the Mishnah or Talmud. This is how they would dialogue. They’d raise a question, and then somebody raises a counter question.
So He raises a counter question, which puts them on the spot. He says, “If you answer My question, then I will tell you by what authority I do these things.”
He asked them about the baptism of John the Baptist, and that puts them on the spot because if they validate the baptism of John, that it’s from Heaven, then people will say, “Then why did you not believe him?”
That brings out that key verb “believe,” as I’ve emphasized the last couple weeks. You should circle that in your Bible. That’s the issue in salvation, and the underlying issue in spiritual growth is faith.
They don’t answer Him, and He concludes that in verse 27 by saying, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
But He doesn’t stop there. As we read through the rest of Matthew 21, 22, and into 23, what Jesus is demonstrating in numerous subtle ways is the basis for His authority and His indictment of their false or fraudulent use of authority.
In the context of this, when you compare it to the other synoptic Gospels, Mark and Luke, you see the dynamics that are going on as Jesus comes into the Temple.
Matthew says, “When He came into the temple, the chief priests and elders—He just mentions those two groups—confront Him.”
Mark gives us a little more vivid look. He says, “Then they came again to Jerusalem—that would be Jesus and the disciples—and as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders.” So Mark informs us there’s a third group with them, the scribes, and it’s while He’s walking.
But then Luke puts it all together for us and says that it’s, “as He taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel.”
So He’s walking around inside the massive Temple. There are huge crowds gathering around Him. He’s teaching and He is preaching the Gospel. That’s the Greek verb EUANGELIZO, which simply means he’s proclaiming the Good News. So He is giving them good news, He’s teaching them about the Messiah. All of this is going on, and the chief priests and the elders and the scribes are now challenged.
Who is this guy? What gives You the authority to come in here? What they’re basically asking within a rabbinic background is, “Who ordained You? What school are You from? Whose name are You teaching? Because if You are a rabbi and You taught, You would always ascribe what You taught to some other authority. You would say that it was from Rabbi Gamaliel, Rabbi Shammai, Rabbi Hillel, or Rabbi Joseph, somebody like that.
All religions slip into this kind of emphasis on human authority. You see it in the development of rabbinical theology, where nobody studies the Old Testament anymore. You just study what the ancient rabbis said about the Old Testament.
If you look at Roman Catholicism, nobody reads the Bible anymore. They read what the early church Fathers and later authorities in the church said about it. You read through Thomas Aquinas, you read through others teachers in the Catholic Church, and that’s what they’re quoting, other authorities. They are not really exegeting and expounding the text of Scripture. Nobody knows what the Scripture says.
And so Jesus comes and He’s totally different. He is teaching what the Scripture says, He’s proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel, and it challenges the very authority of the leaders. So He avoids their question, He slips around it, and then He immediately challenges them.
He says in verse 28, “But what do you think?”
What’s interesting is if you were to turn over to Matthew 22:17 when He’s going to be challenged. It’s a well-known passage when the Pharisees set Him up, and they send some of their disciples and the Herodians to ask Him about the legitimacy of paying taxes, and they say, “Well, should we pay taxes to Caesar? Is that legitimate?”
But if you look at how they structure their question in verse 17, they say to Him, “Tell us, therefore, what do You think?” What does Jesus say in Matthew 21:28? “What do you think?” This is typical rabbinical back and forth.
He is going to talk their language, and He’s going to best them at every turn in these next few chapters. And, in fact, there’s one section of the Talmud that has a recorded debate between two rabbis that almost follows category by category this debate between Jesus and the Pharisees.
So the way Matthew writes this is typical for that era. It reflects that this is how debate took place between the rabbis themselves, and that Jesus is using their form. It’s like a judo contest. He is using their energy and their moves against them to turn everything back on them, and it’s absolutely brilliant.
The first parable which we briefly covered last time, Jesus says, “What do you think?” He’s going to give them this first parable. Let me give you a few points about the parable.
