For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death (II Corinthians 7:10 NASB).
There is right and wrong type of sorrow in the Bible. One leads to life and one to death. Peter and Judas both failed miserably at the death of our Lord. One moves on to be a champion of the faith and the other to a shameful demise. What was it about the spiritual chemistry of these two individuals that brought about these radically different outcomes?
Godly sorrow comes before true repentance and leads to salvation. It is sorrow for sin and what it does to the heart of God. Worldly sorrow is regret for what sin does to us. Although a person with this type of sorrow does experience grief, it is basically self-centered in nature. A long time ago I ministered in a county jail. Many of the inmates were repeat offenders. Some told me tails of their incarceration accompanied with crocodile tears. They were sorry they got caught. Yes, they were sorry they were in jail. They were remorseful because of the consequences of their wrong choices, but were they sorrowful for their sin? Probably not, because if they were, they would have stopped doing what landed them back in jail repeatedly. When the external stimulus of the lost of their freedom was eliminated, they reverted to old patterns of behavior.
Noted Christian author Tim Keller says that “idolatry always is the reason we do anything wrong”. Martin Luther once argued that the first commandment, idolatry, had to be broken before any of the other ones could be transgressed. The sorrow of this world is manifested when we live a self-centered rather than a God-centered existence. We live in a state of spiritualized self-absorption and respond to sin on the basis of how it affects us and not God. Only when we understand that sin is first and foremost an affront against a kind and merciful God, will we have the sorrow that leads to true repentance and will want to stop sinning. The goodness of God always leads us to repentance. This happens when recognize that it is not about us, but about Him.
Ken Barnes the author of “The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places” YWAM Publishing