Unmet Expectations: Guilt vs Shame

Daniel: “I’m not really even sure how to explain it.  I just feel like I had some relationships before my marriage that got kind of wild.”

Friend: “Wild?”

Daniel: “You know…intimately.”

Friend: “You mean you had sex with somebody else before you married Jacqui?”

Daniel: “No, of course not.  I mean…well, sort of.”

Friend: “Sort of?”

Daniel: “Well, there was this one relationship I had, and like I said, things got pretty wild.  We couldn’t keep our hands off of each other.  We never really went ‘all the way’, but we did engage in some oral delights – if you know what I mean?”

Friend: “I think I get the picture.  And for the record, ‘oral delights’ is very much like going ‘all the way’.

Daniel: “Yes, yes.  I get that now.  But I didn’t then.”

Friend: “What do you mean you get that now?”

Daniel: “I mean I have a whole lot of regrets from that relationship.  Memories I wish I didn’t have.  Like I cheated on Jacqui, even though I hadn’t even met her yet.  Anyway, the other day Jacqui asked me how I felt about oral sex.  And the truth is, I can’t bring myself to do it.  Too much baggage from that ‘other’ relationship I had, you know?”

Friend: “Daniel, that was years ago!”

Daniel:  “I know, I know it was.  I just can’t shake this feeling.  I know what I did in that other relationship was wrong, and I don’t want to do anything now to bring those memories to the surface.  I feel so guilty.”

Friend: “You mean ashamed?”

Daniel:  “No, I mean guilty.  Or maybe it is ashamed.  Honestly, I don’t even know.”


Guilt vs. Shame.  It’s kind of difficult to differentiate between them isn’t it?

Many people wrestle through feelings of guilt.

Maybe they didn’t believe what the Bible says about sex.

Maybe they didn’t believe their pastor.

Maybe they didn’t grow up in church.

Maybe they went too far in a past relationship.

Maybe many past relationships.

Maybe they didn’t fully understand sex.

Maybe they didn’t believe sex would have long-term consequences.

Whatever the reason, today they struggle deeply with decisions from their past.  The guilt overwhelms them.  It’s so powerful that they will do everything possible to not drudge up those memories from their past.

If any of this resonates with you at all, there’s something very important you need to understand.  Guilt and shame are different.  Very different.  Let’s take a brief look at the two and see what the Bible has to say.  If you’re not much into the Bible, we would like to encourage you to keep reading anyway.  Maybe, just maybe the conclusion will help you with any struggles you may have in this area.

In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul writes about specific people who will not inherit the kingdom of God.  It’s pretty hard-hitting stuff.  First on the list, sexual immorality.  Our guess is that people like Daniel read verses such as this one and remember a college relationship or a one night stand.  Whatever it is, the guilt may seem overwhelming at times.

But if you keep reading, verse 11 reads: “And some of you used to be like this.  But you were washed, you were sanctified,  you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

For all who are Christians, there are 3 key words in this passage.

1)  Washed.

2) Sanctified.

3) Justified.

For the sake of brevity, we’re going to focus only on #3, justified.

This simple, nine letter word has a whole lot of meaning in the Christian life.  When reading through the Bible, some may see this word and know it must be important, but brush it off as ‘churchy’.  Don’t get us wrong, it is a ‘churchy’ word, but it’s one that is vital to understand.

“Justified” is sometimes defined as “Just as if I’d never sinned.”  See the correlation there?  Justified = Just as if I’d never sinned.

But it can also be understood a little bit differently.  It could also be defined as “not guilty.”  Now we’re getting somewhere, aren’t we?

Let’s look at this way.  You’ve done something wrong in the past.  Like we wrote above, maybe you went too far in a relationship a long, long time ago.  Whatever it was, you’ve been feeling guilty about it.  But here, right in the Bible, it says you’ve been declared not guilty.  It says Jesus has set you free from that sin.  It says that he’s done all the work.  It says that He has been crucified. He has died.  He has been raised. He has set you free. He has declared you not guilty.

So what is it that you’ve been feeling?  It’s not guilt, it’s shame.  And there’s one major difference between the two.  Guilt brings you back to God.  Guilt brings you back to grace.  Guilt brings you back to right relationship with Him.

Shame, on the other hand, shame leads you away from God.  Shame leads you to hide from Him.

We see an example of this in the Bible as well.  During Creation, God commands Adam and Eve to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  What do they do?  They eat it.  Shortly afterward, they discover that they’re naked.  Not only that, but they see nakedness as a bad thing.  They know they’ve done something wrong.  But they don’t necessarily feel guilty, they feel ashamed.  So what do they do?  They hide from God.

Genesis 3:8-10 – Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze,  and they hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  So the LORD God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

And he said, “I heard You  in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”

Shame always leads to hiding from God.  Always.  And hiding from God means you don’t regularly experience His grace.  Hiding from God means you don’t regularly experience His love.  And if you’re not experiencing His love, you can’t love others, or your spouse they way He loves you.

In the marriage relationship, you have an opportunity to love your spouse the same way Jesus loves the church.  You have an opportunity to love your spouse in the same way “love” is defined in 1 Corinthians 13.  But in order to live this out, you have to drop any shame.  You have to stop hiding from God.  You have to accept and receive His love.

His love is patient.

His love is kind.

His love does not envy.

His love does not act improperly.

His love does not keep a record of wrongs.

Did you catch that?  He’s declared you ‘not guilty’.  He’s not keeping a record of wrongs.  If anybody’s keeping a record, it’s you.

Understanding the difference between guilt and shame can radically transform every part of your life.  It doesn’t just impact your marriage, it will impact all areas of life.  With that said, let’s think about how this can impact your marriage.

You may be experiencing tremendous shame from something you’ve done in the past.  Maybe it was sexual.  Maybe it wasn’t.  Whatever it was, this shame is having a negative impact on your marriage.  It’s impacting your intimacy.  It’s impacting your communication.  And most of all, your shame is impacting your ability to fully love your spouse.

We know your greatest desire is to love your spouse to the fullest.  So, take the opportunity to evaluate your life.  Is there any shame, any shame at all that may be hindering your marriage?  Are you ashamed of anything from your past?  Are you ashamed of your spouse or their past in any way?

After identifying these areas, take the opportunity to openly communicate to God.

Talk with Him.

Let Him know your desire is to stop hiding.

Experience His love.

And start living the life He has called you to live.

    Now these three remain:
faith, hope,  and love.
But the greatest of these is love.


This is part 5 in a series on Unmet Expectations.  Read through the rest of the series here:

Unmet Expectations: Introduction

Unmet Expectations: Rewriting Your Story

Unmet Expectations: Orgasmic Conflict

Unmet Expectations: Better Than The Best

Unmet Expectations: Guilt vs. Shame

Unmet Expectations: Quality Time

Unmet Expectations: Holidays & Family Time

Unmet Expectations: Friends Outside of Marriage


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