Have you ever expressed sorrow because of circumstances that were beyond your control? What was your motivation? I hope genuine sympathy for those experiencing difficulty. Have you ever apologized because you knew you had done wrong – and been found out – or even when no one else had caught on yet? What was your motivation? Concern for the one wronged, regret, repentance? Realizing our need in sorrow can be a good gauge of our spiritual maturity; what we do with our lives afterward is a good indicator of our sincerity and understanding of God. As, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10 What’s the difference? Simply put, sorrow is sometimes triggered because we got caught and are now under pressure to do damage control. Other times we may regret we did or didn’t do a thing but – Oh well, life goes on. When we’re truly sorry, we take responsibility, admitting we were wrong; we feel genuine sorrow for what we’ve done and who we’ve wronged. The primary difference being ownership. I did it. I’m sorry.

There is a difference between spur-of-the moment and pre-meditated involvement in sin, which might lead to different levels of sorrow we feel. For instance, I would feel less remorse for negligently although accidentally stepping on someone’s toes as compared to punching them in the mouth in anger. But the problem with categorizing degrees of sin is the comfort levels we develop as well. If we allow ourselves to be around or even engage in a “little” sin and become comfortable with its consequences, we may develop a nonchalant attitude concerning it. (Such as carelessly, repeatedly stepping on toes in a crowd, and laughing it off as inconsequential.) As a result our involvement will likely increase, our conscience de-sensitized and the call to repent harder to hear. This may make it necessary for those around us and God himself to use stronger methods to get our attention.

Are there any Biblical examples of the different results between Godly and worldly sorrow? Several. Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples yet the one who devised and executed the plan by which he was taken captive in the garden. (Matthew 26:14-16 & 47-50) There would seem to be the possibility of disappointment on his part in Jesus ministry rather than rule. Was he trying to force Jesus’ hand – make him lead a rebellion? Or was he just so disgruntled he wanted Jesus dead to make room for another leader? But wait! He does feel somewhat guilty, expressing remorse when he saw Jesus taken and condemned. He even went back to the authorities, declared Jesus innocent, returned the betrayal money – and then hanged himself. (Matthew 21:1-5 & Acts 1:18) Some would say he deserved it, he should have died for what he did. But what about upright, sometimes self-righteous Peter?

In the midst of the storm of betrayal, scuffle, arrest, trial and humiliation – Jesus needed all the friends he could get! Peter, a member of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, made an impassioned defense of Jesus. He challenged the court proceedings and the verdict vehemently, leading a protest march around the city to the temple courtyard proclaiming Jesus innocence. He went on to petition the authorities for a stay of execution claiming new evidence and inhumane treatment. When all else failed, he stood by Jesus to the bitter end at his crucifixion. Didn’t he? No! When questioned if he knew Jesus, if he was a follower of this man; he denied knowing him at all three times and then cursing, abandoned Jesus to his fate. (Matthew 26:69-75) Loud, strong, impetuous Peter ran like a dog with its tail between its legs, yelping protests and denials along the way as he left him whom he had earlier proclaimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God. (Matthew 16:16; 26:31-35 and then 26:69-74)

During Jesus’ crucifixion, two criminals were executed on either side of him. Luke records a conversation they had with and about Jesus. One, angry and insulting, insured his eternal fate by mocking Jesus; unable to believe in part because of his blinding anger and anguish. The other, acknowledging his wrong and Jesus’ authority in the coming Kingdom is promised salvation and entry into paradise. (Luke 23:39-43)

How about the crowd of onlookers who witnessed Jesus’ interrogation by Pilate, probably consisting of some one-time followers of Jesus (John 6:66), the merely curious as well as the openly hostile. (Acts 8:9-25) Later, however, many may have responded with the question, “What must we do to be saved?”; to the first Christian sermon preached by Peter in Jerusalem. (Acts 2:37)

Saul, later to become the Apostle Paul is first noted in scripture at the stoning of Stephen, a devotee of Christ; approving of the reason and method of his execution. (Acts 8:1-3) He is later recorded as traveling about the countryside persecuting, imprisoning, and killing other followers of the Way. On the road to Damascus on just such a mission he was struck by the blinding presence of God; as a result asking humbly, “Who are you?” An honest question – not the arrogant challenge of the days, weeks, and months preceding. “Who are you, Lord?” The answer to which introduced him to a life he never would have dreamed or imagined a short time before. (Acts 9:1-6; 22:2-5; 26:9-11)

Simon the sorcerer, an arrogant man, a captive of fame and the envy fame often brings; was doing quite well before Philip arrived in Samaria preaching the Good News. Following the lead of many others, he too was baptized into Christ. But he became envious again at the sight of new coverts being spirit-filled as the Apostles laid hands on them. What power! He wanted it, and offered to buy this amazing and impressive power from them. As a result he was harshly rebuked and soundly condemned for his persistence in the sin of envy and for seeking vain glory. (Acts 8:9 - 24)

Lastly, let’s consider Ananias and Sapphira. The early church banded together to survive hard times. Many sold what they had, pooled their resources and lived equitably off the money raised. This was not the official policy of the church, demanded of them by the “authorities”, but was being done as a means of survival. The problem for this couple stemmed from their scheme to sell what they had, offer the proceeds as a total giving – while secretly keeping some back for themselves. Their sin? Greed and deceit. Their penalty? Death. Not at the hands of those around them but in horror at being caught, struck down by the Spirit of God. (Acts 5:1-11)

In these lives we have the consequences of the different kinds of sorrow. Stark, absolute, killing fear and deep-felt sorrow and remorse combined with a resolve to do better and make things right. Why do some become totally consumed by the consequences of their sin while others are able to pick up the pieces and go on, humbled yet striving to make a difference; sometimes even finding inspiration through their experience?

Be sure to check back next week as we further explore God’s Word for answers to clarify that question.