First of all, it introduces a man who is the owner of the vineyard, he’s the landowner, and this man represents God the Father. He’s got two adult children.
When you look at this in the New King James, Jesus says, “What do you think? A man had two sons.” But it doesn’t say “son” in the Greek. It says TEKNON.
This probably emphasizes two things. It’s a more intimate term for his sons, but it avoids using the Greek term HUIOS, which is the term translated “Son of God,” because Jesus is going to tell this parable, and then He’s going to go into the next parable.
The climax of the second parable is when the landowner sends his son, his HUIOS. There’s no mistake when Jesus uses HUIOS there for the first time, because He doesn’t use it in the first parable, that it focuses on His own claim to be the Son—that there’s no mistake who He is comparing that Son, the Son in the second parable to, and that He is speaking of Himself.
In this first parable, He just uses the term “two children,” and then He talks about the first one and the second one, and so the emphasis there, as I pointed out last time, isn’t on the identity of the two other than they represent those who were sinners, and then trusted in God and the promise of the Messiah, and those who didn’t. That’s the final part.
The first son that’s told to go to the vineyard and work says, “I’m not going to do it.” But then he does. That pictures the tax collectors and sinners who are initially rebellious against God, and then they are going to do what God says to do, and that is we’ll see is to believe in Him. They believed in the message of John the Baptist.
The second son, who says I’ll do it, but then who doesn’t do it. He’s a picture of the religious leaders. There’s this external lip service being given to obedience, but there is no heart reality, there is no true faith or belief.
When we look at these two passages in verse 29, it describes the first son who says initially, “I will not,” but then the text says he regretted it and went. This is what I’m focusing on this morning, is understanding these words that we translate as “remorse,” that we translate as “regret,” and which we often confuse with the concept of repent.
Here you have the person who says, “I’m not going to do it.” Afterwards he regrets. And the word there is METAMELOMAI, which is an emotional term. It emphasizes just emotional remorse, but in this case, the emotional remorse does result in a change of behavior. So METAMELOMAI, while it’s different from METANOEO, can be part of the process of turning to God in obedience.
We come to the end of that section, which I covered last time, and Jesus confronts them and says, “Which of the two did the will of the Father?”
See, He’s asking them to make the decision. He’s not going to hit them with the conclusion; it’s very subtle. He says, “So you make the decision. Which one really obeyed the Father?”
They’re forced to admit that the first one did. See, they’re indicting themselves. Jesus does the same thing in the second parable, He uses that same technique. He gives the story, and then He says, “So what should happen to these rebellious, wicked, tenant farmers?” Then they have to announce a judgment, which is the judgment that will come upon them.
So Jesus says to them after they say the first, He says, “Assuredly, I say to you, the tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom before you.” The implication here is that He’s talking about salvation here because they haven’t believed, whereas the tax collectors and the sinners believe.
That’s what comes out in Matthew 21:32, when Jesus said, “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe;”—that’s the core idea. They did not believe. They are not believers. That indicates that we’re talking about eternal destiny here—“but the tax collectors and harlots believed him.” In contrast, they believed John the Baptist, and so they are justified; they are saved.
Then He said, “and when you saw it—you had a second chance, and now I’m really giving you another chance, said—when you saw it, you did not afterward relent”—that’s a bad translation. It’s METAMELOMAI again. That helps us connect it back to what He said about the first son. He says—“you did not regret and believe him.”
The point that I want to raise here is that here we have the use of this word METAMELOMAI, which is primarily an emotional term for feeling sorry or having remorse, and often we think that just being sorry for something or having remorse, well, that doesn’t cut any ice with God, and that’s true. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be used by God.
So I want to take this morning to look at what the Bible teaches regarding the Doctrine of Repentance and Remorse.
As we get into this, there are some questions that we should focus on:
- Is repentance the same as regret and sorrow? Are they the same thing? Sometimes those words are used interchangeably by people.
- Another question is, is sorrow necessary to repent? In other words, is it necessary to feel sorry for your sins or to be sorry you rejected Jesus? Is there a necessary role of emotional remorse in order to be saved?
