Guilt Versus Conviction
by Curt Klingeman
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The primary focus on the word guilt here is the emotion of inadequacy attached to it, and not so much the committing of an actual offence. Guilt is the unholy counterfeit of the conviction of the Holy Spirit, used to manipulate and impede one’s ability to function as a child of God.
The question that arises is: are the feelings of guilt always bad? The answer is unequivocally yes! As already stated, guilt is a counterfeit of conviction. Both effect the emotions, except guilt uses the emotions against the individual. On the other hand, conviction leads to repentance. Guilt drives a person farther away from God, not closer, and it leads to shame and condemnation. Conviction leads a person to repentance and draws him to God, because it’s the Holy Spirit doing the work, based on his love. There is no love in guilt. Its very core is manipulative and destructive. For example, guilt is used to get people to perform in a manner that is pleasing to its user. The only one who benefits is the one who employs it. There is no give or receive, it’s all take. Guilt is also used as a weapon of retaliation. One of the ways some individuals get back at others for wrongdoing is to make them feel guilty about what they did. They are not interested in repentance of the perpetrators; they just want them to pay. They want to have power over them, even to the point of making them grovel. Guilt is used to keep others at bay, or under their thumb. Before we play the Holy Spirit, we should consider that when we do, we are driving others away because we are imparting guilt instead of conviction. If, however, the Holy Spirit is speaking and working through us, our words and actions, or even our silence and inactions, will convict.
Conviction calls for change and humility answers the call. Guilt just holds on and makes one aware of one’s shortcomings. With guilt comes pride, and with pride rationalization. After all, guilt beholds to no one when pride is involved. Pride cannot receive forgiveness, whereas humility can and does. Even though the individual may hate the feelings of guilt, pride will not allow them to be washed away. The odd thing about guilt is that it is self-perpetuating. Since pride does not allow one to do things God’s way, those who feel guilty will seek to compensate for the feelings of guilt, in order to alleviate the dread of those feelings. They may seek to do good things to make up for feelings of inadequacy, trying to balance the scale. Unfortunately, the deeds are dead works, in that the motivation is impure. While the deeds may benefit another, the focus is still on the self (see 1Corinthians 13:1-3). For example, when one offends another, he employs the old “I’d feel better if you accept this peace offering” technique. It has nothing to do with how the other is negatively affected; it is more concerned with the guilt one is feeling. Conviction on the other hand is concerned with the pain caused to others. The remorse that is felt is based upon the fact that another has been hurt or offended. The desire is to restore and heal the other. A sign that one is operating by guilt or self-motivation can be discerned by simple statements, such as “I don’t want them to be mad at me.” As if others not being mad at them, somehow makes it okay. Pride will try to earn forgiveness of another, while humility asks and receives it. The former manipulates, while the later allows for free exercise, and takes the control out of the hands of the individual needing forgiveness. In the former, one can never do enough to alleviate the guilt, so the individual feels guilty about being unable to make up for it. There is still no assurance of forgiveness. Whereas in the later, when someone asks and receives forgiveness, guilt is no longer a factor. 1John 1:9 puts it very well, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (KJV).
Unfortunately, people often attempt to escape feelings of guilt by doing things that make them feel more guilt later. For example, how many have turned to drugs and alcohol in hopes of extinguishing the dread of guilt, only to wake up the next day feeling more trapped than ever. Adding insult to injury, they discover that in their stupor they committed some other crime and guilt increases. How many have sought to compensate by overeating or power shopping, only to feel the guilt about the overindulgence or for purchasing things they cannot afford with money they don’t have? The list goes on. Impulsiveness is sometimes a sign of compensation. Without true repentance, guilt perpetuates. Another case in point: some may have repented for wrongdoing, yet still feel guilty because they are planning to commit the same offence again. The repentance was the groveling over the remorse they felt as the result of the guilt. The groveling is used to show sincerity, when in reality there is none, as if somehow the groveling will make up for the offence. In some cases, because they simply got busted, they’ll say, “I’m sorry,” though in reality, they haven’t repented. When one feels guilty, perhaps it’s time for a reality check. Sometimes we really need to get honest with God and ourselves—“Am I repenting, or am I merely sorry?” Repentance is not merely a change of behavior; it is the change in the way one thinks. As a result, it will change the way one behaves. It is an issue of the heart.
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