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Posts tagged ‘Godly sorrow’

How do you know when someone is truly sorry?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

They do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail upon their beds.

Hosea 7:14

As biblical counselors, sometimes it’s hard to discern if someone is truly repentant.

Tears are often the language of the heart, but when one is crying in the counseling office, it’s important to hear what the person’s heart is really saying.  The apostle Paul speaks of two kinds of sorrow, worldly sorrow that leads to death and godly sorrow that brings repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).  As Christian counselors, it is crucial that we learn to distinguish between the two especially when we are doing couples work.

Worldly sorrow is a self-focused sorrow. It may contain great emotion, tears, and apologies, but the grief expressed is for one’s self. The person mourns the consequences of his or her sin and what she has lost. This may be a marriage, a job, a reputation, friends and/or family, or can even be one’s own idea of who they thought they were. Here are some of the things we often hear a person say when they are sorrowing unto death.

·         I can’t believe I did such a thing.

·         Why is this happening to me?

·         Please forgive me. – Implying, please don’t make me suffer the  consequences of my sin.

·         Why won’t he/she forgive me? (In other words, why can’t reconciliation be easy and quick?)

·         I’m so sorry (sad).

·         I’m a horrible person.

·         I wish I were dead.

·         I hate myself.

Judas is a good example of this type of sorrow (Matthew 27:3-5).  After he betrayed Christ, he was seized with remorse yet it did not lead to godly repentance, but self-hatred and suicide.

It is natural that we feel compassion for the person suffering such emotional and spiritual pain. However, it’s crucial that we not confuse this kind of sorrow with the kind that leads to biblical repentance, especially when we are working with both the sorrowing sinner and the one who has been sinned against.

Godly sorrow demonstrates grief over one’s sinfulness toward God as well as the pain it has caused others. John the Baptist said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8).

Below are eight things I have found that demonstrate those fruits of genuine repentance.

·         Accepts full responsibility for actions and attitudes, doesn’t blame others or situations.

·         Acknowledges sinfulness (instead of “I can’t believe I could do such a thing”).

·         Recognizes the effects of actions on others and shows empathy for the pain he/she’s caused.

·         Able to identify brokenness in detail such as abusive tactics, attitudes of entitlement, and/or areas of chronic deceit.

·         Accepts consequences without demands or conditions.

·         Makes amends for damages.

·         Is willing to make consistent changes over the long term such as new behaviors and attitudes characteristic of healthy relationships.

·         Is willing to be accountable and if needed, long term.

In my work with couples who have experienced grievous sin, I have found that it is not their sin that destroys most relationships. All couples experience sin. The destruction comes when we refuse to acknowledge it. It is our blindness to it and our unwillingness to humble ourselves to get help, be accountable, and repent that makes reconciliation and healing impossible.

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“I’m Sorry” — It’s Just The First Step !

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Sometimes Words Are Not Enough

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I promise, I won’t do it again”, sobbed Cory, a nine year old who was on his way to his bedroom for the evening after hitting his little sister, again. As parents we’ve all been there. A ninth hour apology made to avoid the consequences of parental punishment.

 As gospel believing, grace-filled parents, what do we do? Do we forgive, forget and encourage little sister to forgive and reconcile with her brother? Do we believe Cory’s half-hearted apology mitigates the sin of what he’s done to his sister, especially since this isn’t the first time?

Or, are there important lessons Cory must learn in order for him to understand that hitting his sister is always unacceptable, even if he’s really mad or tired or hungry, even if she bugs him or takes his video game or sticks her tongue out at him?

As a parent, most of us would implement tough consequences the next time Cory lost control or hit his sister so that he starts to connect the dots – you reap what you sow – if you hit your sister, you lose certain privileges that you enjoy when you don’t retaliate or hit your sister.

 So then why are we so reluctant to embrace this same biblical principle of sowing and reaping when it comes to serious marital sins? Especially when the sins are repetitive and there is no clear evidence of repentance? Even when the one who sins cries again and again, “I’m sorry,” tears of sorrow do not necessarily indicate a sincere change of heart or habit.

Like nine year old Cory did, when someone sobs “I’m sorry” it’s more often due to the pain they’re in or the pain they fear rather than any genuine remorse for the pain they’ve caused another person.

