2 Corinthians 7:1
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
(a) These promises. Faith is a positive response to the promises of God, and Paul has just listed several: you are a new creation (2 Cor. 6:17), you have been reconciled to God (2 Cor. 6:18), you are a saint (2 Cor. 1:1), you have been given the Holy Spirit as a pledge guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor. 5:5).
(b) Beloved. You are a dearly-loved child of God. God doesn’t love you because you are good, but because he is good and he longs to be good to you. See also the entry for 1 Cor. 10:14.
(c) Let us cleanse ourselves. Having reminded us of God’s good promises and our identity in Christ, Paul exhorts us to live from that identity. “You are a dearly-loved child of God, so act like it.”
(d) Perfecting holiness. Christ is our holiness and he is already perfect. One with the Lord, you are as holy and perfect as he is (Heb. 10:14). We cannot improve upon or perfect what Christ has done, but we can work it out in our imperfect lives.
Paul is essentially saying, “Don’t get distracted by worldly concerns. Don’t align yourself with those who reject Jesus and don’t let others define you. Be secure in your identity as a dearly-loved child of God.”
(e) The fear of God; see entry for 2 Cor. 5:11.
2 Corinthians 7:9
I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.
(a) Sorrowful; see next verse.
(b) Repentance is the ability to receive the truth that sets us free. It’s a change of mind that causes us to see as God sees and think as God thinks. See entry for Repentance.
2 Corinthians 7:10
For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.
(a) Sorrow. Sin produces a sorrow which can lead to life or death. If our guilt and remorse leads us to repentance, the grace of God will bring healing that frees from shame and regret. But if our sorrow leads us to dead works and self-trust, we will end up on “a deathbed of regrets” (to quote the Message Bible).
(b) Repentance. Some people read this scripture backwards: “Repentance brings godly sorrow.” Or they say “repentance is godly sorrow.” Paul says no such thing. “Godly sorrow works repentance.” In other words, godly sorrow and repentance are different things.
Sorrow can and does lead to repentance but it’s unlikely that you will cry every time you learn something about the goodness of the Lord (Rom. 2:4). In truth, it doesn’t really matter how your emotions respond when you learn about the good news of God’s grace. It only matters that you believe it.
2 Corinthians 7:11
For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.
Godly sorrow is not something you have to manufacture to impress the Lord. Nor is it a work that has to accompany your faith. Godly sorrow is when God works through the aches and hurts of our mistakes to draw us to himself.
When you sin or miss the mark, the temptation is to beat yourself up and vow to do better. Manmade religion will be only too happy to condemn you as a sinner (“Look at what you did!”) and prescribe a course of remedial action (“Repent with tears and sackcloth.”) But this is the way of Adam, not Jesus. “You did a bad thing; now do this good thing to make it right.”
When you sin it takes no faith to reach for the fig leaves of dead works. A better response is to look to the One who died for sinners, who loves you in your sin, and who speaks in your defence (1 John 2:1). It’s saying, “Lord, I’m sorry for what I did, but I thank you that you love me and accept me. Thank you that I remain clothed in your righteous robes and thank you for your grace which helps me to sin no more.”
Further reading: “What is godly sorrow?”
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