Godly Sorrow Worketh Repentance

By David J. Stewart | August 2012 | Updated August 2020

2nd Corinthians 7:10, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”

       Most people misunderstand 2nd Corinthians 7:10, errantly thinking that sadness leads to repentance; but the opposite is true. The word worketh is the Greek word katergazomai and means, “to work fully, that is, accomplish; by implication to finish, fashion.” Thus genuine repentance leads to sorrow (sadness). The Bible is teaching that godly sorrow finishes our repentance; or in other words, sadness comes AFTER we are saved as a by-product of genuine repentance.

We don't live right to GET saved; but rather, we live right because we ARE saved. Salvation itself is a new birth, immediate, as is the physical birth. But then our spiritual growth-in-grace happens over time, just as our physical body grows over time. Our growth is not necessary to our salvation; but instead, is because of our salvation. Being sorry (an emotion) for our sins is a by-product of genuine repentance; it's a branch on the tree and not a part of the tree's ROOT of faith. This all makes perfect sense if you always keep in remembrance that eternal life is the free gift of God the Father, paid for by the sacrifice of His dear and only begotten Son, Christ Jesus.

It is important to understand that the word “repent” concerning salvation means “A CHANGE OF MIND,” and not A CHANGE OF LIFE. There is much debate today over the meaning of the word repentance, and many churchgoers have ERRED FROM THE FAITH concerning the Gospel. Salvation is by grace through faith plus nothing. If a person is required to change their their, then that is self-righteousness. The Bible teaches that a changed life is the FRUIT (result) of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25), if we walk in Him, and not a part of salvation. Faith is the ROOT of the believer's faith, which Paul talks about in the book of Romans. James talks about the FRUIT of the believer's faith, which is produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit, which has absolutely nothing to do with getting saved.

A changed life is the FRUIT of the indwelling Holy Spirit, if we walk in Him, and not a part of the ROOT of saving faith. Fruit has nothing to do with salvation, neither before, during or after getting born-again. We must never associate fruit with salvation. Galatians 5:25, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” I love this Bible verse, because it clearly shows that living in the Spirit (indwelt with the Holy Spirit at salvation) is not the same thing as walking in the Spirit (which is discipleship). As Christians we “should” live soberly, righteously and godly in Christ Jesus. Titus 2:11-12, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;” Every believer SHOULD live for Jesus, which the Apostle Paul said in Romans 12:1-2 is our “resonable service.”

Salvation is a new birth, not reformation or turning over a new leaf. The Roman Catholic Church has crept into many evangelical circles these days, trying to convince naive churchgoers that Catholics are beginning to embrace eternal life as a gift. Matt Maher, a very popular Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) artist today, is a Catholic minister. Many Christians today idolize musical artist Michael W. Smith, who joins together regularly with apostate ministers Matt Maher and Max Lucado for religious events. Pastor Lucado used to be a Church of Christ minister, who dropped the group's name to broaden his public influence, but Max Lucado still clings to his heretical Church of Christ beliefs. Proponents of the Church of Christ are into hardcore Lordship Salvation (i.e., they say you must turn from your sins to be saved). They are deceivers and liars! None of them are born-again Christians who love the Lord. They are all religious fakes, who masquerade as Christians who love the Lord to make money! The Catholic catechism is rooted in works-salvation, mandating that the Seven Sacraments be kept in order for a person to be saved. The Bible condemns such self-righteous doctrines of devils (Mark 7:6-13; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; Romans 11:6).

Here are the doctrinally sound excellent words of Pastor Harry A. Ironside (1876-1951), from his sermon, EXCEPT YE REPENT...

“In any discussion of the nature and importance of repentance it would be a great mistake to overlook the fact that children of God may have as much occasion to repent as any one else. For we should never forget that, after all, saints are sinners. This may seem to be a strange paradox, but both Scripture and experience attest its truthfulness. The closer a believer walks with God, the more he will realize the incurable corruption of his Adamic nature. New birth is not a change of this nature, nor is sanctification a gradual process whereby this nature is purified. New birth is the impartation of a new nature altogether, and practical sanctification is produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit, through the cleansing power of the Word of God, bringing the whole man into conformity to Christ. By the Spirit's power, in the yielded Christian, the old nature is kept in the place of death.”

SOURCE: Except Ye Repent - By Dr. Harry Ironside

Some Bible teachers have attempted to misuse 2nd Corinthians 7:10 in an attempt to support their false teaching of Lordship Salvation. This false doctrine says that faith in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is insufficient to save a person; but also, they claim that a person must surrender fully to Christ's will and cease from sinful bad habits. This is in actuality, consecration and not salvation. They are confused about the Bible.

Biblically, repenting of one's unbelief and coming as an acknowledged sinner, guilty before God, trusting upon the Lord's death, burial and resurrection, is indeed all that is required for the gift of forgiveness (Romans 6:23). Jesus is the SAVIOR and we are the SINNERS! It's that simple. Believe and the work is done! Oh, but you say, what about James 2:19 that says the devil's also believe and tremble? Yes, the Bible says they believe in God, but Jesus said He was the way, the truth and the life. Believing in God is not the Gospel. Placing one's faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is the Gospel message. Read it for yourself in 1st Corinthians 15:1-4...

