Guilt or Shame?
What’s the Difference?
We had completed a successful ministry session just a week ago, but Susan continued to say how dirty she felt every time she “let God down” by not doing everything perfectly. Many of the things she was reporting were not really sin. They were unhealed attitudes about herself. And frankly, some of them made sense for her protection. It struck me that she was not suffering from guilt, but from shame.
Do you know the difference? She didn’t, nor do most people I minister to. Here’s my definition, which has helped to set a number of people free:
Guilt is about what you have done.
Shame is about who you are.
So, what difference does that make? All the difference in the world!
You see, guilt is related to true sin. A violation of God’s commandments. And so, I am guilty. But the good news is that the antidote to guilt has already been provided for us by the cross of Christ. When we are guilty, we simply confess our sin, repent, and receive forgiveness.
Shame, on the other hand, requires a different remedy. Since shame is about who I am rather than what I did, the critical test is whether this self-assessment is biblical truth. God has already provided his assessment of who I am throughout Scripture. If my assessment differs from his, guess who’s wrong? For example, he says I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14). Who am I to assert anything different? I need to rein in those thoughts and make them conform to what God says about me (2 Cor. 10:4-5). If I don’t, that is sin. Then I am guilty of unbelief. But if I accept God’s assessment of me, then I have dealt effectively with shame.
Now here’s the secret. Shame is empowered by an evil spirit and is often very resistant to leaving. It will argue and double down, repeatedly reminding me how terrible I am. But if I declare and repeat God’s truth regularly, every 37 seconds (or every time the feeling returns), it’s only a matter of time before the negative feelings leave and are replaced with Truth. In my experience, it takes about a month to feel better if I’m diligent in refusing to accept the lie while applying the Truth.
So, give it a try.
Conquer guilt by confessing and repenting.
Conquer shame by appropriating God’s truth and rejecting Satan’s lies.
Let me know how it works for you.