in Christian Living & Spiritual Disciplines

Guilt and Conviction Works for Good

A Means by which God Inclines Our Hearts to Him

When other people make you feel guilty about something you lack and some area of improvement; consider that they may have done you a favor. As we identify an area of our life as embarrassing, as we look at the ugliness of the shadows of our characters, our hearts become acutely aware of those areas we dislike and we are moved with desire to do something–make a change in our lives. This is one of the means by which God uses to sanctify us.

If you get mad, or desire to put distance between you and every person that upsets you, consider that you may be resisting the sanctifying work of God and that part of your path for growth includes coming to grips with the means that God uses to bring you close to Him.

God Confronts us with the Law

If you think that I’m wrong about guilt being a means by which God uses to draw us towards Himself, consider the law of God, which is both written on the hearts of all men (Rom 2:15), and written as the Ten Commandments of God. It is His desire that “through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20 ESV).  John Owen said it like this:

“[the] law hath commission from God to seize upon transgressors wherever it find them, and so bring them before his throne, where they are to plead for themselves. This is thy present case; the law hath found thee out, and before God it will bring thee”.1

As we ponder God’s law and become aware of sin, it should cause us to realize our needful state and cry out to Him for salvation. It should cause us to look towards Jesus Christ our Savior and our Shepherd as not only our solution to our guilt problem, but the solution to our lost ways. As Savior, he provides forgiveness of sins; as good shepherd, he lead us in the right direction.

God Uses People To Confront US

In the Old Testament God commonly sent prophets to warn the Israelites of the dangerous state of their souls. The New Testament is filled with exhortations to rebuke and reprove one another. This is another one of God’s appointed means to not only keep His children from straying off course (Heb 3:12–13), but to complete the good work which he started (Rom 8:28, Phil 1:6).

Recognize God’s Agent of Change

People are not perfect, and you may genuinely have an accuser that is only set on destroying your character; but there are often cases where a person who loves you expresses their dissatisfaction with your weakness and is concerned with genuine improvement of your character.

For example, there have been times that my words have maddened other people. My wife commented that if I really care about the other person, I would be more careful so that they do not become angry. In other words, I need to learn to grow in my dealing and communicating with other people. I need to learn how to love others more genuinely and with more care.

Do Not Defend Against Good

In the above situation, I could have defended myself. I could claim that although the words I chose made someone mad, I spoke the truth. I could claim that I didn’t say anything that was wrong. That it’s the other person’s problem if they become angry. I could point out the other person’s anger issues. Those could all be true or they could all be false—but I would be missing the opportunity to soberly assess my own behavior, and I would be missing an opportunity to grow godly character. Consider the outcome, my wife is trying to help me become a more loving and godly person—is that really something I should be defending myself against! Of course not!

So in all cases such as this, if a person who loves you desires for some good to be produced in you, consider that this person may be sent by God, as the means by which God would produce good.

Defend Yourself For Good

Knowing that the other person could part of God’s ordained plan to work for you good, it can be beneficial to defend your position. We all have strongholds in our mind where we believe we are right about things. It is important to flesh out our thinking by defending our position. I’m not talking about a defensiveness for the sake of being right and being pridefully victorious in an argument. I’m talking about being defensive for the purpose of promoting understanding.

The other person may need to understand why you think the way you do; but more importantly, you may need to understand why you should not think the way you do. By fleshing out your thinking, by talking about how you think you are so right and they are so wrong, you may more acutely discover the truth and learn something about yourself that you may never learn otherwise.

So this type of defending is with a totally different attitude. It may start out with affirming the other persons position and concerns. Affirming the reality that things are broken, and you are not only in the midst of it, but partly responsible. It may include a humble sorrowfulness of the situation and a desire to improve things. In doing this, you may receive more counsel.

“Listen to counsel and accept discipline, That you may be wise the rest of your days” (Prov 19:20 NAS).

The Guilt that Inclines our Hearts

God provides real situations, so that the experience of the reality of sin and its consequences is in full living color. This is where the conviction, guilt or godly sorrow can weigh on the heart and effect real change. The apostle Paul described the process in the following passage:

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. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! (2 Cor 7:9-11)

The godly sorrow leads to repentance, but also lead to producing eagerness, earnestness, indignation, fear, longing, zeal. This works to incline our hearts to God’s will.

For the Christian, it is a serious mistake to simply consider yourself forgiven in Christ and so bypass this godly sorrow which helps to produce zeal and earnestness. Spurgeon rightly emphasizes the importance of not falling into this error:

“there is another mistake made by many, — that this sorrow for sin only happens once, — as a sort of squall, or a hurricane, or thunderstorm, that breaks over a man once, and then he is converted, and he talks about that experience all the rest of his life, but he has nothing more to do with it. Why, dear friends, there is nothing more erroneous than that. For myself, I freely confess that I have a very much greater sorrow for sin today than I had when I came to the Savior more than thirty years ago. I hate sin much more intensely now than I did when I was under conviction; I am sure I do. There are some things that I did not know to be sin then, that I do know to be sin now, and therefore I strive to be rid of them. I have a much keener sense of the vileness of my own heart now than I had when first I came to Christ, and I think that many other believers here will say that it is the same with them. Sorrow for sin is a perpetual rain, a sweet, soft shower which, to a truly gracious man, lasts all his life long. He is always sorrowful that he has sinned. He is continually grieved that there should still be any sin remaining in him, and he will never leave off grieving till all that sin has gone”2

Do you lack zeal and earnestness that leads to an authentic godliness? Perhaps in your case, you have not worked to produce godly sorrow for sin. It is contrary to the natural man and our flesh to desire godly sorrow. We more naturally incline towards worldly sorrow over job, wealth, material things, status, and earthly comforts; but godly sorrow, over personal and private sin is the way by which God intends for us to gain a godly character.

