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Godly Sorrow, Worldly Sorrow, and True Repentance

What is the difference between godly sorrow that leads to repentance and salvation compared to worldly sorrow that leads to death.In order to be forgiven of sins, one must first repent. In order to repent, one must first have godly sorrow. But there is another kind of sorrow that leads to death. If so, then surely we need to know the difference.

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2 Corinthians 7:10 – Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

In order to be forgiven of sins, one must first repent. In order to repent, one must first have godly sorrow. Some people do not repent because they are not really sorry. But there is another kind of sorrow – the sorrow of the world –that does not lead to repentance, but leads to death.

If godly sorrow is necessary in order to repent and receive salvation, but there is another kind of sorrow that leads to death, then surely we need to know the difference.

What is the difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow? How do we recognize when we or others have a proper sorrow for our sins?

Consider the Bible teaching:

The Need for Godly Sorrow and Repentance

Passages about the Necessity of Repentance

God’s word places far more emphasis on repentance than many of us appreciate.

Mark 1:15 – Mark summarized Jesus’ message as: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Luke 24:47 – Jesus said repentance and remission of sin should be taught to all nations.

Acts 2:38 – In the first gospel sermon, Peter preached, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you for the remission of sins…”

Acts 17:30 – God commands all men everywhere to repent.

2 Peter 3:9 – God is not willing for men to perish but wants all to come to repentance.

Acts 8:22 – Christians who sin must be taught to repent of their wickedness.

Revelation 3:19 – As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.

Repentance is a change of mind – a decision, a choice, a deliberate exercise of the will – in which one determines to act differently in the future than he has in the past. If you have sinned, you must admit the sin and be sorry. Then you must make up your mind to change.

Forgiveness comes only after a decision to change! Without repentance no one can be saved.

(Matthew 3:2; 11:20-24; 21:28-32; Luke 13:3; Ezekiel 18:21-23,27,28,30-32; 33:10-19; 2 Timothy 2:25,26; Romans 2:4,5; Acts 3:19; 8:22; 5:31; Revelation 2:5,16,21-23; Luke 3:8,9; 15:7,10; 17:3,4; 2 Corinthians 12:21; 1 Kings 8:46-50; 2 Chronicles 6:24-29; 7:14; Joel 2:12-14; Jeremiah 36:3,7; Isaiah 55:7)

Passages about the Necessity of Godly Sorrow

True repentance must be motivated by sincere sorrow or remorse for sin.

Proverbs 28:13 – One who covers his sins will not prosper. In order to have mercy, he must confess and forsake sin.

Joel 2:12,13 – Turn to God with weeping and mourning. Tear your heart, not your garment.

Luke 18:13 – The publican, seeking forgiveness for his sins, beat his breast saying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

James 4:8-10 – Sinners must mourn and weep.

2 Corinthians 7:10 – Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation…

Before one will change his life, he must decide to change (repent). Before he decides to change, he must recognize that he has been guilty. Then he must sincerely regret what he did and sincerely wish he had never done it.

A person will never truly repent until he knows and admits he was wrong and is truly sorry. Do you recognize your sins? Are you truly sorry?

(Psalm 38:18; 34:18; 51:17; 31:10; Isaiah 57:15; 66:2; 22:12-14; Job 42:6; Jeremiah 31:19; 5:3; 6:26; Jonah 3:5-8; Matthew 26:75; 11:20; 2 Chronicles 34:27; Ezra 10:1; [1 John 1:9; 1 Kings 8:47; 2 Chron. 6:24-39; 7:14; Acts 19:18; James 5:16; Jeremiah 3:12f; 8:4-6; 5:3; 44:4,5; Jonah 3:8,10; Amos 4:6-11; Luke 15:18,21; 17:3,4; Psalm 32:5; Lev. 26:40)

Godly Sorrow vs. Worldly Sorrow

A person may cease a sinful practice without repenting. A person may admit an act was wrong without being sorry. But a person may be sorry yet still not forgiven because it is improper sorrow. So let us consider the difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow.

Examples of Godly Sorrow

Godly sorrow requires true remorse, sincere acknowledgment of error, and determination not repeat the sin. We must grieve for the harm done to our relationship to God and other people, truly wishing we never had done it.

Consider Bible examples:


2 Samuel 12:9-14 – The prophet Nathan convicted David of adultery with Bathsheeba and having her husband killed. David confessed that he had sinned, so God forgave him. But he would still suffer consequences: the sword would never depart from his house, he would have opposition within his own family, and the child who had been conceived would die.

This account does not describe his sorrow, but David describes it in the book of Psalms.

Psalm 32:1-5 – “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered…” David describes his groaning, grief, and agony while he remained in sin. Forgiveness required that he acknowledge his sin, not hide it. He must confess it to the Lord without deceit (sincerely).

Psalm 38:18 – I will declare my iniquity and be in anguish for my sin. Forgiveness required admitting the sin with anguish because he had done it. Notice the depth of sorrow.