1st Corinthians 15:1-4, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

Christians are those who believe on Jesus' name for the forgiveness of sins. Amen! John 20:31, “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” So whether you feel sorrow or not is irrelevant to being saved. The question is, do you realize your guilty condition for breaking God's Commandments? Romans 3:19 says that the Law of God was given so that every mouth might be stopped and all the world become GUILTY BEFORE GOD. So you don't have to be sorry to be saved, you have to be guilty!!!

Judas was sorry, but he didn't realize his guilt in God's eyes. In fact, read the rest of 2nd Corinthians 7:10 about the sorrow of the world that worketh death. That's what happened to Judas Iscariot! He went and hung himself in shame and sadness. If he had believed the Gospel he could have been saved and forgiven. Judas never believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. And so he had a devil (John 6:70) and went to Hell in his sin of unbelief.

The Bible never says that a person must be sorry for their sins to be saved, which is penitence, not repentance. You only need to admit your sinnership! Sadness about sin may or may not be present. Someone has said that repentance is being sorry for what I am. That feeling may accompany repentance, but it is not repentance itself. Carefully notice in 2nd Corinthians 7:10 that sorrow and repentance are NOT the same thing. They are mentioned as two separate things. Godly sorrow worketh repentance, but it is not repentance. Do you see that? Repentance is a change of mind that facilitates a man believing the Gospel.

Repentance is not a separate act from believing, it simply facilitates believing, because we need to know what we are being saved from, our sins. Jesus didn't come so that we would turn from our sins to be saved, but to save us from our sins! Matthew 1:21, “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” You don't have to stop living in sin to be saved; but rather, Jesus died for your sins so that hopefully you wouldn't live that way anymore. 2nd Timothy 2:19, “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” A redeemed child of God SHOULD live for Jesus, because we were created unto good works, not by them. Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Please notice again the words “we should” walk in them.

Romans 3:19 says the Law of God was given so “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” Clearly, a man must see himself as a needy sinner to be saved. John 3:20, “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” So if love for sins is what hinders us from coming to Christ to be saved, then repentance is acknowledging THE TRUTH that we are a needy sinner to that we'll believe the Gospel. Carefully notice that the Bible NEVER once says to “repent of our sins” to be saved; but rather. The Bible teaches “repentance toward God” (Acts 20:21b). Therefore, salvation is when we come to God as a needy sinner, persuaded of the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the only begotten Son of God, Who died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and resurrected physically from the dead three days later (1st Corinthians 15:1-4).

The Apostle Paul applied the teaching of godly sorrow working repentance to the backslidden man in 1st Corinthians 5:1-5, who repented of his fornication. As a Christian believer, after being rebuked for his open sin in the church at Corinth, the man felt godly conviction over his sin and repented. King David committed adultery with Bath-Sheba, and then killed her husband to hide an unintended pregnancy. Several months later David still hadn't repented, so God sent Nathan the prophet to confront David. When David was confronted he immediately repented (2nd Samuel 12:13). I love that about David, that is, he was always quick to admit he was wrong when confronted about it. David just needed a push in the right direction. Aren't we like that too? Sure we are. When they sinned, Adam blamed Eve, and then Eve blamed the serpent. A little bit goes a long way when a person's heart is toward the Lord. We're not perfect as saints, but we want to be because we have a new nature (2nd Corinthians 5:17), and it doesn't take much to bring us into line when we go astray. Psalms 119:67, “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.”

So don't let anyone tell you that you must be sorry for your sins to be saved. That's not Biblical. A person need only see them self as a guilty sinner, so they'll see their need for Christ to be saved. The sorrow will come later. Sorrow may or mat not be present at the time of salvation. One of my favorite preachers of the past is Alexander Marshall (1846-1928), who said these helpful words about repentance and being sorry for one's sins:


What do you mean? “I am not sorry enough for my sins.”

And if you were very sorry, would God be more willing to save you than He is now? “I think so.”

Then you are completely mistaken.

“But does it not say, unless we repent we shall perish?”

Yes; but what do you think is the Scriptural significance of “repentance”? If you say “sorrow for sin” you are wrong. It does not mean sorrow for sin: it means a CHANGE OF MIND (Matt. 21:29). This change will doubtless produce sorrow; but sorrow and repentance are two very different things (Heb. 12:17. margin, and II Cor. 7:9). When God calls on you to “repent, and believe the Gospel,” He wishes you to lay aside your wrong thoughts, and believe the glad tidings that He proclaims to you. Formerly you may have imagined that you were required to feel very sorry before being saved. Change your mind. You may have supposed you must first “feel” some great change in order to know you were saved. Change your mind. First believe in God's great love to you, as revealed in His gospel, and you will KNOW that you have eternal life (John 5:24).

Amen, I agree fully! I've heard so many heresies concerning salvation. One woman wrote to me and asked where the Bible says we must “receive” Jesus to be saved. At first I thought she was correct, but then the Holy Spirit reminded me about John 1:12, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” It is Biblical to receive Jesus. I've learned to be very careful what people say to me, because they'll lead you astray from Jesus Christ as Colossians 2:8 warns. They'll have you drifting to the left and the right, coming and going at the same time, spinning your circles and confused. SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES and don't take anything for granted, verify everything (John 5:39).

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