What Does This Mean For Parents?

In closing, I would like to shift focus to parents and the importance of embracing this for parents. Parents have a special role of producing godly-sorrow in their children. Psychology today has an emphasis on building the self-esteem of children. The biblical idea of humility and godly sorrow is something that requires focusing on our sins and imperfections. This is contrary to the self-esteem mantra that is being preached by the psychologists. Be careful to listen to their advice—their worldly wisdom will not lead to building godly character.

The biblical idea of godly sorrow is something that children need to learn how to do properly; it is not something that comes naturally and it is something that can lead to despair and a sense of hopelessness if not coupled with forgiveness and reconciliation.

Children need to live the gospel, which includes the child’s rebellion, godly sorrow for sin, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Parents can assist in producing godly sorrow in our children through chastisement, discussion of wrong-doings, exposition of scripture in relation to their wrong, and withholding of privileges.

We have been practicing this at home with our children and I’ll admit that we do not do this perfectly. Sometimes we are quick to simply chastise without going deeper into producing godly sorrow; however, when done right, the child can learn to be truly sorrowful in a godly way and not simply have a legalistic view of righteousness. Furthermore, forgiveness and reconciliation can be some of the sweetest and best times that produce deep lasting peace and joy in the home. And more importantly, we desire our children to recognize their sinfulness and their need for the Savior in order to bring them closer to a loving God who became a man, and died for their sins.


1. John Owen, The Works of John Owen Vol. 6, John Owen’s works on temptation and sin stem from his pastoral concern for the church in England., ed. W. H. Goold (Edinburg: T&T Clark, 1616), 57.
2. Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons: Volume 46 (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), Sermon #2691 titled “Sorrow and Sorrow”.

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  1. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) says:


    Great Post!  However I am curious how you would reconcile God’s sovereignty with our ability to resist grace.  You say in your first paragraph:

    “If you get mad, or desire to put distance between you and every person that upsets you, consider that you may be resisting the sanctifying work of God and that part of your path for growth includes coming to grips with the means that God uses to bring you close to Him.”

    Doesn’t this presuppose our ability to respond differently to the circumstances?  Wouldn’t this mean we have some sort of will that is not determined by God?  This would in no way lessen God’s sovereignty if he’s in control of the circumstances.  He could use his knowledge of how you would react in certain circumstances and choose to actualize those circumstances even though he knows you will not act in accordance to his purposes in those circumstances.  He could use this in his purpose of conforming you to the likeness of his Son.  He could be molding you by making you suffer certain consequences (that you brought on yourself by your free response) in order incline your heart to his will for the next time, you find yourself in the same set of circumstances.
    Let me know what you think.

    P.S. Let’s do dinner, when is a good time for you?

  2. Rob says:

    The reality is we didn’t choose differently, so in a very practical way, we did not demonstrate the ability to choose differently.

    Think about the law of God, and how it shows us the standard by which we are measured. When we fail, the purpose is to show the standard of righteousness and show that we have fallen short. And certainly, we should repent of our failures, receive forgiveness through Christ and strive to sin no more.

    But the purpose is not to show that we are able to do it or that there was an alternative possibility where we were capable of doing it. It’s somewhat out of the context of the Bible to talk in such hypothetical realms of possibility. When we fail, we show that we couldn’t do it and we are in need of a Savior.

  3. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) says:

    I agree,  the purpose is not to show us it could have acted differently.  If anything I have learned that apart from Christ I am a failure, but In Christ I am a champ through him and his ability.  These situations teach us to rely on Christ all the time every minute of the day.

    What I was trying to show, is that in everyday situations we presuppose that we have free interaction with God.  That we have the ability to walk in the spirit of Christ and overcome, or to walk in the flesh and fail.  We are not mere puppets.

    Jesus talked in hypothetical realms of possibility, and so did Paul and others.  I got this stuff from the bible.

  4. Rob says:

    I don’t see where there is a necessary jump to being a puppet if you make the only choice you ever would have made. Sure, there are insignificant possibilities like whether to move my hand up or down right now. But when we are talking about God’s sovereign plan for my life, there is a definite direction that only He knows. He’s prepared it before hand for us to walk in it. He’s predestined things to occur and our choices that we make are not a mystery to God. From God’s perspective there is only one choice that we will make according to His purposes. There is a real sense in which we are not able to make the other choice. How can you thwart the plans and purposes of God? You cannot. So we are unable to make choices that are contrary to what God has purposed to occur.

  5. Rob says:

    It might be valuable to add that the inability to make the other choice is not necessarily God’s direct spiritual or supernatural restriction of our will or freedom. The inability to make the other choice could be due to the bondage to sin, and the heart inclination to sin.





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