- The third question is, does sorrow or remorse necessarily lead to repentance? Now sometimes it does, but I’m asking the question, is it necessary? Do you always have to, because there are preachers, and there are teachers, evangelists who say you have to feel sorry for your sin. You have to repent or turn from your sin. You have to have remorse for your sin, or you can’t be saved.
- And then the last question is, is it important to teach repentance? That may be a question for some people because, as I pointed out, many times in the Gospel of John, which was written to tell people how to be saved, that he never uses the word “repent.” Over 86 times he uses the word for faith “to believe,” but he never uses a verb or noun for repentance. So it would appear just on the basis of the evidence from the Gospel of John, that repentance isn’t necessary or part of getting saved, so we need to address that.
Let me go to a couple Scriptures.
First of all, in Luke 24:46–47, Jesus is speaking to the disciples before His ascension, and “He says to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’ ”
Jesus is saying it’s necessary for repentance to be preached in His name to all nations. What does He mean by that?
Peter in 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that anyone should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
On the basis of those two passages, it looks like repentance is not just some secondary doctrine that shouldn’t be addressed, but is one that should be taught and proclaimed. We have to understand it though.
In his Systematic Theology, Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, stated the following, “Therefore, it is as dogmatically stated as language can declare, that repentance is essential to salvation, and that none could be saved, apart from repentance.” What does he mean by that?
He’s just saying the conclusion from the previous passages. So we have to understand what the Scripture says, what the Scripture teaches.
This leads to the first point, the problem of definition. Whenever you get in a conversation with anybody, it’s always important to define the terms.
We run into this, I’ve run into it many times when I’ve gone over to Kiev and taught over there—I know Jim Myers has addressed it, you many have heard him, but when you look in a Russian Synodal text, the standard Bible over there, it will often translate “faith” with the word “remorse” or “repent.”
If you talk to Ukrainian Christians, they say, “Are you saved?” “Yes, I repented.” They mean that they went, got in front of the church, repented of their sin, and that’s how they understand their salvation.
When you look at how the word METAMELOMAI is translated into the Russian language, it’s a Russian word that means to have remorse or to be sorry. So they get very confused and the Baptist churches over in Russia are not like Baptist churches here. They are very works oriented, they don’t believe in eternal security, things like that. So this becomes a point of great confusion where you have to define the terms.
But what may surprise you is, and when you look at an English dictionary for the word “repent,” it has the same meaning in English. The Oxford English Dictionary states that repentance or the verb “repent” means to feel or express sincere regret or remorse, it means to feel regret or remorse about something.
Now if we look at the Bible, and we’re just studying our English text, and we take that meaning and apply that to what we read in the English, then we’re going to come out with the same idea that the Russians and Ukrainians have, and that is that there has to be this emotional element or we’re not saved. And that’s what expressing regret or remorse means.
In the Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, in the 11th edition, it gives as the first definition, “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life.” Now again, if we’re reading in the English Bible, and we read that Jesus says that we have to teach repentance, then it appears that what we have to teach is for people to turn from sin and dedicate themselves to a new life. That can lead to a lot of confusion and seems to contradict a lot of Scripture.
The second meaning listed in Webster’s Dictionary is that it means “to feel regret or contrition,” or secondly, “to change one’s mind.” That gets closer to the meaning of the Greek term. But we had to go through two other statements before we got there.
Then it adds at the end “cause to feel regret or contrition or to feel sorrow, regret, or contrition.” So people bring this baggage with them when they read the English word. That’s why we have to go back and look at what is said in the Scripture.
There’s also a lot of confusion among theologians. Lewis Sperry Chafer defined repentance as “a change of mind.” When you look at the quote that I put up there earlier
Charles Ryrie said that it meant to change one’s mind. Numerous others, who have done studies on this, come to that same conclusion, that repentance in the Greek, METANOIA, means to change one’s mind.
