Conviction vs. Guilt: Is there a difference?

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).


16 thoughts on “Conviction vs. Guilt: Is there a difference?

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  1. Only because without some healthy questions this understanding of guilt and conviction will not go as deep as it needs to. Here is one question and this is posed to spur deep pondering. When Jesus said this – “He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” MATTHEW 10:38
    Does this produce guilt, conviction or something else?


    1. The Cross that is mentioned here, I believe is speaking of something a little different. Carrying the cross daily, to me is a constant laying down of our own agendas and desires to follow Him. But deciding to do this, means being convicted and convinced that Christ is the only worthy goal in life. His burden is light, but His cross is heavy.

      I hope that answers your question.

      Love ya Seth!


      1. yeah I like that answer. Another thought I was thinking about today is there are times that a message or a phrase in the Bible or something someone says hits me in a heavy way. I believe that conviction shows us our true condition or the true condition of the old man / false self. We then have a choice to turn to Christ as our hope, our answer, our life. Guilt seems to do the same but tends to lead us to turn to our own strength in hopes to change ourselves. The same word could be brought to someone and one person is convicted seeing that a part of there life is not yielding to His Lordship and thus turn to Him in faith, submission and obedience. The other may receive that word and feel guilty of not measuring up and either drawback or try even harder to perfect themselves. And I believe as you have pointed out that without a revelation of Christ we are hopelessly bound to religious efforts to try and please God. But with the revelation of Christ we gladly yield to and cooperate with His life, His Spirit in us and make changes in obedience with the desire to please Him in all things, the One we love more than life itself.
        When it comes to an unbeliever I think there is a need to know that first they are guilty before God but then convicted in the sense that they need Him and thus repent by turning to Him. Your thoughts?


  2. Well helped me greatly…I’m dealing with a situation right now where I’m concerned for a fellow Christian who is into stoic philosophy instead of allowing Christ to monitor his life…this post will help in my dealings with him…thanks


  3. I really like the way you broke this down. You made it very clear for me to understand the difference between the two; guilt and conviction. Thank you for writing this article.


  4. Thank you Michael Young, this is a great article. For me Christ has been a gentle leader, leading me by conviction after conviction via the Holy Spirit. Convictions to stop doing what’s wrong and start doing things that are right. As opposed to those worldly influences that, like you said “stuffed down your throat” things like, stop swearing, eating, go to church, and so on. Things maybe we should agree with, but the intent causes guilt. Love it!


  5. Thanks so much brother, I needed this!

    The Lord is such a good Shepherd…I saw on Facebook that you put out this blog post a few days ago but I didn’t read it. This weekend I encountered a situation that made this post applicable to me. Today the Lord reminded me of the title of this post and prompted me to read it. If I would have read it when you first posted it I would have enjoyed it, but since I read it today it ministered to be and blessed me greatly. Thank you Jesus for being the Head and thank you Michael for being the part of the body that you are!


    1. I had something similar happen the other day. I read a Psalm first thing in the morning and had some thoughts, but I didn’t tell anyone about them. Then an hour later, Jamal Jivanjee posted an article about the same Psalm and had the exact same thoughts.

      We are connected in ways we don’t fully understand.

      Thanks for commenting, brother.


  6. It is a great article, though. It touches my heart. I’ve been at times where I have hatred towards other people, and seldom been guilty with it. Until then I realize that it is not worth it. So thanks, brother!

    By the way, would you like to visit this website of mine?


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