I’m in the soul business. Not in the Detroit Mo-town Aretha Franklin kind of soul business (although that would be very cool) but in the sense of engaging in the craft of leading human souls to God and building them up in Christ. Key to the Christian life’s soul is the term “repentance.” To repent means to turn around, to stop going in one direction and start going in another one. It is repentance that makes all the difference in the orientation of our souls in life.
Certainly, no one can really judge the heart of another. Yet, today’s New Testament lesson lets us in on how to truly measure the sincerity of a person’s repentance. Worldly sorrow or grief does not lead to repentance, but only death. The person with worldly sorrow beats himself up but never really changes direction. Like Judas Iscariot of old, he just hangs himself instead of admitting his guilt to Jesus. But godly sorrow leads to repentance, a change of direction. And here is the evidence of the real change: owning up to the problem; an eagerness to make things right; indignation over what has been done or said; seeing that there is more pain in avoiding the problem than there is confronting it; a desire and energy to do what is best for the person whom we have wronged; and, a willingness to accept whatever consequences that might result from the offense.
Crying and tears can be necessary, but they can also be a cheap form of avoiding true repentance. Instead, there must be solid action that changes direction and seeks to rectify offenses, as much as it is within our control to do so. Deliverance from the power of sin can only come through repentance. There are no shortcuts or easy routes to the soul’s orientation to practical godliness. There is nothing romantic about repentance; it is typically messy, usually ugly, and often painful. Yet, there must be suffering before there is glory. Trying to take true repentance out of the equation is to eviscerate the Christian life and leave our souls vacuous and empty.
Holy God, I confess to you the things which I have done and the things I have left undone. And, yet, your mercy is from everlasting to everlasting. Open my eyes to the ways I have offended others, and help me to step boldly into repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.