Another theologian, a guy by the name of William Barclay, who’s very popular among a lot of Southern Baptists, said that in his commentaries, writes that, repentance means to be sorry for or contrite over one’s sins, so as to change to be or to be penitent. Remember that word “penitent.” Where does that come from? That is the same Latin root as doing penitence, and I’ll get into that in just a minute.
Another evangelical scholar by the name of Millard Erickson, a theologian, he’s written three volumes of systematic theology, which has been a textbook at Dallas Seminary for, I don’t know, 25 or 30 years now, he’s also written a number of evangelical dictionaries. He says that repentance is godly sorrow for one’s sin in connection with a resolution to turn from it. So repentance means to turn from sin, but you have to have something called “godly sorrow.” Well, that’s a biblical term, but what does that mean?
Lewis Berkhof is a reformed theologian. When I was a student at Dallas, we had to read Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. He’s a five-point Calvinist, and he says that repentance is the “change wrought in the conscious life of the sinner by which he turns away from sin.”
See, what you hear from a lot of these guys is the object of repentance is sin. You turn from sin, you turn away from sin, but the out the word “repent” is a word that often, most the time, doesn’t have an object with it in the Scripture.
That’s like if I were to use the example of the term “a dozen.” What’s the first thing that comes to your mind if I say “a dozen?” A dozen doesn’t mean a dozen eggs, it doesn’t mean a dozen doughnuts, it just means 12. But we often associate it with a certain object. But the word itself doesn’t imply any specific object.
The same thing is true with “repent.” It doesn’t necessarily imply any specific object. It just means a change of mind. You have to look at the context to see what you’re changing your mind about, and what you’re changing your mind for. But we have so many people who have heard all that erroneous stuff that they just read it into the word whenever they see it, and the result is that there is a tremendous amount of confusion about what the Scripture says.
I mentioned the word “being penitent” a minute ago. The idea of penance came into theology, came into Christianity, as a result of a poor translation by Jerome. Jerome did a pretty massive job of translating the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin in the old Latin Vulgate, but he translated the word “repent” by the Latin phrase meaning “doing acts of penance.” That emphasizes works.
Unfortunately, when the Englishman, John Wycliffe, in the 14th century translated it into English (translated the Latin into English because he didn’t know the original languages), he did the same thing. He translated “repentance” into “as doing penance.” So that means somehow making up for your sin, doing some sort of works for salvation.
The second point I want to make clear is the Scripture says that there’s only one condition for salvation and that’s faith alone.
In Genesis 15:6, talking about Abraham, it says, “Abraham believed in the Lord, and He—that is the Lord—accounted (or imputed) it to him for righteousness.”
It’s not what Abraham did—it’s what Abraham believed. It wasn’t faith plus anything.
When we get into the New Testament and get into passages like John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever— believed and repented? No, it doesn’t say repent and believe, or believe and repent. Repent is not even there. It’s never mentioned in the Gospel of John—it’s “whosoever believes”—that’s all that we should have there—“whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
then two verses later we read, “He who believes in Him is not condemned—there’s no mention of repentance, sorrow, anything like that, remorse, none of that is there—He who believes in Him is not condemned, but he who believeth not is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
We have Ephesians 2:8–9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.”
What’s the condition? To be saved through faith. No mention of repentance. In fact, if you look at the Epistle to the Romans, in Romans 1 through 4, Paul gives the most detailed explanation of the mechanics of salvation, and again he goes back to Genesis 15:6; it’s by faith alone. He only mentions the word “repent” once, the second chapter, and there it is almost a synonym for faith. That is an important thing to remember.
In a number of passages in the New Testament, you don’t have faith mentioned, you have repent mentioned. In other passages it’s clear, it’s faith. If we’re going to see how repent fits in belief, it is the change of mind from not believing something to believing something. It is not something that’s in addition to faith, it is something that is part of shifting from unbelief to belief.
There are two words that are often confused in everyday language. The idea of translating METAMELOMAI, “repent” as sorrow is part of it.