After having said, “I’m sorry” often the destructive spouse believes he or she is now entitled to amnesty, forgiveness, and full restoration of marital privileges without ever having to make amends, suffer long-term consequences, or work hard to repair and rebuild trust. Sometimes we collude with such unrealistic and unbiblical thinking pressuring the injured spouse to forgive and reconcile.

But if she’s not yet ready, or refuses to grant amnesty, or restore full marital privileges until she sees evidence of repentance, we often start to label her as ungracious, ungodly, rebellious, and hard-hearted. Instead of being supported and validated for the pain she’s in, she now feels pressured, scolded, shamed or scared for her “unbiblical” stand or refusal to fully reconcile.

The Bible has some strong things to say about words that aren’t followed up with matching actions. For example Jeremiah warns the people of Israel not to trust in deceptive words that offered them cheap grace. He said to them, “You trust in deceptive words to no avail.

Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known and then come and stand before me in this house which is called by my name and say, ‘We are delivered – only to go on doing all these abominations?” (Jeremiah 7:8,10).

When someone says they’re sorry but they don’t back their words up with real and lasting changes in their behaviors, sorry becomes meaningless. It is not enough.  John the Baptist says it best when he challenged the religious talk of the Pharisees when he said, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (Luke 3:8).

“I’m sorry” is important, but it is only a first step. When Zacchaeus, the tax collector, repented of his love of money and extortion of his fellow Jews, he not only felt sorrow, his change of heart moved him into a critical change in behavior. Zacchaeus offered financial amends to the poor and made financial restitution to those he had harmed by his greed (Luke 19).

Often it takes time to see evidence of the fruits of repentance develop in a sorrowful heart. Like Joseph from the Old Testament did with his brothers, an injured spouse may extend forgiveness but still not be able or willing to offer trust or reconciliation to their spouse until they see evidence over time of changed actions and reactions, especially when tested. (See Genesis 42-46.)

In areas of repeated serious sin, instead of taking someone’s words at face value, let us encourage them to show their sorrow. It is in the showing that the relationship has the best chance of being restored and rebuilt. To pressure a wary spouse into premature reconciliation can be harmful to her, to her spouse, and to their marriage and family. We do not love well when we collude with someone’s self-deception that all is well when it is simply whitewash.

Do I Care Enough To Confront?

SOURCE:  based on a post on May 19, 2011 by Wisdomforlife

If you choose to care about others, there may be occasions when you’ll need to be an instrument of sorrow in their lives. These are times when you have to say things they don’t want to but need to hear. When the people we care about choose selfish and destructive life-patterns, love compels us to confront them. But how many of us are willing to be instruments of sorrow in this way?

Do we care enough to confront?

Why are so many people willing to tolerate dysfunctional relationships instead of confronting in love?

Is it easier to accept superficial or even destructive relationships than to confront others? Is it just less complicated to assume that people aren’t open to correction or to retreat behind the thought that we should mind our own business?

Concern over whether people are open to correction is legitimate.  What do we do when, for good reasons, we believe those in need of confrontation are not open to correction? How do we balance the demands of Proverbs 24:4-6?

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 24:4-6)

Caution is needed in confrontation.

Jesus taught about this in Matthew 7:1-6. After emphasizing that self-judgment must precede all involvement in the lives of others, he warned against “casting pearls before swine.” This implies that there are people who are not worthy of confrontation– no doubt because they’re not receptive to it (See: Dogs, pigs and sacred things).

When confrontation is necessary:

When people we love are destroying their own lives and hurting those around them, we must be willing to confront them. If we let them continue without saying a word, we show a profound lack of love for them and for the lives affected by them. Although difficult, confrontation is often non-negotiable for those who care about the well-being of others.

Confrontation and genuine relationships:

Loving confrontation is often necessary for maintaining genuine rather than superficial relationships. When we allow people to believe we’re on good terms with them despite deep violations of the relationship, we participate in deception not truth. Confrontation is also often non-negotiable for those who will not accept insincerity and hypocrisy.

“If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother, we reveal not the depth of our love, but its shallowness, for we are doing what is not for his highest good. Forgiveness which bypasses the need for repentance issues not from love but from sentimentality (John R. W. Stott, Confess Your Sins, p.35).

