By Anne O’Donnell
This overview is intended to provide for Christians a simple and condensed version of an otherwise lengthy and detailed subject.
The enemy of our soul wants nothing more than to annihilate our discernment of God’s reasons for correcting us in our wrong-doing, and will blind our eyes to make us feel worthless. He has perfected his strategy of burying us in hopelessness so we give up trusting God.
Guilt traps a person inside the judgments of the accuser, while conviction frees a person so he has another chance to prove his love for God. It is imperative the believer fully understand the scriptures as they relate to the difference between guilt and conviction.
A guilty person recognizes a violation has taken place and their conscience feels the sting of failure with no escape. Guilt leaves you with the revelation of an error, offense, sin, or wrong-doing with no hope of redemption.
Oftentimes people will stay in guilt because their hearts are too hardened and they don’t care how their repeated offenses affect their relationship with God, or, for the more humble of heart, they believe their offense was so great that God will never forgive them. Guilt exists because one has done something forbidden or failed in an obligation. Guilt leaves you stuck.
The opposite occurs with conviction: it reveals an error or wrong-doing, then opens up the light of truth and provides a way out of shame and condemnation. It offers forgiveness, redemption, salvation, and freedom in Jesus Christ. Conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit where a person is able to see himself as God sees them; guilty, defiled, and totally unable to save himself.
Conviction functions differently for the Christian and non-Christian. For the unbeliever, conviction reveals sinfulness, and is often ignored, whereas, conviction in the believer reveals sinfulness and results in repentance, confession, and cleansing.
Conviction is produced four ways; when the Holy Spirit brings our sin to the forefront of our thinking, when reading the Bible and we become aware of our shortcomings, when we listen to our conscience, and when we are caught by the law. Conviction of sin brings a person to the cross and shows the need for forgiveness.
It is often difficult to discern whether we are experiencing guilt or conviction because they both start the same way; both point out an error and cause an internal reaction.
Guilt leaves a person feeling stupid, unworthy, embarrassed, useless, overwhelmed with shame, as if they will never recover and never have anything good to offer. They may hide deeper in fear because the thought of reconciliation id never on their spiritual radar.
Conviction, on the other hand, not only reveals sin or error, but uses this revelation as a catalyst to spur a person on to rectify the wrong as their worship and obedience to God.
Guilt says you are wrong, and this happened because you are an idiot. No one will accept you now. Your character is garbage. You deserve what happens now.
Conviction says you are wrong, but you don’t have to stay stuck, there is a way to redeem the wrong. Conviction offers a ray of hope, because God’s love and forgiveness frees you once again, and offers another chance to prove your love for Him. When a believer repents, and forsakes the destructive path that leads to harm, he adopts a new way of thinking, brought on by God’s grace.
Simply put, guilt is from satan, conviction is from the Holy Spirit.
Anne O’Donnell is married with four grown children. She loves Jesus.