The first word is a word that we’ve seen in this parable that we’ve been studying in Matthew 21. That’s the word METAMELOMAI. It’s translated there as “regret” and translated as “relent,” but it’s an emotional word.
It’s not a synonym for METANOEO. It means to be sorry, to regret something, to have remorse, to change one’s mind, and it usually focuses on the emotional element.
In contrast to that we have the second word METANOIA, that’s the noun meaning repentance. META is a prepositional prefix that means “after,” and then NOIA is the word from NOUS, from “mind”, so it literally means an afterthought, to think again, or literally, to change your mind.
I want you to turn in your Bibles with me to 2 Corinthians 7. This is where we see a very important passage dealing with both of these words, and you have to understand the difference and the interplay of these two words in order to really grasp what is being said in this particular chapter.
Just to give you little context, we normally think of 2 Corinthians as Paul’s second Epistle to the Corinthians and 1 Corinthians is his first one. Actually, I think 1 Corinthians is the second one and 2 Corinthians is the fourth one. There are a lot scholars who think that it’s obvious from some of the things Paul says that he’s had other correspondence with the Corinthian believers.
In the first one, he really has to ream them out. He has to rebuke them for their licentious attitude and for their lax attitude towards sin in the congregation. Not just sort of what I call every day sin, but the sin that was so well-known and so perverse that it shocked even the unbelievers in Corinth that they would put up with it, and they allowed this to go on. So Paul had to correct them, and there was obviously another epistle in there that dealt with that, and so Paul is probably alluding to that in in this seventh chapter.
He’s writing to them as believers. It’s clear he’s writing to the saints in Corinth in the first epistle and the second epistle. He’s writing to those who’ve already trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior. So the issues here have to do with spiritual growth and the spiritual life, not getting saved.
What he says in verse one is, “Therefore having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
The point that he’s making here has to do with spiritual cleansing. It is recovering from carnality, recovering from sin, and he uses the phrase “cleanse ourselves,” KATHARIZO, a verb that’s used in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It’s cleansing from sin after salvation.
The term “filthiness of the flesh and spirit” is just a word that is used for corruption. It’s a word that’s used for sin. It’s a figure of speech that’s used several times in the Bible to refer to that that defiles a person spiritually.
So we have to be cleansed from that for what purpose? That’s that final participial phrase here, “perfecting holiness.” The Greek word there for perfecting is the word that’s on the screen, EPITELEO, which is a familiar form of the verb TELEO, which means to mature, to not perfect in the sense of flawlessness, but to bring to completion, to bring to maturity or completeness. So that’s what Paul is talking about—is maturing in our holiness, our sanctification.
Now we’ll skip down to verse eight. I want to read these verses to you.
Paul says, “For even if I made you sorry with my letter. I do not regret it; though I did regret it.—Notice these words “sorrow” and “regret” and how they run through these verses—for I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while.”
“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—what’s a godly manner? How is God sorrowful? I don’t know—that you might suffer loss from us and nothing.”
“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
“For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”
So obviously in this process of their change, sorrow and remorse was part of what happens. Paul isn’t saying it’s necessary, but that’s true for all of us. There are things that we’ve done, and we’ve committed that sin 15,932 times, and we just can’t quite gin up the shock and the sorrow that we had maybe when we were younger, and we first committed that sin. But on the other hand, it’s not necessary. There are times when we do things, and we realize its spiritual significance, and there is an emotional response. What we need to determine is what is the essence of that response.
So in this slide I’ve just highlighted these phrases: “I made you sorry.” “I did not regret it, though I did regret.” See, Paul is saying, “I regretted it.” Regret is METAMELOMAI. He has METAMELOMAI. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with having that regret over something. He says, “I perceive that I made you sorry.”
Later on he says, in the next verse, that “sorrow led to repentance.” He’s not saying the sorrow is necessary to lead to repentance, but that in this case it did.
