A contribution to Being Salt + Light.
You’ve felt it- that crippling sense of guilt. Guilt is a heavy and heartbreaking burden to carry. But friends, what is the difference between conviction and guilt? How do we make a distinction between the two and remove the feelings of turmoil that guilt brings into our lives?
Let’s begin with conviction. What is it?
John the apostle tells us, “when He [the Holy Spirit] comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). Conviction based on God’s revelation brings awareness to our shortcomings and sins. When we fall short, conviction takes action, and it is three-fold: 1. God reveals our sin through His word, 2. God shows us how to repent and walk in righteousness, and 3. We change and turn away from our sin. Conviction is a crucial step in God’s plan of forgiveness.
Paul states in 2 Corinthians 7: 9-10, “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” An example of this Godly grief is seen in Psalm 51. Nathan the prophet had come to David after his sin with Bathsheba. Instead of wallowing in his guilt, David acted on his conviction and poured his heart out to God, praying “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51: 10).
So how does conviction differ from guilt?
Simply stated, guilt occurs when we feel that we’ve done something wrong. These feelings of wrongdoing may or may not be accurate. Living in this broken state of guilt leads to discouragement, and it adversely affects our relationship with the Lord. Guilt tells us that we are not worthy, and it makes us feel inadequate to approach the throne of God in prayer. Often, guilt convinces us that we need to “fix” things ourselves, when the grace of God is the only way (1 Timothy 1:12-17).
Conviction occurs when we feel that we’ve done something right or wrong based on revelation. Conviction can be a source of comfort and encouragement, whereas, guilt alone can never be helpful. When we’ve done wrong, conviction based on scripture has our solution built-in. Sisters, by God’s gift of grace, we don’t have to live under the heaviness of guilt. When we act upon our convictions that are rooted in God’s word, our sins are wiped away.
What if I’m experiencing feelings of guilt, but it does not stem from sin?
This is incredibly common, so don’t feel alone. It’s important to note that sometimes, feelings of guilt stem from things that have nothing to do with what the Lord expects from us. The causes of this type of guilt may vary, but a few examples might include worldly comparisons, the expectations of others, perfectionism, or taking ownership of problems that are not ours to solve. This type of guilt might be rooted in social media and other technology, trying to live up to all of the expectations of our culture, or even trying to meet the expectations of people we love.
Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. Most have scrolled through Facebook and Instagram, seeing the perfectly showcased homes, organic meals, expertly organized activities, and the seemingly “perfect” lives of others and felt a sense of guilt for not measuring up. It’s also possible that the people or culture around us have built expectations that reach beyond what God has clearly revealed to us in His Word. Sisters, there is no rest in competition or in the appeasement of others. No one can live with this type of guilt and thrive. Please remember that standards built by men are not God’s standards.
God’s Plan for the Guilty
God has a plan for us to live a joyful and guilt-free life, and He has revealed it to us in completion. Jesus has always been the answer. The Gospel changes us and frees us from our debt when we humbly bow in submission. We should feel no guilt when living our lives for the Lord. If you are feeling Godly grief, follow your convictions and act with a repentant heart! However, if your feelings of guilt are not rooted in God’s Word, sisters, give it to God in prayer.