Good Grief!

Keith Crosby

There are all kinds of grief in the world these days.  People generally don’t like grief.  However, not all grief is bad. For all the flavors of grief that there are, grief usually falls into one of two categories: good grief and bad grief.  Good grief is Christ centered, which is to say God-centered.  Bad grief is me-centered (think Judas’ suicide in the gospels). What’s the difference?  The difference between the two has to do with what each produces in our lives.

Paul writing to the unruly church at Corinth roughed them up a bit about their sinful practices.  This produced a godly grief in them leading to their repentance.  Their repentance led to joy for Paul, although he did not enjoy roughing them up:

"For 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."  2 Corinthians 7:8-10

Godly grief and repentance occur in one of two seasons in our lives.  With repentance to salvation, we see our ugly sin and turn from self-worship and embrace Christ for the very first time, receiving eternal life.  This is followed by a sort of ongoing godly grief that produces an ongoing repentance that leads to change and spiritual growth.  This godly grief comes from our seeing that something we have said or done offends God and shows a lack of gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice.  Both kinds of godly grief were displayed at Corinth.

The good thing about this godly grief is that through it we lose nothing of value, but gain a great deal.  We gain a relationship with Jesus Christ and afterwards, as the Holy Spirit and others identify sin in our lives, we grow in Christ's likeness as we repent of newly uncovered sin.  Through godly grief and repentance, we grow to be more like Jesus as we shed old habits that are holdovers from our sinful past, as we cloth ourselves in new practices that show we really do belong to Jesus.  Bible teachers call this “putting off” and “putting on.”

Good grief produces both repentance and change in us.  That’s what Paul is talking about in 2 Corinthians 7:7-10: “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Godly grief precedes joy because repentance brings us closer to the God whom we love and who loves us.

When I think about a picture of godly grief, I think of King David’s response in Psalm 51 after he was publicly confronted about his sin.  Did he make excuses or accuse others of “judging” him as many people do today? No he did not.  Instead David repented, owning his sin and begging (publicly) for forgiveness: “Have mercy on me…blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment (Psalm 51:1-4).” He went from a sulking, selfish and entitled ruler to a broken-hearted child of God, wanting to be restored to a healthy relationship with God: “…let the bones that you have broken  rejoice.  Hide your face from my sins… Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me…Restore to me the joy of your salvation…Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.”

You can feel his good and godly grief because King David hated his sin and loved God to the point that he wrote this well known psalm and hymn.  David did not shift blame or excuse his sin.  He displayed good grief. That’s how we know his repentance was real.  Godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation or change.  Godly grief isn’t about being sorry you embarrassed yourself; it’s not about being sorry you got caught.  It’s about being sorry that we offended God and dishonored Jesus’ suffering.  Good grief is life changing grief.  That’s the grief that Paul’s confrontation produced in Corinth and that’s the grief King David demonstrates in Psalm 51. 

Pray that when you and I sin that we’ll be like to people at Corinth.  Pray that we’ll be like King David, a man after God’s own heart.  Pray that we will truly repent and demonstrate good grief

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