And he says, “then you’re made sorry in a godly manner.” We have to discover what this godly manner and godly sorrow is, because in verse 10 he says that “godly sorrow produced repentance that led to salvation.” They’re already justified, so obviously the salvation is not talking about getting into Heaven. It’s talking about their spiritual growth or spiritual life, their deliverance from the corruption, the defilement of sin in their life at that point.
Then he goes on to say that because they sorrowed in a godly manner, it was part of their process in moving from being carnal—out of fellowship, rebellious believers—to straightening out their life and walking according to the Holy Spirit.
Let me run through this briefly. He uses this phrase “I made you sorry”—forget the underline under “regret”—“I made you sorry”—and then at the end he says, “for I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a little while.” In other words, He reamed them out.
Everybody here’s been reamed out by somebody: A parent, a teacher, a drill instructor, an officer, or somebody in authority over you, a football coach, and you really felt bad. Everybody’s had that experience.
Paul corrected them, and they felt bad about it. It made them sorry. His purpose wasn’t to make them sorry. His purpose was for them to change. But that often happens in life. We do something wrong, stupid, foolish, bad. Somebody corrects us, and we’re embarrassed, we feel bad, and that may be part of the reason that we eventually change.
The second word that he uses here is translated “regret” pretty consistently through the passage, and that’s the word METAMELOMAI. He says, “Even if I made you sorry, I don’t regret it—I’m not remorseful over the fact that that you felt bad. He said—though I did regret it.”
We’ve all had that experience, especially if you’re parents. You don’t regret disciplining your children, giving them a spanking, but you do. You didn’t really feel good about it, but it was the right thing to do. Okay, we’ve had those mixed emotions. That’s what Paul is saying, “I don’t regret it because I needed to do it, it was right thing to do, I needed to straighten you out; though, I did regret it.
“For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while.”
Then verse 9, he says, “Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry”— that’s that same word LUPEO again. This word is used of Jesus when He is in the Garden of Gethsemane, and He is anticipating what’s going to happen the next day at the Cross, and He’s going through this emotional turmoil. This is a deep, deeply emotional word.
Paul goes on to use it, he says, “I rejoice, not that you were made sorry—what he’s saying is I’m not rejoicing that you were sorrowful because that’s not the end result. I didn’t just do it so you’d feel bad. I didn’t want you to go run to your safe space. I’m rejoicing, not that you felt bad—but that your sorrow led—somewhere. It led—to repentance—a change of mind. It wasn’t just that you felt bad, but it led to your change of mind and a change of behavior.
Then He says, “For you were made sorry in a godly manner.”
That’s his phrase on the right. It is a preposition plus a noun in the Greek. “Godly” is an adverb modifying the noun “sorrow.” An adverb and a noun cannot properly grammatically translate a prepositional phrase. This is a poor translation.
What Paul is saying is you sorrow according to—KATA is a preposition meaning according to the standard of something. You were made sorry because you were made familiar with God’s standard. And when you saw your behavior in contrast to God’s standard, then the result was they had remorse.
I would paraphrase it this way: For you were made sorry according to the standard of God’s character. You were made sorry according to the standard of God’s character.
God doesn’t have a sorrow, but this is a sorrow that’s according to God, according to God’s character, according to God’s standard. The reason is so that you wouldn’t suffer loss in your spiritual life.
In verse 10, Paul goes on to say, “For godly sorrow—that is sorrow according to the character of God—produces repentance.” He doesn’t say it always does, he doesn’t say it’s necessary to, he’s saying in some cases, when we are confronted with “this is God’s standard and this is what we’ve done,” we don’t feel so good. That may just go so far as to being remorseful. That happens with a lot of people. They feel bad about it, but it never leads anywhere.
Sometimes we don’t feel bad about it. We just say, “Yea, you’re right,” and then we change. This is what Paul is saying. He says, “For godly sorrow produces change leading to salvation.” That’s the end result, it is spiritual growth, spiritual maturity. It’s—“not to be regretted.” In other words, we’re not to feel, we’re not to regret that this happened—METAMELOMAI, that’s here, not to be regretted that this happened—“but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
That’s not the end result. We can have this sorrow. Everybody’s that way. But if we just end up feeling sorry and having remorse for sin without it leading to a change of thinking and a change of living in accordance with the Word, then the result is that we, just like the world, it just produces carnal death. We’re just trying to impress God by the fact that we feel bad.
