St. Paul once said to the Corinthian Christians: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
A theologian about a hundred years ago once said, “Take away the aroused conscience and you might just as well turn the churches into dancing 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 the church has no reason to exist, it serves no useful purpose.
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 are and what we have done. Our sins nailed Christ to that cross also. Through the law God gives us to see our hopeless situation – that we cannot save ourselves.
Through the gospel, God gives us to see that only Christ can save us and that only Christ has – by His atoning life, death and resurrection. He has wiped out our sins and given us back to God as His dear children.
This “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.
Worldly sorrow, on the other hand, 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 from our gracious God come times of refreshing over and over and over. These are the times when we remember anew that, because of Christ’s blood, we live beneath His smile as the apple of His eye, able to say, “Dear Father, today I am especially happy to be your child.”
These are the times of refreshing. You and I continue to find these times at the banquet table of His gospel in word and sacrament. Ah, repentance is such sweet