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Growing in Christ | True Change
May 7, 2023
2 Corinthians 7:5-10
5For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. 6But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. 8For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst
To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships
To participate in God’s mission to the world
Gracious God, you save all who seek refuge in you. Grant that we who know your salvation may walk always in your light, take courage in your faithfulness, and rejoice in your astounding goodness to us. Through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we pray. Amen.
Responsive Prayer—Psalm 27:1-6
1The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
2When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall.
3Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.
4One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.
5For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.
6And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
Summary and Connection
Recently we began a new sermon series entitled, Growing In Christ. In this series, we examine the theme of spiritual growth. For followers of Jesus, the whole purpose of their Christian life is to grow up into maturity in order to become the fullest versions of themselves as God has purposed. Furthermore, a serious examination of our spiritual life not only fosters growth, but most importantly, it acts as a corrective, exposing any false understanding of faith and spiritual growth.
We started out our discussion by considering the stages of spiritual growth. In his sermon titled the “Engine of Growth,” Jason asked and answered an important question: ‘what actually propels the Christian life?’ by pointing to two fundamental catalysts of spiritual growth—repentance and faith. The word repentance comes from the Greek word “metanoia,” which literally means to think again. To repent means to change our mind about God and to turn towards God with our whole lives. Repentance and faith go together as the pistons that drive the engine of Christian life. They are the two sides of the same coin. When a Christian repents, they turn away from their sinful self, and turn towards Jesus in faith. In contrast, a legalist believes repentance is for bad people, or that repentance is reserved for the bad times when good people screw up. A legalist works towards closing the gap between God’s holiness and their sin by hard work, thereby shrinking the cross. However, if, as Martin Luther said, “all of Christian life is repentance,” where do we find the power to live a life of repentance? We receive the power to repent as we experience the promise of forgiveness, and assurance of the love of God in Jesus. As Jason mentioned in his sermon, the more that we are assured of God’s love for us in Christ, the more we can confront the reality of who we are without fear. God’s love for us enables us to repent more and more, and not less and less. We repent not because we have to, but because we want to. In the “cross chart” image below, we learn about the impact of ongoing repentance on our spiritual growth.
This week’s discussion is based on 2 Corinthians 7:5-10. We will take a close look at the topic of true change in Christian life. Thematically speaking, this passage focuses on the dynamics of change as displayed by repentance, joy, zeal, and faith in the lives of the Corinthian Christians. In verse 5 we read about Paul’s arrival in Macedonia. Paul is anxious and distressed over Titus’ delayed return from Corinth. The reason behind Paul’s anxiety had to do with a letter he had written to the Corinthian church addressing an issue of church discipline. Paul sends this “painful letter” with Titus. Paul had initially regretted his decision to send the letter as he knew his words would cause them sorrow and grief. Paul is concerned about how the Corinthians respond to his letter. He was also concerned about how the Corinthians would respond to Titus, Paul’s messenger. Paul’s suffering was twofold—physical persecution in Macedonia, and the emotional and spiritual suffering concerning the fate of Titus and the future of the Corinthians. However, in verse 6, Paul receives a twofold good news, brought about by God who comforts the fearful and the anxious. God is the source of Paul’s comfort, and God uses Titus as the agent who brings comfort to Paul by his arrival. In verses 6-7 we learn about an important truth of Paul’s faith and ministry—the source of Paul’s comfort and joy was not rooted in the number of churches he planted, but in the spiritual progress of his fellow Christians. Paul experienced joy and comfort when he learned about the spiritual growth among the Corinthians. The transforming work of the gospel had started to bear fruit in their zeal, faith, repentance, longing, and prayer life. Paul’s letter had indeed caused grief to the Corinthians; however, their grief was God ordained and God centered—it enabled repentance, and fostered their faith in God. These Corinthian believers experienced godly sorrow—the kind of genuine remorse that leads to a real change in one’s way of life. In other words, the presence of godly sorrow in a Christian is an undeniable evidence of the transforming power of the gospel in action.
In verse 10, Paul enumerates two types of sorrow—godly sorrow and worldly sorrow, and makes an important distinction between the two sorrows. Godly sorrow is a heartfelt grief over our rebellion against God that enables repentance. According to one commentator, “godly sorrow is a grief that leads us to view our lives the way God does and to change accordingly. Godly sorrow refers not to God’s using our heartaches, but to the heartache that comes from recognizing our sin.” In Psalm 51, we see David genuinely mourning over his sin: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Only those who feel the bitterness of sin against God in their repentance can experience the sweetness of Jesus in their forgiveness.
In contrast, the main characteristic of worldly sorrow is that it is self-centered at its core. It revolves around the sorrow sin causes to oneself rather than the dishonor it is to God. In other words, worldly sorrow is a sorrow of self-pity, a sorrow of getting caught in the act and a sorrow that is only concerned about the consequences of sin but not the sin itself. It is vital for us to recognize the apparent similarity between these two sorrows. A person who exhibits worldly sorrow may truly seek to avoid similar sinful actions and consequences in future; however, the person is not driven to God as he feels no brokenness and remorse over his sin against the holy God. One of the clearest examples Scriptures give of worldly sorrow is Judas. Judas felt remorse for betraying Jesus, and even says, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” Judas’ words nearly demonstrate godly sorrow; however, Judas’ actions prove us that his sorrow was indeed worldly as it leads to his death and not repentance.