Psalm 51:1-4,7-10 – David pled for mercy from God to cleanse his transgressions and sins. He acknowledged his sin, constantly aware of his guilt. He grieved especially for the wrong he had done against God.

2 Samuel 15:26 [16:11]– When he fled because Absalom rebelled, David said, “Let Him do to me as seems good to Him.”

This is godly sorrow. One must openly acknowledge his sin and truly grieve for the wrongs he has done, sincerely wishing he had never committed them. David suffered severe consequences in this life without rebelling against them, but what grieved him most was what his sin did to his relationship to God and his need for cleansing of the burden of guilt.


Matthew 12:41 – Jesus said the people of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah.

Jonah 3:4-10 describes this repentance. From the king down, the people believed the message from God, wore sackcloth and fasted (signs of grief), and cried to God. Everyone was required to turn from his evil way and from the violence in his hand.

The people sincerely grieved for their sins and determined to change their conduct (repent). Then they prayed to God for forgiveness. Godly sorrow led to repentance unto forgiveness.

The prodigal son – Luke 15

Verses 11-16 – The son wasted his father’s inheritance in sin (with harlots – verse 30). When the money was gone, he ended up feeding hogs and would have eaten the hog slop.

Note verse 16 – No one gave him anything. The account shows that his father knew what was happening but did not bail his son out. He would have let him eat hog slop as the consequence of his sins.

Far too often parents or friends bail out a sinner to help him avoid the consequences of his sins. If instead they allow him to suffer the consequences of his sins, he may be led to repent like the prodigal did. (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

Verses 17-19 – As a result, the son came to himself. He decided to go home and admit that he had sinned against heaven and against his father. And he offered to accept whatever consequences followed: he no longer deserved to be a son, but was willing to be demoted to a servant.

A person who has godly sorrow just wants to make his life right with God and with people whom he has wronged. This requires admitting his sins, pleading for forgiveness, changing his life, and accepting whatever consequences follow. His main concern is being forgiven of his guilt.

(Peter – Matthew 26:75; Paul – 1 Timothy 1:12-16)

Examples of Worldly Sorrow

Worldly sorrow is more concerned with avoiding the consequences of the sin in this life than with changing the conduct or with correcting the relationship with God and those who have been wronged. Consider Bible examples:

Cain – Genesis 4

Verses 1-7 – Abel’s sacrifice pleased God, whereas Cain’s did not. Cain responded, not with repentance, but with anger (verse 5). God told Cain not to be angry but to rule over the sin.

Verses 8-12 – Cain killed Abel then denied responsibility and lied to God, saying he did not know where Abel was. God said he would be punished because the ground would no longer produce for him, and he would be a vagabond on the earth.

Verses 13,14 – Cain complained that his punishment was greater than he could bear.

Contrast this to the examples of godly sorrow. When his worship was not accepted, he became angry. When rebuked for the anger, he killed Abel. When questioned about that, he lied to God. When told he would be punished, he sought to avoid punishment. At no point did Cain acknowledge sin or ask forgiveness. Instead of repenting, he just went deeper and deeper into sin.

King of Israel – 2 Kings 6:24-33

Verses 25-29 – The northern kingdom of Israel was ruled by a son of wicked king Ahab. As punishment for their sins, the nation was besieged by Syria. This caused a famine so severe that women were actually eating their own children.

Verse 30 – The king responded with grief in which he wore sackcloth and tore his clothes.

Verses 31 – Rather than repenting, the king determined to behead the prophet Elisha.

The king knew the distress occurred because the nation was alienated from God. But rather than seeking forgiveness to restore their relationship with God, instead he sought to slay God’s prophet. Rather than repenting, he fought against the consequences of the sin.

King Saul – 1 Samuel

At first Saul was humble but he changed.

He sought to please the people rather than to please God.

13:13,14 – Instead of waiting for Samuel, Saul himself offered sacrifice to God. Samuel said he had disobeyed God’s command and as a result his dynasty would not continue.

15:13-15,20-23 – God told Saul and Israel to kill all the Amalekites and destroy their flocks. Instead they spared the king and the best of the flocks and herds. Saul said he had obeyed God. Then he blamed the people for keeping the best animals to the offer the sacrifices. Samuel said rebellion and stubbornness are like witchcraft and idolatry. So God rejected Saul from being king.

15:24,25,30 – Saul admitted he had sinned because he feared the people, but still wanted to be honored before the people. He was concerned, not about God’s forgiveness, but about what the people thought.

God chose David to replace Saul.

Throughout Saul’s remaining life he struggled to defeat the consequences of sin.

16:23; 18:8-12 – Saul’s jealousy led him to try to kill David who played music to calm him.

19:4-6,9,11-17 – Saul swore to his son Jonathan not to kill David. But then he tried again to kill him with his spear. Then he sent messengers to kill David in his bed.

