“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10, KJV)
Once I was leading a Bible study, going through John’s gospel account. When we came to the record of the Last Supper, a discussion broke out regarding Judas Iscariot. Someone mentioned that they thought Judas got a bad rap. In other words, he was the fall guy in the narrative. The person indicated that Judas was no different than Peter. Both had denied Jesus, albeit in somewhat different ways, and both expressed sorrow for what they had done. The point being that if both expressed sorrow for their actions, then both must be saved.
To resolve this dilemma, I took the group to 2 Corinthians 7:5-13 and discussed the issue of sorrow and repentance. Here Paul wrote to the church at Corinth regarding an issue between two people in the church. One parishioner had apparently wronged another (v12) and Paul had written a stern letter to the church to take appropriate action to resolve the matter (v8). As mentioned in the previous devotion, after sending the letter, Paul worried that the strength of the letter may have hurt the recipients. However, Titus brought Paul a good report (v6-7). The letter had its desired effect. While it did produce sorrow, the sorrow led to repentance (v8-9).
In this letter, Paul then presented a major theological truth. There are two types of sorrow which correspond to two types of results. There is “godly sorrow” and there is “worldly sorrow.” the differences between these two types of sorrow are somewhat self-explanatory. One is godly and one is worldly. Godly sorrow is that which believers, those who are devoted to God, experience when they miss the mark of God’s righteousness. Worldly sorrow is that which those devoted to the ways of the world experience when they fail.
Yet the major difference between the two types of sorrow is seen in the results. While “godly sorrow” produces repentance, “worldly sorrow” does not. True repentance, metanoia, refers to a change of mode of thought and feeling (Thayer 117), with the implication of a change in direction. It means that when believers wander from the path of righteousness, they have a mindset to get back on the right path immediately. In fact, repentance is a continual mindset in the believer as every believer has the desire to turn from evil and towards God’s righteousness.
Now in the case of Judas Iscariot versus Peter, we see two types of sorrow by two different types of response. Peter was sorrowful that he denied the Lord three times the night that Jesus was betrayed. Yet we see that Peter sought the Lord on the beach at Galilee following the resurrection. There in seeking Jesus, we see the evidence of true repentance and restoration (John 21). There Peter experienced the renewal of our merciful and gracious Lord to experience abundant life.
On the other hand, Judas did not seek Jesus. There was no evidence of true repentance, the turning from the ways of the world to God for his mercy and grace. His sorrow did not lead to life, but death as he hung himself.
Today, every true believer has received the gift of the Holy Spirit. With that gift came regeneration, a new nature, through which “godly sorrow” and true “repentance” are manifested in the believer. The result of which is abundant life (John 10:10).