Confrontation and Church unity:

Local Church members and leaders must be willing on occasions to speak truth into the lives of those who don’t appear to desire it. When an assembly of believers exchanges unity based in love and truth for superficiality and hypocrisy, it ceases to be a light-bearing community for Christ.

Looking for measurable changes:

But when we choose to confront, how do we know if the person is responding in a way that sincerely honors God? If the matter clearly involves objective wrongs, measurable changes will be part of a godly response. To help evaluate this kind of response, one must be able to distinguish between godly and worldly sorrow.

Godly vs. worldly sorrow

II Corinthians 7:8-11 is the biblical text that reveals this difference. It offers a vivid description of true repentance (godly sorrow) and exposes the deception of false repentance (worldly sorrow). Some people display a show of sorrow or repentance to manipulate and deceive. We must not fall for this.

“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter” (II Cor. 7:8-11).

Consider four principles in this text:

1. God’s instruments of sorrow:

The apostle paints a vivid picture of how one ought to feel about being an instrument of godly sorrow:

“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.” (II Cor. 7:8-9)

The vacillating back and forth expressed in these verses indicates the tension one feels in being an instrument of sorrow. No pleasure is taken in bringing pain into the lives of others. But sometimes love requires us to take this role. You need courage and faith to embrace a ministry of intervention and grace to accept the possibility of being misunderstood.

Confronting others about deception and sin is a risky ministry of love. We must be willing to suffer changes or even loss of relationships. Sometimes when we choose to be instruments of godly sorrow, those we confront turn on us and malign us. This is what happened to the apostle Paul. But the response was temporary with those who responded with godly sorrow.

The apostle took the painful path of embracing temporary misunderstanding to gain deeper and lasting relationships based in truth and love.

2. Godly sorrow comes from true believers

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret,” (II Cor. 7:10)

This could be translated, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that points to the reality of salvation or indicates salvation.

When confronted about error, sin or false doctrine, genuine believers will ultimately come to their senses and acknowledge the truth. They might respond with resistance or anger at first. If so, those who confront must not over-react or lower themselves to the level of anger. Don’t take the bait and escalate. Keep it pastoral not personal. Trust God’s Spirit to cultivate conviction.

Genuinely saved people ultimately respond to their sin with godly sorrow (cf. Matthew 5:3; Luke 18:9-14;I Peter 5:6).

3. Worldly sorrow must be detected:

“….but worldly sorrow brings death.”

Worldly sorrow is perhaps best understood when contrasted with the description of godly sorrow in II Corinthians 7:11. Worldly sorrow brings death because it is sinful and all sin ends in death (Romans 6:23a; James 1:14-15). Worldly sorrow is self-centered and is typified in Cain’s self-pity over the consequences brought on by his sin (see: Genesis 4).

4. Godly sorrow described and detected

“See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.” (II Cor. 7:11)

Seven characteristics of godly sorrow: 

After Paul had confronted the congregation about their refusal to properly deal with a sinful member, they responded with godly sorrow. Consider the elements of godly sorrow.

See what this godly sorrow has produced in you:

1) earnestness- intense and earnest care (not a passive acquiescing).

2) eagerness to clear yourselves- a desire to be exonerated.

3) indignation- probably toward themselves for allowing sin to go unchecked in their assembly ( or, toward the sinful member cf. 2:6-7).

4) alarm/fear– toward God for their failure to respond properly to his apostle (cf. 4:21).

5) longing- a desire to be restored to their proper place and to fellowship with Paul.

6) concern- a burning desire to do what is right.

7) readiness- to see justice done – (i.e. to see things be corrected and made right).

Because of their repentance, the apostle could say to them, “At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”

Godly sorrow involves a willingness to take seriously the offense committed. True repentance flows out of humility (Luke 18:9-17), and a readiness to accept responsibility. A visible and wholehearted change of behavior follows true repentance (godly sorrow). It produces “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8a). The apostle Paul said, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20b).

When called by God to be instruments of godly sorrow prayerfully take inventory of your own heart and life before confronting others. Go in a spirit required in Galatians 6:1-3

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.”

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