Guilt is an ugly word – and the other word that goes with it is just as ugly…shame. No matter which word you use, it can be debilitating. Where it can impact a believer the most is when we perceive it as conviction.
Aren’t guilt and conviction the same thing? (Asking the question many of you may be thinking…if you’re not thinking it…then it’s a construct to move the conversation along…either way, it’s been asked.) The simple answer is NO. Problem is simple doesn’t come into play for us in the shame/conviction arena. So to dig a little deeper…
Still keeping it on the simpler side:
Guilt/shame is from Satan, he accuses us of our wrongdoing
(1 Timothy 5:14-15; 1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 12:10)
Conviction is from God
(2 Corinthians 7:9-10, John 14:29; John 16:8-9; Galatians 5:16-26)
I read a good description of the difference between the two –
“The difference between conviction and guilt can be seen in the direction we’re facing. If we’re looking toward the cross, it’s conviction. If we’re running away and hiding it’s guilt.” – GraceThruFaith
I think that’s a good starting point…but not entirely true. We can run from conviction as well. Now, when running from conviction eventually we have to “harden our heart” and we’ll fall into the guilt/shame trap. So, in the end, we do run from guilt.
I think a better way of looking at the difference is…
Guilt will lead us to inaction.
Conviction will lead us to action.
The action we take should be repentance, but it may be to run away…but we do take action. When we hit the guilt stage we stop and wallow, let fear take over, stagnate, rationalize, or just get to a point we don’t care. This is on the spiritual side of things, but can…and frequently does…spill over to emotional, relational, and even physical. We stunt our growth in many areas…tied up in guilt/shame and condemnation.
That condemnation is the real tell when it comes to knowing the difference between shame and conviction. God didn’t send His Son into the world to condemn it (John 3:17). There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). He that knew no sin became sin so that we could become righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). Those are just a few promises we have as followers of Jesus. Satan is the accuser, the liar, the deceiver…and it’s his goal to drag us down, to keep us from accessing the joy that we already have. To get our minds off our Savior, mess with the peace He gives us…all in all to make us dull and ineffective for Christ.
Conviction brings out the prodigal in us…we turn back to Him…and find Him waiting for us, running to us. We discover He never stopped loving us. It’s this love, grace, and mercy that is at the root of our conviction…as His children our hearts know His love, and the Spirit leads us back to Him.
Feeling the weight of guilt?…meditate on His word. Here are a few passages to dwell on…(actually meditate on these, no matter if you’re feeling the weight of guilt or not)…
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. (Revelation 12:10 ESV)
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:11-13 ESV)
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:5-9 ESV)
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2 ESV)
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV)