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Dr. John & Company Blog

Guilt and Shame

June 9, 2023

“There is therefore now no condemnation
for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom.8:1, ESV)


There is a difference between guilt and shame. Failing to recognize the distinction leads to confusion or even despair. The distinction between guilt and shame is valid within our courts, relationships and souls. So, the matter is important in many aspects of living; family, friendships, church, and most of all, in our walk with God.

Guilt is a legal concept. It is declaration of an offence against law, morality or persons. It is not ambiguous; either we did the crime or did not. We may offer excuses before a judge for speeding, try to explain our playground actions in the principal’s office or complain in prayer that we had no other option, but there is no grey in guilt. The Bible declares that before God, we all are guilty. Each one of us has transgressed, and we have no means to erase it. Our only hope is the life and death of Jesus. Guilt cannot be resolved until it is atoned, forgiven and then released. Through faith, anyone can have their guilt reversed forever. This is an act of grace for us.

Shame is not a legal concept. It is not a declaration but a feeling. Shame is our emotional reaction when our guilt is known by others. We may sense judgement or condemnation from them, and we absorb their disappointment. Shame is the stigma of our failures. Shame is rooted in guilt, but it is not automatic. Some are guilty, but do not sense scandal. They flaunt their crimes with no sense of shame. Their ability to blush is broken. But that is not you. If I am not mistaken, many reading this do not dismiss their shame, in fact they wrestle with it. You may feel shame where there is no guilt.

Shame can be a sense of disappointment we project upon ourselves. We recall our guilt and despite being forgiven; we feel regret morphing into self-condemnation. We may project a public smile, but behind it is a scar of self-reproach. Even when kindness is extended our way, we may impute attitudes of distance or rejection towards that kindness. It is a struggle for us to feel forgiven. But forgiveness is not the issue; shame is. It is possible to be forgiven and still sense disgrace. The only answer to dis-grace is grace.

It is the love of God which forgives us in Christ. His grace has provided for our guilt. It is also His love which washes our shame. He loves us as we are; guilty and broken with repeated failings and unfulfilled intentions.

It is personal shame which convinces us that God is mad, or at least deeply disappointed with us. We may think that He forgives but then holds us at arm’s length. We feel the stain of sin where there is none. We are both forgiven and loved by our Lord. The proof is supported by His promise. Read afresh Romans 8:31-39. Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is found in Christ Jesus. The proof is evidenced by a parable. In Luke 15, we read of a son so overwhelmed by guilt and shame that he claims,

“I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (vs.21).

Now turn your attention from the son to the father. See him running, weeping, hugging, celebrating. The father’s heart overflows with love. We are prodigals who do not deny our fault. In hope, we’ve returned to the Father. By faith, your sins are buried at Calvary. Consider your shame buried as well. We are both forgiven and received in love. The Father is running towards you. Receive His embrace.

Scott Tolhurst

Scott Tolhurst

Scott and his wife have spent almost 50 years following God together through life, marriage and ministry. They’ve hop scotched across Canada and landed at the water’s edge on Vancouver Island. They’ve harvested the riches of family (5 grandkids!) and the delights of God’s people. Life has not always been clear but the fog has been pierced with these truths. The heart matters. Kingdom work is God’s. Nothing can replace faith. It never ceases to amaze Scott that, if his life is a gift, how great the Giver must be!


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