20:30-33 – Saul told Jonathan to help kill David so Jonathan could become king. When Jonathan objected, Saul tried to kill Jonathan.

22:11-19 – Saul killed all the priests and their families because he claimed they helped David.

24:16-20; 26:21-25 – Twice David could have killed Saul but spared him. Both times Saul admitted he had sinned. He wept and admitted David was more righteous than he was. He promised to no longer harm David. But both times immediately he continued trying to kill him.

28:15-20 – When God refused to give Saul guidance, he used a medium to call up Samuel.

1 Chronicles 10:13 – Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the Lord, because he did not keep the word of the Lord, and also because he consulted a medium...

Saul’s attitude was back and forth, back and forth. He admitted sin, vowed to do right, and grieved for his circumstances, but he immediately returned to sin. He was more concerned about pleasing the people and avoiding the consequences of his sins than he was about pleasing God and seeking God’s forgiveness.

People today would doubtless say he was mentally ill. But God held him accountable and continued to bring consequences and punishment for his sin.

[Israel – Numbers 13,14; Rich young ruler]


Many people today are not forgiven because they never have godly sorrow for their sins.

Godly sorrow leads one to grieve for his sin, its effect on his relationship to God and harm done to others. It leads to humble acknowledging of sin and sincere repentance: a decision to change so one can please God.

With godly sorrow, the sinner acknowledges his guilt and seeks above all else to change so he can be forgiven and be right with God.

2 Corinthians 7:10 – “Godly sorrow works repentance unto salvation.”

Psalm 38:18 – “I will declare my iniquity and be in anguish for my sin.”

Psalm 51:3,4 – “I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight…”

Proverbs 28:13 – He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.

With godly sorrow, the sinner focuses on his need for forgiveness, cleansing of guilt and restoration of his relationship with God and others. He accepts consequences in this life if only God will forgive him.

David said: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered…”

The prodigal said: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight. I am no more worthy to be called thy son. Make me as one of your hired servants.”

Godly sorrow leads a person to deeply regret the harm done to his relationship to God and other people. He openly admits his sin, willingly apologizes, accepts consequences in this life, and seeks forgiveness according to whatever terms God requires.

Godly sorrow focuses on the need to change and be forgiven.

Worldly sorrow often leads, not to change, but to excuses or committing more sins. The sinner feels sorry for himself and regrets the consequences in this life and the fact he did not get his way.

With worldly sorrow, the sinner may seek to hide his guilt. If his sin is exposed, instead of changing, he may become angry or go deeper into sin.

When rebuked for his worship, Cain became angry, killed Abel, and then lied to God.

Saul first said he had obeyed God. Then he blamed the people. Then he spent the rest of his life trying to kill the man appointed to take his place as king.

Worldly sorrow may lead the sinner to deny sin, blame others, or rationalize. It often leads to other sins. In any case, it does not lead to a sincere effort to change.

With worldly sorrow one may focus on avoiding the consequences in this life.

Cain: “My punishment is greater than I can bear.”

Saul: “I have sinned, yet honor me before the people.”

Criminals may sorrow, not for the crime, but for the fact they got caught and punished.

Sexually immoral people may regret having a disease, unwanted pregnancy, or divorce.

Drunkards, drug abusers, or gamblers may regret loss of finances, jobs, or family.

People guilty of other scandals may regret exposure, loss of power, influence, or position.

With worldly sorrow, the sinner focuses on himself and avoiding consequences.


Godly sorrow and repentance are not the same thing, but godly sorrow leads to repentance. And both are necessary to salvation. No one will be saved simply because he is sorry, if he does not decide to repent. And no one who changes his conduct will be saved unless he is truly sorry for what he did.

Forgiveness of sins requires:

Recognizing and admitting our conduct was sinful

Sincere godly sorrow that we have wronged God and others

Repentance with a sincere determination to change

Asking for forgiveness. For one who was never forgiven by God, this is done in baptism. For an erring child of God this is done by confession in prayer and apology to people wronged.

Change of conduct: quit practicing sin and make restitution

Have you and I been truly sorry for our sins so we have repented and received forgiveness?

(Matthew 5:23,24; Luke 17:3,4; James 5:16; Ezekiel 18:21-32; 33:14,15; Proverbs 28:13; Acts 26:20; Luke 3:8-14; Matthew 3:8; Matthew 21:28-31; Exodus 22:1-15; Leviticus 6:1-5; Numbers 5:5-8; 2 Samuel 12:6)

[Genesis 44 cf. Genesis 37; Luke 13:5-9; 15:19; Ezekiel 33:10-19; Revelation 2:5; Deuteronomy 30:2; 2 Kings 17:13; Jonah 3:8,10; Isaiah 55:7; Jeremiah 4:1; 18:8,11; 44:4,5; 25:3-7; 35:15; 2 Chronicles 30:6-9; 1 Samuel 7:3,4]

Click here to learn more about repentance.

(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2018;

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