The Difference Between Guilt and Conviction

Guilt n
1. the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, esp. against moral or penal law 2. a feeling of remorse and responsibility for some offense, crime, wrong, etc.

Guilt only leaves you with the revelation of an error, offense, wrong or sin with no hope of redemption, but only with the despair of condemnation. (Leviticus 5:17, Psalm 38:4, 2 Corinthians 2:7)

Conviction n
1. a fixed or firm belief, 2. the act of convincing of error, or of compelling the admission of a truth; confutation (the act of proving an error, defect or wrong).

Conviction reveals an error, offense, wrong or sin, then opens the light of truth and provides a way out of shame and condemnation, and offers forgiveness, redemption, salvation and freedom in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:1-2, 1 Corinthians 10:13).

"As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death."
~2 Corinthians 7:9-10, ESV

It's often difficult to discern whether or not we're experiencing guilt (worldly sorrow) or conviction (godly sorrow) over a mistake we’ve made or a sin we've committed. One reason this is so confusing is because they both start the same way. Both guilt and conviction point out a sin. But after this similarity, they take very different paths. Guilt reveals a sin then makes a person feel stupid, useless, overwhelmed with shame and causes a person to feel as if they will never recover from this and will never have anything good to offer to anyone ever again. This causes a person to either spiral into deep depression or for those who fight back, extreme pride in the attempt to self-justify the error or sin committed. And nothing good ever comes from this, only destructive behavior that continues to bring a wedge between a person and their reconciliation (for unbelievers) or intimacy (for believers) with God. Conviction on the other hand, not only reveals an error or sin, but uses this revelation as a catalyst to spur a person on toward love and good deeds.

Guilt says, "You're wrong" or "You've sinned", and follows with a barrage of : "This happened because you're a complete idiot! No one will ever accept you if they find out so you better act like it never happened and keep it to yourself! Forget ever trying anything again because you will always fail and it will be more humiliating next time! You deserve whatever happens to you, so don’t bother asking for forgiveness because you don’t’ deserve it!"

Conviction says, "You're wrong" or "You've sinned", then offers a ray of hope with, "You've committed a sin, now repent and ask God for forgiveness, ask those you’ve sinned against for forgiveness (Luke 15:18-20) and seek God’s counsel (1 Kings 22:5, Isaiah 28:29, Proverbs 3:5-6, Proverbs 21:2). Repent (Matthew 3:8, 2 Corinthians 7:10), and forsake this path and embrace God's way of thinking (Romans 12:2) and doing things by reading God's word (Psalm 1:2-3) and seeking counsel and prayer from more mature Christians (Psalm 1:1; James 3:13, 17)." If you've truly repented  you'll have a great desire to immediately make amends with those you've hurt (Luke 19:5-8).

To help keep you from falling for the same temptations:
  • Prepare/train yourself to recognize this temptation and run from it next time (James 4:7-8, Ephesians 5:15, 2 Corinthians 2:11, 1 Timothy 4:7, Hebrews 5:14)
  • Share your story so you can help others from suffering the same consequences; point them to Christ (James 5:16, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, James 4:17).

Simply put, guilt is from Satan and conviction is from the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).

My hope and prayer is that none of God's children and those seeking the Lord with a pure and humble heart, suffer from guilt, but instead, rejoices in the conviction of the truth of Christ and new life found only in Him.