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22 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.

  5. Luke please expand the following thoughts: “We weren’t meant to live in a world of pain and sin. We are destined to a world without pain.” The question I want to ask: If this is the case, why is it that our Lord Jesus Christ suffered, died on this our earth, and that He has spoken, “My Kingdom is not of this world”. Please expand the meaning of chasm: “Between the rich man and the beggar there is a chasm, one cannot cross.”

    • Good questions, Jennifer.

      1. When I say we weren’t meant to live in a world of pain and sin, I am referring to our original design. We were created in a garden without the stain of sin, pain, death, or shame.

      2. When I say that we are destined to live in a world without pain, I am referring to the new world Jesus is going to recreate when he returns (Revelation 21-22). When Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” He is using the word “world” in the sense of “the world system” with all its sinful values. The word “world” (Greek kosmos) is used many different ways in the Bible, similar to how English words can have different definitions based on the context. Jesus’ kingdom is not built on the values of this world as we know it, but when He returns to renew the earth and resurrect the dead, this world will be fully transformed into His kingdom.

      3. I’m not sure what the chasm in Jesus’ parable has to do with this topic, but I’ll answer as best I can. The chasm is a gulf between those who go to place of rest at Abraham’s side and those who go to Hades. There is debate among theologians about the location of this place of rest.

  6. Yes. All yes’s!!. There is good guilt. Bad guilt. In my listening of myself & others there is good guilt and bad guilt.I could have done better., I chose not to. (Good guilt) No prior knowledge of choice, yet a bad thing happened. (Powerless bad guilt..i could not have stopped it)
    Shame is the same. Good shame and bad shame. Examples: Feeling ashamed in the eyes of Jesus is (bad shame)…..for he bestows mercy constantly God does not make junk”. Good shame……similar to guilt. I cheated on me. I went and done wrong on me, where I knew better!!

  7. I just finished the book, Daring Greatly, and the author makes the distinction , shame= I am a bad person, and guilt = I did a bad thing. If you believe in original sin, then both are true. If not, why would we need a crucified Christ?

  8. Wow you nailed it! It is the very truth of these things that move us to repentance and into a full relationship with God.

  9. This is my experience: After gearing the Gospel and being invited to say the sinner’s prayer I was told I was a child of God hence ” saved”. However after attending a Bible believing and teaching church for about a year I would hear of how one’s life would change . I could not relate to the applications of what was considered ” victories ” To me sin was nothing but spilled milk and there was no crying over it. it was only after understanding that my anger had not been considered si when acted upon it that I realised that acknowledging anger and being ashamed of sinful outbursts
    was not the same. I also realised that there is a difference between conviction from the Holy Spirit is good because it exposes the dirt in the house and then the next step is that of gladly asking His help to clean it up and not dirty things up again as opposite to being under condemnation which worsens my condition by making me want to lie to myself some more as well as to others.
    When I realised that I had lied to myself and God about my anger problem I felt the kind of shame that drew me out of my self deceit to the light and hope of the Gospel. For this reason I do not understand how some people do not use shame to improve themselves when confrontations take place. Aren’t confrontations necessary to help us see what we are really like so we can own up to
    Our condition and through repentance for our self deceit, with God’s help, we can begin to put off
    I have a problem with someone who might want me to believe that they are saved and that I am responsible for forgiving their admitted immorality but who have never shown any display of shame
    both at the time of salvation nor anytime thereafter. Please help me sort this out!! I feel caught between a rock and a hard place on this issue and I am asking God to send me some help.
    Could it be you?!! – ( I gave sought help many times already from many sources but I am not satisfied ) Thank you!!!
    Their immorality ( which I should by God’s standards )
    and let us God show us what to put on?!!

    • HI Luisa – it is difficult when we don’t see any remorse to know for sure. But, it’s not up to us to force people to feel a certain way. I often remember Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” I do my part, which is to forgive (70×7 times if I have to), and then turn them over to God. It might have been shame that helped point you back to repentance and God, but how He might work in them, whether by shame or some other mechanism, is up to Him.

      Covenant Eyes

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