Friday, December 1, 2023

Two Kinds of Guilt

By: Lauren Thomas 

Whether or not you have a “past,” as a Christian, you’ll probably deal with guilt from time to time. Guilt can be healthy and helpful. But it can also be toxic and debilitating. In order to know what to do with feelings of guilt, it’s important to distinguish between the types of guilt.


Healthy/Helpful Guilt


For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

2 Corinthians 7:10 (ESV)


The word translated “grief” in this verse comes from a Greek word that means “pain of body or mind, grief, sorrow” (retrieved from Based on experience, that definition sounds a lot like “guilt” to me. 


Guilt that we experience as a result of wrongdoing is actually helpful in that it motivates us to not commit that specific wrong again. Similar to the idea we see in 2 Corinthians 7:10, the right kind of guilt should lead us toward repentance, and it results in salvation and no regrets.


Regrets. That sounds like more guilt! Healthy guilt pushes us toward healthy change and should bring an end to our guilt. Not an endless cycle of guilt.


Healthy guilt is similar to the helpful conviction of the Holy Spirit regarding sin and righteousness: 


Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:

John 16:7-8 (ESV)


Jesus, on the night of His betrayal, spoke of the work of the Holy Spirit. He called the Spirit, “Helper” and noted that conviction was a method He would use to help us. When we experience feelings of conviction, they can be a blessing from God! He loves us enough to redirect us when we get off track. Again, the end result isn’t guilt, regret, or condemnation, but grace and reconciliation!


Unhelpful/Toxic Guilt

  1. “Worldly Sorrow.” If you look again at 2 Corinthians 7:10, there is a worldly grief that leads to death. Guilt that doesn’t lead to change results in spiritual death. But if you have made changes and still feel guilt, we have to wonder, where is it coming from?
  2. “False Accusation.” The Accuser is another name for our Enemy (see Revelation 12:9-10). He wants to use guilt to distract, deceive, and destroy you. 
  3. “Manipulative guilt.” When people use guilt to manipulate you, it is not healthy nor helpful. Some have been the victims of manipulation for so long that they don’t know how to not feel guilty. This creates a cycle of unhealthy patterns that are hard to break free of. If that’s you, I am deeply sorry. Consider implementing healthy boundaries and seeking Christian counseling*. 
  4. “False Guilt.” Sometimes we feel guilty because of sin that was committed against us. When guilt arises from things that were done to you, it is easy to feel that this was your fault. But the real guilt belongs to the one who hurt you. Again, I would ask you to consider seeking Christian counseling from someone who specializes in trauma*. 

My prayer is that you would be able to distinguish between types of guilt. Stop by next Friday for some ideas on handling guilt!



Are you surprised to think that guilt can be healthy and helpful?

Are you able to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy guilt in your life? 

Can you think of a time your guilt was healthy? It’s easy to generalize all guilt as bad, but it isn’t always bad!

*Information in this blog post is not intended to replace diagnosis or treatment of mental health. 

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