Guilt, Shame, and Grace

By on October 27, 2011

woman with head bowedBy Susan Lawrence –

When a person changes and follows the Lord, guilt and shame is taken away. The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Our faces, then, are not covered. We all show the Lord’s glory, and we are being changed to be like him. This change in us brings ever greater glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:16-18).

There is freedom from guilt and shame – freedom in God to uncover our faces and not be ashamed but show God’s glory. Freedom in vulnerability. Freedom to become like Him. Freedom in Him.

We need to know the difference between godly and ungodly guilt. Let’s not assume all guilt is bad or all guilt is healthy. Cling to what’s true. Guilt is the emotion that indicates you’ve done something wrong. Godly guilt = the real conviction that you’re in disobedience to God’s will. Godly guilt is true guilt.

On the other hand, we can experience guilt when there hasn’t actually been an offense or wrongdoing. This is false guilt, and it is not godly. False guilt can play a huge part in our lives. “If only…” “I wish I had…” “I should have…” might spark some burdensome guilt for you. You can probably even justify there was offense or wrongdoing because if you had done one thing differently, the situation would have changed. If you had just taken time to talk. If you hadn’t been mad. If you’d done it yourself. The list is endless. Yes, your choices have consequences, but God is big and powerful, and you do not have the power you think you do if you believe you caused something to happen when there was actually no offense or wrongdoing involved. See it through God’s eyes, not your own. He has a better view.

We also experience false guilt in “little things.” We forgot to call someone. We didn’t go to the family reunion. We missed an important day at work because of a sick child. We missed staying home with a child because we had an important meeting at work. Pick a situation – any situation – and you can feel guilty about it.

I’m not saying there isn’t validity in experiencing guilt in some of these circumstances, but you have to get to the bottom of the decisions that you make and how they compare to God’s will. Is there an offense or wrongdoing God is convicting you of? Your guilt, in the context of his correction, is real and should motivate you to change, reconcile, or whatever “next step” he guides you through toward reconciliation and growth. But if there’s no offense or wrongdoing except the ones you’re creating, you might be experiencing false guilt, and it’s time to label it for what it is and move on.

What about shame? Shame is a deep sense of dishonor, disappointment, or condemnation. When shame comes from God, it always involves something we’ve done that is contrary to his will and separates us from God. It’s deep, heavy and sorrowful.

Ungodly, or false, shame is usually self-driven. We imagined we’ve done something dishonoring, disappointing or condemning. In relation to God, we presume his reaction to us without asking him for his reaction. We’re so disappointed in ourselves that we imagine we’ve dishonored him. Perhaps we’ve disappointed him, but we need to allow God to shame what we’ve done, not shame ourselves before we’ve lifted our faces to God to receive his reaction.

The biggest difference between godly and ungodly shame is while true shame focuses on something we’ve done, false shame focuses on who we are. Instead of our choice, action, or attitude being condemned, we think we’re condemned. We can easily give up hope. We feel worthless, useless, and unloved. Those feelings don’t come from God. Satan loves when you get tangled up in a mess of guilt and shame. When you’re tangled in false guilt and shame, your eyes aren’t on God. When you’re not focused on God, you’re not fulfilling the purpose he has for you. Guilt and shame easily multiply.

Godly guilt and shame are always temporary, never chronic. Godly guilt and shame are productive, not destructive. Godly guilt and shame draw you closer to God, not distance you. When we regularly live with false guilt and shame, it affects our dignity and our hope. It’s corrodes our joy. We don’t need to stay in a place of guilt and shame. God gives us grace. We can receive God’s grace even when we don’t deserve it. We still sweat it out, because we have to sacrifice ourselves in order to place ourselves in God’s hands and receive his grace. We have to let go of our god of self-sufficiency to grab onto the God of all sufficiency.

Shame invites us into grace.

Let’s accept the invitation.

Excerpted from Pure Emotion (2011), Susan Lawrence’s second Bible study for women. Susan has a passion for pouring into women through writing, speaking, and training, inspiring women to seek God’s purpose, and grow in purposeful and healthy ways. She’s a Women’s Ministry Consultant who has developed resources and coordinated trainings and networking for international ministries and denominations. Get to know her better and check out her Bible studies – Pure Purpose and Pure Emotion – and more at http://purepurposebook.wordpress.com/.

About Susan Lawrence

Susan Lawrence has a passion for pouring into women through writing, speaking, and training, inspiring women to seek God’s purpose, and grow in purposeful and healthy ways. She’s a Women’s Ministry Consultant who has developed resources and coordinated trainings and networking for international ministries and denominations. Get to know her better and check out her Bible studies – Pure Purpose and Pure Emotion – and more at http://purepurposebook.wordpress.com/.

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Guilt, Shame, and Grace