“As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” — Romans 10:11-13, NIV
Have you ever felt guilty about something that happened or had feelings of shame? Many people struggle with feeling guilt and shame. As Christians, we are not condemned or hopeless when we feel ashamed. The Bible has a lot to say about these topics that can bring us understanding and comfort as we fight against shame and guilt.
What Is the Difference Between Shame and Guilt?
“‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’” — Isaiah 1:18, NIV
Although they have some resemblances and may be confused, shame and guilt are not the same thing. Oftentimes, shame and guilt can come when we look at our past sins and mistakes. It is important that we understand each distinct feeling and how we should respond when they arise.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” — Romans 8:1, NIV
Guilt is a feeling that we get when we believe we did something wrong.1 Guilt can usually be pinpointed to a specific event, mistake or sin.
There are times when guilt can be beneficial to us. It can lead to repentance and seeking forgiveness from those we may have hurt. For example, say someone is cheating people out of their money in a dishonest way, guilt can cause them to repent and choose to stop deceiving people and take another path.
However, there may also be times when guilt can be hurtful. If someone feels guilty for something they are not responsible for, this can be damaging. For instance, say someone felt guilty because they were not able to keep a local store from going out business. This is a negative example of guilt because it doesn’t relate directly to one’s actions and this situation is out of their control.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” — 2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV
Shame does not relate to a specific action but rather our self-esteem and how we see ourselves.1 Shame can develop from our guilt and be caused by how we feel about something we did, but it is not about that event in particular but us as a person.
Unlike with guilt, which can be beneficial and lead to change, shame can keep us trapped in our past or in things we cannot change. As Christians, we do not have to live in shame. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, we are new creations in Christ. We do not have to carry shame with us.
Galatians 3:26 says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” God’s love for us is so great, He calls us His children. Shame is not who we are. God defines who we are.
Overcoming Shame and Guilt
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” — 1 John 1:9, NIV
Overcoming shame and guilt is possible with Christ’s help. He has paid the price for our sins, even the worst sins that cause us to feel guilt and shame. 1 John 1:9 says when we confess our sins, he forgives us and purifies us. This means we do not need to let shame and guilt control us. Rather, we can embrace forgiveness and our identity and worth in Christ.
Here are a few helpful tools we have in the battle against shame and guilt:
- Prayer: When we are stuck in the cycle of guilt and shame, we can go to God in prayer. He can provide us with peace that we cannot attain on our own. Even when we do not see it, He is at work in our lives.
- God’s Word: If we are struggling to have confidence in the forgiveness we have been given, we can turn to Scripture and read the many passages God’s Word has about salvation, forgiveness and assurance.
- Other People: We may also want to seek outside counsel, such as a loved one, mentor, mental health professional, etc., if we need wisdom on how to reduce toxic shame or guilt and change any destructive behaviors we may have.
- Dwelling on Truth: Philippians 4:8 tells us to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable and praiseworthy. We can choose to dwell on what we know is true, such as God tells us about our value in the Bible. We may also want to reduce things around us that invoke feelings of shame. For example, taking time off social media or switching up our routine can be beneficial.
A Change of Heart
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” — Psalm 51:10, NIV
Shame and guilt can take root in our hearts and lives. At times, they may feel inescapable. However, it takes a change of heart to overcome these challenges and God is the one with the power to transform us. We do not have to count on our own abilities or power but can rely on His.
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1Retrieved from Verywell Mind, Dealing With Shame When You Have BPD in August 2022.
Approved by the Global Outreach Coordinator of The Department of Spiritual Life on Aug. 30, 2022.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.