How you feel may impress you, but how you feel doesn’t impress God. If you’re standing in a court before a truly objective judge, how you feel about what you did doesn’t matter. The issue is whether you violated the law or not. That’s objectivity.
To paraphrase that Paul is saying, “For according to the standard of God’s character produces a change of mind leading to salvation or spiritual growth. It’s not to be a cause of sorrow.” In other words, the rebuke isn’t just to make you feel bad, “but the sorrow of the world produces death or carnal death.”
Then He says in verse 11, “For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner:—which means you—‘had remorse according to God’s character which led to a change of mind.’ ”
What he goes on to say is the diligence it produced, it produced a change. It got them fired up in the right way in their spiritual life.
A couple more points before I wrap up.
Fifth point: Remorse in and of itself is not bad, but it is not sufficient for anything spiritual.
See, a lot of people say, “Well, you shouldn’t feel bad about that.” “Well, why not? I did something wrong.”
But it’s not necessary. You don’t have to feel bad when you confess your sins, “Oh, Lord, I’m just never going to do it again.” And God’s sitting up in He’s omniscient, and He says, “You’ve done it 15,792 times, and you’re going to do it 20,438 more times. I’m not buying it. Don’t try to pull the wool over My eyes. Just admit that you did it, and I’ll forgive you and cleanse you.”
In some cases, remorse leads to change. It’s like in 2 Corinthians 7 and in Matthew 21, it’s part of the process, and it does lead to change.
That’s what we saw in Matthew 21:32.
But also observe this, that even repentance, a change of mind, does not necessarily lead to permanent change or even change for a few hours. This is the word Jesus uses in the story where He’s talking to Peter in Luke 17:3–4, He says, “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him, and if He repents, METANOEO, forgive Him.” If he has a change of mind, forgive him. But then Jesus says, “And if he sins against you seven times in a day and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent, METANOEO, you shall forgive him.’ ”
Jesus isn’t questioning the sincerity of his repentance. That’s happened to every one of us. We go through our life, and we do commit some sin, we confess it, 15 minutes later we do it again, we know it’s wrong, we confess it. It is a genuine repentance, but repentance is in a one-shot thing that lasts forever. We may repent of a sin 10 million times in a lifetime, all legitimate. God’s going to forgive us every time. But repentance is a change of mind, it’s not generating some sort of sorrow.
The last point: Repentance in the Scripture basically means to have an inward change of mind or change of thinking toward something. Sometimes it’s mentioned it’s toward God, sometimes it’s toward Christ as Messiah, sometimes it’s toward sin, but nowhere in the Bible are we to change our mind about sin in order to be saved. We change our mind about Jesus in order to be saved, and we trust Him as our Savior.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to be reminded of Your grace, that grace is not based upon what we do, it’s based upon what Jesus did at the Cross, and as we trust in Christ we are in fact changing our mind from not trusting in Jesus, to trusting in Jesus. The primary verb in Scriptures is that we’re to believe. Again and again and again, it is believe and that is the issue in salvation, to trust in Jesus Christ and Him alone for our salvation.
Father, we pray if there’s anyone here this morning who has never trusted in Christ as their Savior, that it would be clear to them that that is the issue. They don’t have to make themselves savable, they don’t have to turn from their sin, they don’t have to feel sorry for their sin, and they don’t have to do anything in relation to their sin, they just have to trust that Jesus died for their sin.
Father, we pray for each of us that we might be challenged to realize that as we go forward in the Christian life, it is filled with repentance, changing from a disobedient life to changing to an obedient life, as we take in Your Word and apply it through the power of God the Holy Spirit.
And Father, we pray You challenge us with these things this morning. In Christ’s name. Amen.”