Is sorrow necessary for true repentance?


This question came from a fellow whose pastor insists that sorrow is absolutely necessary for salvation, and uses 2 Corinthians 7:10 to back this up.  We answered with the following:

2 Cor 7:10 needs to be read in its context.  The verse is addressed to the church.  They are the ones who repented here [look at verses 7-9].  No doubt the man who sinned was sorrowful, as well, which you can see by reading 2 Cor 2:4-7.  But 2 Cor 7:10 is addressed to the whole church.  So you have to be careful using this verse to teach that “sorrow is absolutely necessary for salvation,” since this verse does not deal with an individual’s salvation.

Often the verse is “preached” to show the difference between godly sorrow and sorrow of the world.  A man who is “caught” [i.e. in jail for a crime he committed, for instance] is generally sorry that he got caught doing something wrong.  That’s because he is suffering the consequences of his actions and he wants those consequences to go away.  He is repentant, but only to the extent that Judas Iscariot was.  He will likely not get saved if he is only looking for a way out of his immediate consequences.  That is the sorrow of the world.

A man who recognizes he is a sinner on his way to hell without enough righteousness to get past his judgment before God is repentant when he realizes that he must turn from his own unrighteousness and receive Jesus Christ.  His concern is eternal not temporal [i.e. just dealing with his problems down here].  He may or may not be sorry [I was].  However, if he is sorry, and that sorrow that he has is godly sorrow, then it is going to work repentance to salvation in his life, just like 2 Cor 7:10 says.

But we cannot forget that there is another verse in the Bible on repentance (Rom 2:4), “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”  Here, it is not sorrow that leads the man to repentance, but rather the goodness of God.  A man that responds to the goodness of God in salvation [like the man in Mk 10:17-22 should have done], may not be sorry for his sins, at all; he might repent instead because he is overwhelmed by the goodness of God.

In all the years of leading souls to Christ, I have probably seen more people come to Jesus because of his goodness to them than because of their sorrow over sin.  It’s not that they were proud of their sin, you understand, but rather that God was so loving and so kind to forgive them.  Their countenance often reflected joy rather than sorrow, like the lame man in Acts 3:8.

So, sorrow is not an absolute prerequisite for salvation according to the Bible.  If sorrow is involved and it is godly sorrow, then it is going to lead a man to “repentance to salvation.”  If the sorrow is of the world, though, then the fellow is likely going to wind up in hell without Jesus Christ.  He can cry buckets of tears over his sin, but if he doesn’t receive Jesus Christ then all those tears are worthless as far as his soul is concerned.

Hope this helps,

Pastor Bevans Welder