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Guilt vs. Conviction

I still remember this experience like it was yesterday...  Only it was 51 years ago...

Sitting in Mrs. Teagarten's kindergarten classroom inside old Main Street School, the sun streaming through the large windows casting a cheerful glow into the library corner made up of  a cubby of  low bookshelves filled with books.  I was sitting on the floor in the library corner with my classmates reading the book I picked out.

Mrs. Teagarten signaled the end of reading time and everyone put their books neatly back in their spots, except for me...  {That was Mrs. Teagarten's rule - all books were to be placed NEATLY back on the shelf at the end of reading time...} For some reason, I left mine on the floor.  Not out of defiance of rules, but probably because I was in a hurry to get back to my seat.

We were all sitting at our assigned tables when Mrs. Teagarten asked "Which of you left the book on the floor?"  I knew it was me!  I panicked and didn't say a word.  She asked again.  I stayed quiet.  At this point all the other students were looking around.  She then asked a third time, but with a warning, "If the student who left the book on the floor does not take responsibility, the whole class will be punished and will not go out for recess, but will sit quietly at their desks instead."  I STILL didn't say anything!  I allowed my whole class to be punished for something I did!

Yes, I felt guilty, but I was more afraid of the shame of coming forward.

A circumstance like that certainly warrants feelings of guilt.  I broke the rules and my whole class was punished for what I did.

There are many things that a person can do that should make them feel guilty.

But there are times, that guilt can be misplaced and damaging, especially in a Believer's life...


"Definition. The meaning usually given to the word "guilt" in Christian circles today bears little relation to the biblical meaning. Recent Christian interest in the subject focuses on its psychological dimension, analyzing the causes (and cures) of the sense of guilt, which is deep-seated in all of us and paralyzes the lives of some. It would seem to be easy to distinguish between this subjective sense of debt, which may be fed by groundless fears, and the objective guilt of sinners before God, with which the Bible is concerned."

Hebrew noun asam means guilt or guilt offering.  So an asam is a debt for which we must make amends.

The New Testament has no need for a word equivalent to asam because we do not need to pay. The Son of Man gives his life as a "ransom for many" ( Mark 10:45 ), paying our indebtedness for us.
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

How often do we as Believers allow Satan, the accuser, to fill our heads with feelings of guilt?  Groundless fears that have no merit because the blood of Jesus has removed our sins as far as the East is from the West.  Jesus paid our debt in full.

Once we have given our lives to Christ, it does not mean that we won't fall into temptation or not sin.

The Apostle Paul says,   "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate...   For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing."

But then the Apostle Paul offers us our great Hope,   "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?   Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

The Apostle Paul is not saying here that we shouldn't take responsibility for our actions or that there is no cause to repent, but He is reminding us that there was only One perfect person, Jesus Christ, who imputed His righteousness onto us through His death and resurrection.

Satan, however,  wants us to feel unmerited guilt to render us ineffective for the Kingdom of God.  Like a person who slips up on their diet and then says, "What's the use, I might as well keep on eating, I'll never lose weight..."  Satan's goal is for us to say, "What's the use, I might as well keep on sinning, I'll never be good enough for God anyway..."

So what is the difference between Guilt vs. Conviction?  Is conviction another tool of Satan's?

Absolutely not!  


"But what exactly do we mean by the term conviction? Conviction means “the act or process of convincing,” “the state of being convinced,” or “a fixed or strong belief.” Thus, by biblical conviction we mean convictions or beliefs derived from and based on a commitment to Scripture, the Bible. As God’s Holy Word, it is the absolute index for the whole of our lives—faith and practice.

Conviction refers to the state of being convinced and confident that something is true; it means a strong persuasion or belief. In other words, conviction stands opposed to doubt and skepticism. When we think of a man of conviction, we also think in terms of action and direction. We think of a person whose convictions have a definite impact on how he lives, on what he does, says, and where he goes. By a man of biblical convictions we mean a man whose convictions are derived from Scripture and whose convictions affect him scripturally.

Biblical conviction is really the product of three things that characterize the ideal Christian leader or the person of maturity: (a) a commitment to Scripture as one’s authority, (b) the construction of specific beliefs and convictions based on that authority, and (c) the courage to act on those convictions in faith." on Biblical Conviction

Conviction is the healthy means by which the Holy Spirit redirects us through the authority of Scripture.  We then place our focus on  God's Holy Word and Christ's atonement.  We don't focus on self and what we aren't doing or haven't done, but on Christ and His working through us.

"See here the office of the Spirit, first to reprove, or to convince. Convincing work is the Spirit's work; he can do it effectually, and none but he. It is the method the Holy Spirit takes, first to convince, and then to comfort."
Matthew Henry Commentary

By spending time in God's Word and memorizing Scripture, we will truly know and understand our Lord and Savior.  In so doing, God's many Truths will drown out Satan's guilt declaring lies, and those lies will no longer have a hold on us.

The Comforter declares us innocent and as such, will bring to our remembrance God's precious commands and promises, gently leading us, whispering this is the Way walk in it.

But I have called you friends, 
because everything I have learned from My Father 
I have made known to you.
John 15:15b

I wrote this post preaching to myself.  I've been thinking a lot about Martin Luther before he nailed the 95 Theses to the door.  The Martin Luther who was constantly plagued by guilt.  The Martin Luther before he found freedom in Christ.

Thinking...  I HAVE ALREADY FOUND FREEDOM IN CHRIST! Why am I allowing myself to feel guilty at the end of the day when I haven't prayed enough, read my Bible enough or served at church enough?

And yet, if I am going to hop on the guilt train, why don't I feel as guilty when I'm short-tempered, gossipy, disrespectful to my husband, vain, etc., etc...

