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Regret vs Repentance

2 Corinthians 7:10 (ESV) … “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”

Paul piles up the words and expressions to prove it. He speaks of three things. First, there was divine repentance: “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of” (7:10a). Paul contrasts that with deadly remorse: “but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (7:10b). The kind of sorrow God looks for is the sorrow which leads to a change of mind and heart and thus to salvation. The world’s sorrow is such a hopeless thing that it often proves deadly. Although the concept of repentance is prominent in the New Testament, Paul seldom uses it. It occurs in his writings in Romans 2:4 and in 2 Timothy 2:25 and here, and that’s about all. John the Baptist and Jesus were the ones who preached repentance. But Paul was well aware of the need for repentance even though he did not harp upon the theme.

The Bible gives numerous illustrations which highlight the difference between repentance and remorse. There is the case of Esau, for example, who sold his birthright to Jacob for a mere morsel of meat. When he discovered that his total disinterest in spiritual things had cost him the blessing also and that the preeminence belonged henceforth to Jacob, he tried to persuade his father, Isaac, to change his mind. The Holy Spirit bluntly labels Esau as a “profane person” and says “he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” (Heb. 12:16–17). That sounds well enough until we reread the text and see that all Esau exhibited was remorse at having lost the blessing—which involved possession of the divine promises. The “repentance” he sought was not a change of mind and heart in himself, but in Isaac! When he found he could not change his father’s mind he vowed to get back what he had lost by murdering Jacob (Gen. 27:30; Heb. 12:16–17).[1]

[1] Phillips, J. (2009). Exploring 2 Corinthians: An Expository Commentary (2 Co 7:10–11). Kregel Publications; WORDsearch Corp.

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