Webster’s online dictionary defines good grief as an idiom that’s “used to express surprise or annoyance.” Those of us who remember Charlie Brown can recall that this was one of his popular expressions when he would become annoyed with a friend or situation. In scripture, however, there is a grief that brings about positive change in a person’s life.
One role of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sins. To be conviction there has to be a certain level of sorrow, or grief, over sin.
The apostle Paul mentions two types of grief; worldly grief and godly grief. Godly grief, as you may expect, is the good grief. He writes to the Corinthians, “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 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, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:9-11)
Godly grief has several effects. We see that it produces repentance that leads to salvation without regret. The Christian life is to be a life of repentance. For one, we repent of our old nature when we turn our hearts to Jesus. Afterwards, while being sanctified, we see more of ourselves that may not be pleasing to God and the repentance leads us to more holy lives. Godly grief is our sorrow over our sin because sin grieves God. This grief is good. It leads to salvation.
“Without regret” is important to mention because worldly grief causes regret. Worldly grief constantly reminds you of the sins and failures in your life. You can’t move forward because regret keeps you stuck in the past. This grief leads to death, so, Satan loves to bring worldly grief. The Bible calls him the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10). If we let him, he’s constantly in our ears reminding us of how much we’ve failed and how unworthy we are of love, grace, and mercy. But Paul reminds us that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
The Corinthians’ godly grief also brought earnestness and an eagerness to clear themselves of their guilt. The Corinthian church had some horrendous sin within their ranks. It troubled Paul that they were not sorrowful or grievous over this sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). So when he received news of their repentance, was comforted.
So when we feel the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin in our lives, our response should not be to ignore it. He is not convicting for the sake of making us feel bad about something. That’s the devil’s job. No, the Holy Spirit’s conviction is an alarm going off telling us that something is wrong. That there is something we need to correct. The subsequent “grief” we feel is meant to be for our good and God’s glory; to correct our wrongs and lead us into the paths of righteousness.
Further reading: Isaiah 30:15, Jeremiah 31:19, Matthew 3:8, Acts 3:19, Romans 6:1-2, Ephesians 4:30