2 Corinthians 7:1-10
“Let us cleanse ourselves of all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” To cleanse ourselves of all filthiness requires much more than merely repentant thoughts. See, it’s so easy for us to hear a sermon or read a passage of Holy Scripture and become convicted about something, to resolve to ourselves that we will stop doing something. But there are certain sins that just become habitual. And the greatest peril that we face in our spiritual warfare is that those habitual sins create sinful patterns in our life. For example, someone who habitually views pornography may resolve to stop doing so, but as their will clashes against the flesh, they still awaken each morning and immediately check their phone. They check for emails, weather updates, social media notifications, etc. But, in so doing, they’ve created the pattern of having access to their phone the moment they awaken; and even moreso, they’ve trained themselves to do so. Thus, the enemy will determine to strike them in the middle of the night, when they’re guard is down, yet the habit of the flesh is to check their phone the moment they awaken. Thus, in a half waking, half sleeping state, that temptation of sin combined with the passions of the flesh lure the person into sin. Our very will is bypassed by the patterns that we establish and thus we sin automatically.
To cleanse ourselves here means that through the grace of God, we begin to embark on a long, willful journey to struggle for holiness, for righteousness. This struggle involves genuine sorrow for our sins, confession of those sins, heartfelt repentance. It means identifying those sinful patterns that we have established and abolishing them in our lives. It means intentionally avoiding situations which will lead us to sin. It means reconciling with those whom we have wronged or who have wronged us. It means to resolutely practice the Christian virtues. Ultimately, it means clinging to God through faith, through prayer, and through His Church and allowing Him to help us change our entire way of life. When St Paul tells us that “the old has passed away, behold the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17), he is not speaking metaphorically. Jesus tells us that we must die, and be born again, to enter the kingdom (John 3:3). When we are baptized, the process of salvation begins wherein Jesus frees us from the power of sin; but there are remnants of those sins, these habits and patterns, which remain in our flesh, and we must actively fight against them, knowing that through His grace we are empowered to overcome them.
Paul states that he briefly regretted his first letter because he knew it brought the believers sorrow; but then he no longer regretted it because he saw that their sorrow brought them to true repentance. See, contrary to what we may think or feel, it’s not enough to merely feel bad about a sin. We see this so frequently in children where they “feel bad” about something, bad enough to say that their sorry even, but not bad enough to stop doing it. True, heartfelt repentance, on the other hand, doesn’t bring feelings of guilt or despondency. St John Chrysostom teaches us, “Do not be ashamed to enter again into the Church. Be ashamed when you sin. Do not be ashamed when you repent. Pay attention to what the devil did to you. There are two things, sin and repentance. Sin is a wound; repentance is the medicine. Just as there are for the body wounds and medicines, so for the soul are sins and repentance. However, sin has the shame and repentance possesses the courage.” See, the devil likes to invert the two. He likes to convince us that we need courage to sin, and then should be ashamed when we repent. But, true heartfelt repentance should never inspire shame, it inspires courage in you. True heartfelt godly sorrow over your sin doesn’t bring feelings of guilt or despondency, rather it brings strong feelings of repentance and diligence; repentance is when we turn away from not only the actions we performed, but the patterns that led us to it, while diligence is when we zealously pursue holiness and reconciliation.
The sorrow of the world is the sorrow for “getting caught.” It’s sorrow which is very self-centered, it focuses on us and our reactions, our embarrassment, our punishment. Godly sorrow, on the other hand, is the sorrow which is focused on God, it’s focused on our love for Him and our desire to walk in His ways. It’s the sorrow which leads to sincere repentance and reconciliation to God, which paves our path to salvation and eternal life.
Let us never confuse the two, my brethern. Let each time we fall into sin be a cause for shame, and each time we enter into confession be a cause for courage and hope, understanding that the only sin for which we can not and will not be forgiven is the unrepentant sin. Let us each strive for the righteousness of God and pave the path to our salvation with good deeds and holiness. A monk was once asked what they do in the monastery, and his answer was, “we fall, we get back up, we fall, we get back up.” Let that be our walk as well. Let us each take up our cross and stumble up the mountain, helping one another back up each time we fall; and trust in our Lord Jesus that with each step we take, He takes ten to meet us. Let us feel the shame of our sins when we sin, and the comfort of true repentance each time we confess, knowing that our Lord is with us always.
Christ is in our midst.