 Reading a June morning devotion from Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening Devotional recently, I found the answers to my pressing questions.  The words ministered to me... A healing balm of conviction, redirecting my heart and mind to Christ and Christ alone, Who though my sins past, present and future were as scarlet, washed them white as snow.

I hope these words of Charles Spurgeon will bring comfort and encouragement to anyone else out there who find themselves consumed by feelings of misplaced guilt.

"It is ever the Holy Spirit's work to turn our eyes away from self to Jesus; but Satan's work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ. He insinuates, "Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you will never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of his children; you have such a wavering hold of Jesus." All these are thoughts about self, and we shall never find comfort or assurance by looking within. But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that "Christ is all in all." Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee--it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee--it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument--it is Christ's blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith. We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by "looking unto Jesus." Keep thine eye simply on him; let his death, his sufferings, his merits, his glories, his intercession, be fresh upon thy mind; when thou wakest in the morning look to him; when thou liest down at night look to him. Oh! let not thy hopes or fears come between thee and Jesus; follow hard after him, and he will never fail thee.

"My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus' blood and righteousness:

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus' name."

May we all see ourselves as our Heavenly Father sees us,  innocent children, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

By internalizing that visual, we will walk more uprightly in the freedom of Christ.

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  1. Oh, dear friend! This is something I have struggled with my entire life. I grew up in a very legalistic church with such hard demands. I felt that God was just up there waiting for a justifiable reason to reach down and cut me off. When that is so deeply ingrained into a person, it is VERY hard to ever come out from under that bondage and mindset, even as an adult who should have it all together by now. I struggle to this day. This post was a real encouragement to me, and I loved the devotional you included by Charles Spurgeon. I think that is the key! To look at JESUS, and not at ourselves. This will take a renewing of the mind, because this is against the norm and what we have been taught. Thank you for always encouraging me and challenging me when I come by here. You are a precious blessing to me and the blogging community. Sending you love and gratitude!!!

    1. Hi Cheryl! I very much agree. The second church I attended was very legalistic. It seemed like every sermon left you with the impression, "I must not be saved..." It became quite oppressive.

      I'm so glad you were as encouraged by the post as I was when writing it as the Lord led me.

      It's so true. It really is a renewing of the mind. We don't usually think of renewal of the mind in those terms.

      Thank you so much for sharing your heart here. I so very much appreciate you and your friendship.

      I can't wait to hear what the Lord has been doing in your family as you embark on this new adventure.

      With much love,

  2. I think we've all been guilty of not answering when we know we were the guilty party. Great post. We are neighbors at Testimony Tuesday this week.

    1. Tara, I'm sure that is true.

      Thank you so much for your kind words.

      So glad you were my neighbor at Testimony Tuesday.


  3. I believe the Holy Spirit always exalts Christ. In other words, as you said, He puts our minds on what He has done for us. The world, the flesh and the devil focus on our shortcomings. Knowing the difference has helped me when I feel condemned. I love that Romans 8:1 follows Romans 7!

    1. Very well said Debbie!

      Thank you for participating in the conversation.

      I appreciate it!

  4. I think there is a great confusion about guilt and conviction among believers. Guilt can linger and hang onto us for years, but conviction by the HS is specific and targeted. Once we deal with our wrongdoing, God fully restores us. The enemy will continue to raise up those old feelings, but we can accept God's pardon and move on with Him in freedom. Thanks!

    1. Karen, Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on Guilt vs. Conviction. You have added great insights to this post. :-)


  5. Reading your post Teagarten's kindergarten mind fresh!


    1. Luky, Thanks for taking the time to comment. :-)

  6. How vivid your memory from Kindergarten and immediately, one came to my mind from long ago. Satan surely likes to keep those things up front for pressing into us when he needs us to turn away form Christ. Thank you, Karen, for this most excellent lesson. Guilt has played a huge part in my life and breaking away from it has been so very difficult, yet Christ guides me each and every day as I lean into Him. Thank you.

    1. It really was vivid. It left such an impression on me. But your insight into how Satan likes to dredge that up is sadly true.

      Thank you for sharing your own story.

      Praising God that we have Him as our Redeemer who will never leave us or forsake us.

  7. Karen, I've never given these two words a look side-by-side as you have here, and what an enlightening exercise! I especially appreciate your account of Martin Luther's experience of finding grace!

    1. Michele, I'm glad you found this word study enlightening. :-)

      Martin Luther's experience certainly does epitomize grace.

      Thanks so much for your kind comments. I appreciate them! :-)

  8. Good thoughts and thank you so much for sharing.Charles Spurgeon's words are right on! Christ alone saves us, not we ourselves. Visiting from Give Me Grace:Lisha Epperson. Have a blessed week!

    1. Becky, You are very welcome. :-)

      I always appreciate Charles Spurgeon's insights and this particular one is so encouraging. Indeed, only Christ alone saves us.

      So happy you stopped by!

      You too!

  9. This is so insightful! I've learned to see conviction as a true gift of grace, because it's an invitation to restore our relationship with the Father. Thank you for sharing with us at Grace & Truth!

    1. Jennifer, Thank you for your kind words.

      I LOVED your insight that conviction is a true gift of grace.

      You are welcome.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here. :-)

  10. Great post, and the clarity between conviction and guilt:)

    1. Thank you Crystal! :-)

      I'm so glad you stopped by!

  11. I think there is an incredible perplexity about blame and conviction among adherents. Blame can wait and cling to us for quite a long time, yet conviction by the HS is particular and focused on. When we manage our wrongdoing

    1. Seema, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts here on blame and conviction.

      Blessings to you.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing information, please keep sharing...

    Girls PG in Noida


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