Shame Versus Guilt
Shame and guilt are often used in conjunction with one another and we frequently think of them as being synonymous. They are not. When it comes to our spiritual journey, we need to know the difference between these words and how they impact our lives. Guilt is a positive human emotion, shame on the other hand can be debilitating. Have you experienced this in your life? I have. I invite you to read more.
In last week’s 4th Day Letter, Judas Regrets But Peter Repents I said that “Judas’ pride and ego got the best of him.” One reader, whose name is Paul, received my email and responded by sending me the following message.
“Brian, there is something powerful in looking deeper into why Judas hung himself and Peter was forgiven. I don’t feel it was Judas’ pride or ego that led him. I feel it was shame which is evil and the devil in our lives. Could you dig deeper into that element of the story in your next letter?”
Thank you Paul. Your email prompted me to go back and add the word shame to my message. Today I will attempt to address shame and compare and contrast it to guilt. In last week’s article, both Peter and Judas experienced the emotion of guilt. The difference was shame. The shame that Judas felt over betraying Jesus led him to take his own life. So just what is the difference? How do these two emotions impact you?
According to the dictionary guilt is “an awareness of having done wrong.” Shame is “a negative emotion that combines feelings of dishonor, unworthiness, and embarrassment.” One psychoanalyst stated it this way: “The experience of shame is directly about the self, which is the focus of evaluation. In guilt, the self is not the central object of negative evaluation, but rather the thing done is the focus.” The book Facing Shame states it this way: “While guilt is a painful feeling of regret and responsibility for one’s actions, shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a person.”
Perhaps, in an over simplification, a person who feels guilt is saying, “I did something bad,” while someone who feels shame is saying, “I am bad.” Guilt often drives someone to repentance while shame can drive them to despair. Said differently, guilt can drive us to God, while shame often drives us away from Him.
Allow me to put this in the form of an example. Let’s assume that you stole something. You might feel guilty whether or not you get caught. However, if you get caught by the police and you are charged with a crime you would most likely feel the shame of wondering what your family and your friends now think about you.
In summary, our guilt might lead us to a conversion, while our shame might lead us to believe that God’s mercy and forgiveness are not possible for us. Shame often causes someone to see themselves as the sum of their worst habits. God does not see us this way.
After seeing how Judas reacted to his shame we must all be on guard against the destructive forces of our own shame. Our shame can wall us into a very dark place, a place so dark that we can’t see the light of Christ. Jesus came for the lost. We only need to turn back to Him. Jesus longs to forgive us and to restore us and to call us co-heirs to His Father. No matter what we have done in the past, we must look forward. We should all find comfort and reprieve from our shame in the following verses.
Colossians 1:21-22 “And you who once were alienated and hostile in mind because of evil deeds he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through his death, to present you holy, without blemish, and irreproachable before him.”
Ezekiel 33:11: “I swear I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”
Philippians 3:13–14: ”Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.’
Romans 8:1: “Hence, now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Psalm 103:12 “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us.”
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
John 1:12 tells us: “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God”
My faith is in Jesus Christ; therefore, I no longer allow the shame of my past sins to hinder my walk with the Lord. I now embrace guilt much like a compass to tell me when I am heading in the wrong direction. My fervent prayer is this: May God set us all free from any shame that binds us and prevents us from the joy that He longs for us to experience in this life and the next.Heavenly Father I thank you for your gifts of forgiveness, mercy and grace. Please keep me safe from despair and always close to you. Amen.
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- Choosing To Be Orphans - June 4, 2023
- Competing Voices - May 28, 2023
- Sharing His Kingship - May 21, 2023
I still believe that Judas may have been saved by Christ’ blood on the cross. For only God knows how sorry Judas’s heart was before he hanged himself.
We do know that God’s love is unconditional, so we can say for certain that God never stopped loving Judas. As for His salvation, only God knows what was in Judas heart after his betrayal of Jesus. We know that no sin is bigger than God’s mercy if we are repentant.
Thanks for your post.
I rather recently had a personal epiphany about guilt and shame. We often times equate guilt and shame with judgement and punishment, and indeed the fruits of continued sin very well may be. But it suddenly occurred to me that I was less afraid of punishment than I was afraid of disappointing God.
When you realize that the result of our sin is disappointment to the Father, as if having done something your parent doesn’t approve of and feeling guilty because you know they will be disappointed, but not angry.
It puts a whole new meaning to repentance. It changes repentance from an act of fear, to an act of love.
Brian, great insights on guilt and shame. One of the hardest parts to forgiving myself after sin is to accept the fact that God still loves me. It is a battle on each and every occasion. Receiving fortification such as reading this invaluable insights on this subject aid in giving me the confidence I will need to handle all future sin with these beliefs in mind.
Thank you for your post. I think we are always harder on ourselves and less forgiving of ourselves than what God is. We torture ourselves sometimes, God does not. We are blessed!
Thanks, Brian! On the heels of a very meaningful Confession yesterday that lightened my guilt over negativity toward events and people in my church/school communities, your words help clarify my guilt from any shame I may have felt. Peace to you.
Thank you for writing and sharing your personal experience. I love to see posts like this from readers.
The healing Mercy of God is freely given for all, we just have to be receptive to receive the gift and then live accordingly. We have all fallen short but he is always there to pick us up! The greatest shame comes in not receiving God’s mercy! We are weak but he is strong.
Great writing, easy to understand, and good point!
Thank you for your kind remarks