A theologian about a hundred years ago once said, “Take away the aroused conscience and you might just as well turn the churches into dance halls.”
In other words, if people are no longer troubled by their sins, if they no longer wonder what might happen to them if they die, if they no longer consider the wrath and punishment of God, then people will see no purpose for the church at all. This is the attitude of today’s “nones” who list their religion as “none.”
If people no longer see that they need saving from their sins, then what in the world is the purpose of Christmas, Good Friday and Easter? Why should the Son of God have stepped on to this planet in the first place?
That is why Martin Luther used to say that when God wants to make us glad, He begins by making us sad.
But God does not leave us in our sadness and guilt. He has provided a way out. The apostle Peter once said: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”
We have gone away from God and we must return. Through the law God gives us to see ourselves for what we have been and what we have done. Our sins nailed Christ to the cross also.
Through the gospel, God gives us to see that only Christ can save us and that Christ has done just that by His atoning life, death and resurrection. He has wiped out our sins and given us back to God as His dear children.
This is what Paul meant in 2 Corinthians 7 when he compared the Godly sorrow that works repentance versus the worldly sorrow that brings death.
He tells the Corinthian Christians: “You became sorrowful as God intended, and so were not harmed in any way by us.” A child grows up and looks back on the loving corrections of his parents and remarks: “I really was not harmed in any way and I thank God I had parents who drew the lines for me.”
Worldly sorrow, says Paul, brings death. Worldly sorrow is the gallows repentance that is simply sorry it got caught, or the sorrow that despairs of God’s forgiveness in Christ. King Saul had such sorrow. So did Judas.
But Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, says Paul. Paul, who once persecuted Christians, knew about such Godly sorrow. Peter, who once denied his Savior and ran into the night weeping bitterly, knew about such Godly sorrow. Paul and Peter found forgiveness and joy in the wounds of Jesus. So do we. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”