We read:

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” ‭‭James‬ ‭4:8-10‬

‭James seems to be getting at repentance without using the word μετανοέω (metanoeó).

Not all passages of repentance in Scripture seem to imply “mourning”.

Q: According to Protestantism, is godly mourning(with tears) always required when repenting?

NOTE: James 4:8-10 seem to imply mourning alongside turning from bad behavior (cleanse your hands).

Inserted major edits.

  • 2
    The text reads that godly sorrow produces repentance. If one has no godly sorrow, then there will be no repentance. Lack of godly sorrow would be hardness of heart. You seem to be arguing with the apostle Paul (which is contrary to Protestantism).
    – Nigel J
    May 3, 2022 at 8:27
  • 1
    The text contrasts Godly sorrow with worldly sorrow when faced with one's wrong-doing. Worldly sorrow is usually regret at having been found out, or of having been embarrassed, or of facing dire personal consequences. A Christian should always repent of their sin, convicted by the Holy Spirit. They will obediently repent and there WILL be godly sorrow which prevents disobedience to the command to repent. The sorrow might not be fully felt at first but will come at least after facing up to their reluctance to repent (in addition to facing up to the sin they must deal with.)
    – Anne
    May 3, 2022 at 10:45
  • @NigelJ I’m surprised at such a conjecture, I never was against the Apostle Paul; you seem to be overthinking my motives. Why then, doesn’t James use the word repent in James 4:8? If “repent” (metenoia) means to have a change of mind, where does the word sorrow come into play with that same word? I don’t see how this question has revived such a negative standing, some passages speak of repentance “change of mind” and no mention of a visceral response is connected in the selfsame passage. I’ve learned of attrition vs contrition with respect to repentance. But are there times without tears?
    – Cork88
    May 3, 2022 at 15:25
  • 1
    Woah! You've now introduced the word 'tears'. I almost cannot cry, even with a close bereavement. Peter wept bitterly at his denial of Christ, and there are other accounts of tears, but the proof of godly sorrow is repentance, not crying. Whether the repentant person weeps or not is beside the point. Godly sorrow results in repentance.
    – Anne
    May 3, 2022 at 15:45
  • 1
    There are lots of 'models' of repentance throughout the Bible (i.e. examples). They all need to be borne in mind. One should not be set against another, as if those that don't have all the same characteristics cannot be repentance. That would suggest trying to find an excuse not to repent. You know your repentance has been genuine when you then experience the forgiveness of God. Your conscience is cleansed. You don't need anyone to explain Greek words to you.
    – Anne
    May 3, 2022 at 16:05

1 Answer 1


David and James 4

I am going to use the NLT translation and start from verse 1.

I think you did well in combining Ps 51 with James 4:8-10, since:

  • v. 2 is also applicable to David during the Bathsheba affair:

    You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them.

  • David was having laughter and joy with Bathsheba. When Nathan confronted him and the Lord was about to kill David's child, David realized his sin and his laughter turned to sorrow and deep grief (v. 9)
  • David humbled himself before the Lord (v. 10a), pleading with the Lord not to take his child's life and asking God to purify his hearts (v. 9 and Ps 51:10) and the Lord blessed him with another child (Solomon) (v. 10b)

Three useful contrasts

At least 3 contrasts are highlighted here:

  1. God is far from the proud/wicked vs. God is near to the humble: Both OT and NT consistently use this analogy (Example: Prov 15:29 vs. Ps 145:18 and Col 1:21 vs. James 4:8).
  2. Friendship with the world vs. friendship with God: the contrast between the world and God is prevalent throughout the NT, most stark contrast in John 15:18-21, esp. v. 19:

    The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.

  3. Laughter/joy with the world vs. Tears/sorrow/grief/sadness/gloom with God: Although there is also joy with God (example: John 15:11), in the pericope we are studying, it is talking about laughter and joy from friendship with the world being contrasted with David's godly sorrow over his sin once he realized that his worldly laughter brought him far from God.

Why David was mourning with tears?

David is usually a man after God's heart. In the Psalm he exemplifies someone who is close to God and acts with Godly character. When he was pursued by Saul for years he seek God's help all the time, and he so thoroughly respected the office of the King that he refused to kill Saul given many opportunities and even killed the Amalekite who helped killed Saul at Saul's request (2 Sam 1:1-16). When he became king he was not embarrassed to show his excitement by dancing for God (wildly?) in public as the ark was brought to Jerusalem. He wanted to build a temple for God too. All the right attitudes for a man after God's heart.

We can easily imagine that blindness caused by worldly desires temporarily brought him FAR from God and he acted very wickedly. After Nathan confronted him, his conscience's eyes were opened, and he must have immediately seen the gravity of what he had done. The decades of memory of being CLOSE to God would surely flood into his consciousness now, and I think this is what brought him tremendous sorrow described in James 4:8-10, which naturally brought a lot of tears too.

Is godly mourning always required when repenting?

As we all know, the essence of repentance is suggested by the meaning of metanoia, a change of heart, a 180 degree turn from walking in the path of wickedness that makes one getting farther and farther from God into walking in the path of righteousness that makes one getting closer and closer to God. So in a sense, the tears are optional, but is very natural to accompany the regret of being deceived by the world and the wastefulness of lost opportunities, not to mention the hurt we caused our loved ones, including hurting God's heart!

So, following David's example, there is this natural sequence:

  1. the worldly joy & laughter following our friendship with the world, which increases our pride (thumbing our nose at God's standard)
  2. awareness that the world deceived us and that we are far from God
  3. the decision to turn back (repentance)
  4. the flood of sorrow caused by recognizing the hurt we caused our loved ones and God
  5. the natural humbling of ourselves as we walk back towards getting closer to God
  6. the healing of God's forgiveness


Tears and sorrows over sin are not necessarily a precondition of repentance (step 3). It can accompany awareness (step 2) and can help our resolve for repentance (step 3). But tears and sorrows more naturally follows repentance (step 4) as we humbly and daily "undo" the effects of sin (dying to self, step 5) until our heart is cleansed (step 6).

In James 4:4-10, I think

  1. friendship with the world (step 1) and its consequences (enemy of God) is implied in verse 4.
  2. awareness of a better way (step 2) by being faithful with God is implied in verses 5-6, with solution in verse 7.
  3. repentance (step 3) is implied in verse 8a ("Come close to God, and God will come close to you.") since repentance implies shortening the distance between us and God. As the prodigal son walks home ("Come close to God"), the father runs toward him ("God will come close to you").
  4. sorrows (step 4) is implied in v. 9
  5. humbling ourselves (step 5) is implied in v. 10a
  6. restoration of our status as adopted son / daughter of God (step 6) is implied in v. 10b.

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