Author Mike Riccardi makes an insightful observation: “Judas’ grief was fundamentally self-centered. He could not bear the shame and humiliation of having betrayed the Son of God, and rather than bringing that shame to the Savior who could pay for it, he sought to atone for his own sins by suicide.” Worldly sorrow, in other words, produces death. The default response of worldly sorrow is to strive to atone for sin by self-pity and extreme despair over the consequences of one’s sin. However, the instinct of godly sorrow is to readily acknowledge the grievous nature of sin against God, and to immediately run to the cross of Christ where the only atonement for sin was made. Godly sorrow cannot be manufactured by religiosity, rather godly sorrow is enabled by the grace of God at work in our heart. This is how Sinclair Ferguson puts it: “It is the grace of God which teaches us to fear as well as relieves our fear…only when we turn away from looking at our own sin to look at the face of God, to find his pardoning grace, do we begin to repent. Only by seeing that there is grace and forgiveness with him would we ever dare to repent and thus return to the presence of the Father.”
1. Looking at the Bible
What does the text say? What according to you is the theme of this passage?
- In his sermon, the engine of growth, Jason talks about the two pistons that drive the engine of Christian life. What are those? How do they work in the life of a Christian?
- In verses 5-7, we read about Paul’s twofold suffering and comfort. What caused Paul’s suffering and what brought comfort to Paul?
- In verse 10, Paul talks about the two types of sorrow—godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. What are the characteristics of the godly and the worldly sorrow? How can we distinguish between the two types of sorrow?
2. Looking at Jesus
At Central we believe that all of Scripture points to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the theological center of the Bible. Every passage not only points to Jesus, but the grand narrative of the Bible also finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus.
- In this passage we learn about an important truth about Paul’s faith and ministry: the source of Paul’s comfort and joy was rooted in the salvation and spiritual growth of his fellow Christians. How does Paul’s ministry point us to Jesus’ ministry?
3. Looking at Our Hearts
The following are personal application questions based on the stages of growth in Christian faith.
- Describe repentance in your own words. How is repentance different from conviction of sin or sorrow for sin?
- In this passage we learn about God using sorrow in the lives of Corinthians to enable repentance and foster spiritual growth in Christ. Share your present or past experience of how God has used suffering or sorrow to enable repentance and foster growth in your life.
- How is this passage helpful in identifying worldly sorrow and nurturing godly sorrow in your own life?
4. Looking at Our World
- How does this passage offer us hope and confidence to be the instruments of grace—sharing and living out the gospel, in New York City?
God’s word is a lamp to our feet. Christ’s teachings are a light to our path. May God’s word take root in our lives. May Christ’s love nourish and sustain us. Amen.
View Study Guide Notes
Question 1: Repentance and Faith are the two pistons that drive the engine of Christian life. Remind the group of the two wrong ways of understanding repentance and faith as seen in the legalist and the inspirationist. A legalist emphasizes God’s law but not his love. The inspirationist emphasizes God’s love but not his law. The true Christian affirms both God’s law and his love, stretching to both extremes at the very same time. The promise of God’s ongoing love enables you to take an honest look at your own heart and your own life, and over time, unlike the legalist, the true Christian becomes more and more aware of the depth of their sin and the height of God’s holiness. As seen in the “cross-chart” image, the deepening awareness of your sin, and God’s holiness, enables you to repent more and more as you realize that the gap between you and God is growing. However, we need to remember that our sins don’t surprise God. God’s grace means there’s nothing that you could do to make God love you more, and there’s nothing that you could do to make him love you less as his love for you in Jesus Christ is fixed. The more you realize what Jesus has done, the more you realize how willing he is to forgive you, the more your love for him grows. And the more your love grows, the more that strengthens your faith to want to live your life for him. This is how repentance and faith drive the engine of Christian life.
In verse 5 we read about Paul’s twofold suffering—external: physical persecution, and internal: fear and anxiety. Paul’s journey to Macedonia was wrought with physical suffering, exhaustion, opposition, and persecution. Internally, Paul was in a constant tussle against fear and anxiety that welled up within him regarding the fate of Titus and his beloved Corinthian church. Paul is anxious and distressed over Titus’ delayed return from Corinth. The reason behind Paul’s anxiety had to do with a letter he had written to the Corinthian church addressing an issue of church discipline. Paul sends this “painful letter” with Titus. Paul had initially regretted his decision to send the letter as he knew his words would cause them sorrow and grief. Paul is concerned about how the Corinthian Christians respond to his letter. He was also concerned about how the Corinthians would respond to Titus, Paul’s messenger.
