Conviction vs. Guilt: Is there a difference?

Posted on July 30, 2013


Conviction and guilt often get placed into the same basket, along with shame. But do they belong together? I don’t think they do.

Guilt is a method of control, no matter what form it may take. It is used by people to convince or drive people into doing, being, or saying what they think is right. Think about it. A person comes to you and says, “You need to quit eating processed food! It is killing your body. Every time I see you eating something unhealthy, I’m going to say something about it.”

For many of us, if this were said by a particular person in your life–friend, relative, mentor–then it would have a real impact on you. But instead of you being given the freedom to make that decision, it gets placed on your shoulders and becomes someone else’s decision. That is control at its very root.

But what about conviction?

Conviction is a strong word that gets thrown around the church and internet like candy on Halloween. It’s lost its very substance, its actual definition and meaning. Still to this day when I hear this word, a certain negative association comes along with it. Oh boy, here we go again. Bring on the shame and anxiety!

But true conviction doesn’t lead to shame like guilt does. Conviction leads to a change in spirit, attitude, demeanor. It’s an internal change, not an external positioning (like guilt).

Conviction is a choice and a freedom to make your own decision. the happy sad face1

So our previous food situation would look more proper like this: “I don’t personally eat processed foods. After doing my research I decided to try a better diet. It has worked wonders for me! That energy deficiency you were telling me about may be caused by your diet. But that’s for you to decide.”

At this point you are able to consider what is said much more thoroughly, instead of it being stuffed down your throat–you get the chance to taste, eat, slice it up and digest it. This causes an internal change. That is what conviction looks like, even with the Lord.

When a person places guilt on you, the following emotions are likely to follow:

  • Shame
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Passivity
  • “Stuck”

These are all caused because now you feel as though you’re supposed to be living up to a certain standard; a Godly man/woman, a better Christian, a more effective evangelist, etc. But Christ never intended us to live up to our own standards. He intended us to live by His Life. So-called “moral standards” will precede from that.

When Christ uses conviction, it comes from within. It can come from a multitude of places and sources. It may come from a simple thought out of nowhere. It could come from something a person you know said or explained (in the proper way).

So conviction leads to the following:

  • Action
  • Peace
  • Transformation from within
  • An organic change in attitude/demeanor
  • Accomplishment
  • Satisfaction

The difference is astounding! When I’m convicted, I get this certain energetic peace about me and the topic or behavior. I’m instantly lead into action, but it’s not a force that I’m producing. Its something that is coming from within. But when guilt is placed upon me, I feel nervous, angst, mindful of what others think of me, and usually I become frozen–sometimes the problem being addressed gets worse. I see that I’m not doing what I’m “supposed” to be doing as a Christ follower. It only gets worse if you have a blog or platform. I can only imagine how pastors must feel!

Simply put,

Conviction leads to action and change.

Guilt leads to shame and procrastination.

I hope that the heart of this post will be delivered to the heart of everyone that reads it. It’s my intention and hope that anyone suffering from a guilt-driven religion would be awakened to Christ’s rest. When I did (and it’s still a journey), my life changed dramatically. The sin in my life I worked so hard to rid myself of, simply melted off. I didn’t even realize it was gone until months later! My attitude towards Christ and other relationships (especially other Christians) did a complete 180. What a difference it makes to the unbelievers around you whom Christ wishes to reach! This, I believe, is true repentance.

Remember, repentance is a change of mind, not a change in behavior (though it leads to that).


Posted in: Spiritual Living