For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you… what fear, what longing (II Corinthians 7:10-11)
“God’s kindness is meant to lead [us] to repentance” (Romans 2:4). Yet we tend to live in the extremes. Either we fail to see the good things around us, fail to recognize the outpouring of the goodness of God and so despair in the “worldly grief that produces death;” or we are quick to “presume upon the riches of his kindness,” thinking as the people of God were warned against in Deuteronomy 9 that somehow the blessings of God were because of their righteousness. Indeed, in the mouth of the self-righteous even a “Thank you” is abominable. “God I thank you that I am not like other people” (Luke 18:11).
No doubt fasting done in the wrong way can lead to legalism, arrogance, self-righteousness and so much evil. It is not the mere words of thanks, nor even a genuinely thankful attitude, but the recognition of who we are thanking that produces true repentance.
Remember the story of Peter’s calling told by Luke:
On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (5:1-8, ESV)
Upon receiving the good gift of a “large number of fish,” Peter recognizes Jesus as “Lord” as well as his own sinfulness, and repentance follows. This is why it is so important to remember God as the giver of all good gifts. James tells us that “every good gift…is from above,” and he goes on to remind us that it comes “from the Father of lights with whom there is no shadow of variation.” When we recognize His perfect light, when we see it and by it see ourselves there is nothing we can say but, “I am sinful.”
It is in those words of Peter that we hear what repentance sounds like…the fruit of godly sorrow–fear and longing.
Fear, “depart from me.”
Longing, “O Lord.”