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10 thoughts on “Guilt vs. Shame: Why Definitions Matter

  1. A very helpful post, Luke. For some time I have been dissatisfied with the popular definitions of guilt and shame in the recovery community. Thanks for pointing to a sound, biblical understanding of these useful terms.

    • Thanks, Mark. I think it is so important to be accurate about this, especially because guilt and shame are experiences that are so close to the heart of the cross. If we preach that Jesus took our shame and guilt, we need to know exactly what it is that he took. This is vital.

  2. Thank you! Recently, I was discussing the idea of shame and guilt with a fellow Christian. The other person felt that guilt and shame were biblically the same thing and that both were negative because of Christ’s redeeming grace. Your blog gives another helpful perspective.
    Please keep writing…blessings!

    • Thanks, Rose. Yes, it is clear from the Bible that shame and guilt are meant to be vehicles to move us toward grace. Persistent guilt and shame, despite belief in the gospel and repentance, is not healthy, but guilt and shame in an of themselves are necessary in a world full of sin.

      It is like the pain we feel when we touch a hot stove: The pain itself is a signal to move your hand, and is therefore a good thing. But the pain is also, in a sense, not the ideal. We weren’t meant to live in a world of pain and sin. We are destined for a world without pain. But in the meantime, pain is a necessary defense mechanism against hurting ourselves more.

  3. Good definitions. Also we must recognized the context in which the definitions are being used especially when working with believers who are survivors of sexual abuse. Although many have what I term a ” false guilt” the shame from how others view them and their perception is very real and often played out in congregations as survivors are unconsciously relegated to a status of second class Christian because of the abuse. Just sharing my experience and the reality of what often can take place. Treated and abandoned like criminals and reaping the effects although not really guilty and have nothing to be ashamed.
    Thank you.

    • Right. Just as there is shame vs. guilt, there is also healthy shame vs. false shame. It is right to feel shameful about an offense committed, because it pushes us toward reconciliation. It is not good to feel shame about an evil done to you as if you are the criminal.

  4. I am not a religious person. In fact I only made that decision in prison when all the people around me were turning to God. But I am very spiritual and I also think that you have hit the nail on the head in this article. I hope more people see this and heed this before they have stepped over the line too much to be even bothered about guilt and shame. I am telling my story so that people do take notice.

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