In verse 6, we see Paul receiving a twofold good news, brought about by God who comforts the fearful and the anxious. God is the source of Paul’s comfort, and God uses Titus as the agent who brings comfort to Paul by his arrival. Paul is relieved to see Titus return to him from Corinth. However, Paul’s comfort is turned into full blown joy when he hears about how well the Corinthians had received both his letter, and Titus, his messenger. Paul experienced joy and comfort when he learned about the spiritual growth among the Corinthians. The transforming work of the gospel had started to bear fruit in their zeal, faith, repentance, longing, and prayer life. Paul’s letter had indeed caused grief to the Corinthians; however, their grief was God ordained and God centered—it enabled repentance, and fostered their faith in God. These Corinthian believers experienced godly sorrow—the kind of genuine remorse that leads to a real change in one’s way of life.
Refer summary and connection for third question.
Question 2: Paul’s ministry is a testament to the true change brought about by the gospel. Paul was firm in his faith in Jesus and secure in the love of God for him in Jesus. Paul dedicated his life seeking joy and comfort in the salvation and edification of others. Since Paul was confident about God’s commitment in Jesus to meet his needs, he was free to love others by pursuing their welfare.
In John 3:16 we read about God sending his son as a sacrificial lamb to accomplish the redemption and reconciliation of sinners. As the true light, Jesus entered into the darkness of the world. Jesus demonstrated the love of God for sinners by proclaiming the gospel, healing the sick, befriending the sinners and welcoming the marginalized. As the mediator between God and sinners, Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law by his perfect obedience. As the founder and perfector of our faith, Jesus sought the joy and comfort by enduring the shame of the cross, and by doing so, Jesus accomplished the redemption and reconciliation of sinners. By carrying our sin and shame on the cross, Jesus showed that true love does not seek its own private, limited joy, but instead seeks its own joy in the good—the salvation and reconciliation of sinners. As followers of Jesus, we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to seek joy and comfort in the well-being of others. The cross of Christ is an unshakable testament to the fact that in giving to others we can never outgive God who has given us nothing less than himself.
Question 3: Refer summary and connection for the definition of repentance. Repentance is different from sorrow for sin. We have to guard against the error of confusing repentance with conviction of sin which implies that a fixed degree of repentance is necessary as a kind of qualification of faith. Sorrow in and of itself is not repentance. God uses sorrow as an agent to produce repentance in us; however, sorrow, by itself does not indicate repentance. For instance, sorrow could be circumstantial. You can be filled with sorrow because of the fear of facing the consequences of your sin, and not for your sin itself. Sorrow for sin could be a symptom of legalism. Your sorrow for sin could drive you to work harder to atone for your sin. Legalism often looks like the resolutions to repair the effects of sinful choices and actions taken to combat the sinful thoughts and patterns by reading the Bible and prayer. Since the actions and resolutions to combat sins are used as means to atone for one’s sin, it does not result in true repentance. A legalist repents only when they have to, only under duress, only in order to get God to listen to you and answer your prayers, but a Christian repents as often as possible because the more you see yourself for who you are and your need for grace, the more you tap into that union you experience with Jesus by faith, and that is the key to your spiritual growth.
Second question is a personal application question.
Refer summary and connection for information about the characteristics of godly and worldly sorrow. As far as nurturing godly sorrow in our own lives is concerned, it is vital for us to understand that we can’t manufacture godly sorrow. Godly sorrow is God ordained and God centered. In other words, godly sorrow is enabled by the grace of God at work in our heart. However, we can nurture godly sorrow by using the means of grace—Word of God and prayer. God’s Word exposes our sin and our tendency to earn God’s favor by atoning for our sin. God’s word also compels us to look to Jesus who has redeemed us by paying for our sins on the cross. When you read the Bible and spend time in prayer, you realize that the gap between you and God is greater than you think. You also realize that Jesus’ love for you is even deeper, and more expansive than you could ever imagine. Your awareness of your sinfulness, and appreciation of God’s love grows over time, enabling you to repent more and more. Ironically, as you grow in godly sorrow, you also unlock the love and joy in your life.
Question 4: In this passage we see God powerfully using Paul and Titus as his instruments of grace to bring about repentance and spiritual transformation in the lives of Corinthians. Paul’s ministry among the Corinthians highlights the fact that confronting sin and calling people to repentance are the primary instruments of sanctification. Paul’s ministry also reveals to us his deep love and concern for their well-being. Paul’s joy and comfort was rooted in the spiritual well-being of his fellow Christians. As Christians, we live in an individualistic culture where to love means to pursue personal happiness, pleasure, and comfort. Self-fulfillment is valued over seeking fulfillment in the well-being of others.
This passage emphasizes the counter-cultural message of the gospel: “True love does not seek its own private, limited joy, but instead seeks its own joy in the good—the salvation, and edification of others…In giving to others, we can never outgive God, since God has given us nothing less than himself.” God invites us to experience joy and comfort that comes about by helping others to participate in salvation. Theologian Jonathan Edwards captures this beautifully: “In some sense the most benevolent, generous person in the world seeks his own happiness in doing good to others, because he places his happiness in their good. His mind is so enlarged as to take them, as it were, into himself. Thus, when they are happy, he feels it; he partakes with them, and is happy in their happiness.” This is the miracle of a changed heart brought about by Jesus. This also enables us to be hopeful and confident to be God’s instruments of grace in this great city.