Worldly sorrow is unmistakably different than godly sorrow. Is it possible for you to say, “I am sorry,” but not mean it? Yes. What kind of sorrow is that? It is worldly sorrow, not godly sorrow. This type of sorrow has no intention of producing change, it is simply sorry that a situation exists, or sorry that the situation is bringing grief to life.
If you get into an argument with your boss and say some things you should not say, you know that the situation must be made right. When you get home after work and cool off, your thinking becomes clearer and you realize that you must apologize when you go back to work. An apology is needed to save your job. Apologizing to your boss and your boss accepting your apology is necessary but you do not have to mean what you say, you just have to say it. People are accustomed to saying, “I am sorry” yet not have any seriousness behind their apology. This is not godly sorrow but rather deception. It is absolutely possible to say, “I am sorry” and not mean it. Paul taught the Corinthian believers to distinguish the difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7:9.
If you sin against God and you keep saying every day, “God I am sorry, I did it again,” but you do not change–your fellowship with God will be broken. How many times will people admit they are wrong before they change? Until they have a genuine godly sorrow over their sin.
The word “godly” in 2 Corinthians 7:10 is “theos”–meaning of uncertain affinity; a deity, or to be exceedingly godly. The word “sorrow” is “lupe”–meaning sadness, grief, or heaviness. Thayer sees this type of sorrow as a sorrow that is acceptable to God. The distinction between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow is the difference between what a human being sees as sorrow and what God accepts as sorrow over sin.
But where does this godly sorrow come from? From God of course! The truth is that godly sorrow is simple yet profound. If godly sorrow comes from God then people cannot, on their own, manufacturer this sorrow. God grants this acceptable sorrow to a person who really desires to change. If change is not desired, then no amount of human sorrow can relieve the problem. Judas had this kind of sorrow but it was not enough to comfort him in his time of crisis. When God knows that a person desires to really change then He produces in us a grieving heart over our condition.
Lack of godly sorrow seems to be the reason why repentance is rare in most believers. Many resist repentance because they think it takes a long time and because they simply do not feel that they did anything so terrible that they should feel sorry. Many, though, feel bad and do not know why. Since the Holy Spirit lives within every born again believer, they will feel bad when they sin even if they do not know where the feeling is coming from. Others resist dealing with sin because they think it consumes too much of their time to work toward repentance, but we must remember, repentance does not have to take a long time–rebellion does. You can live with rebellion as long as you desire. Many have discovered what I have discovered–God will let me be as miserable as I want to be for as long as I want to remain miserable. God will not force repentance on anyone. He is waiting for us to be willing to change.
In God’s great gift of love, He gave us a will, a choice–and He is waiting for us to make that choice–a choice to repent and return to Him.