The guilt-ridden conscience―the chronic fear to sin, to be evil, or that what one is doing or not doing might be sinful or morally wrong.
Scrupulosity is a tormenting inner state where there is no rest for the soul―where an unmerciful and dreaded verdict is heard over and over again: “guilty!” The only safe place for the scrupulous one is the place of moral and/or religious perfection. But the scrupulous person wonders with fear: “Is what I am doing right now sinful?” “Is my performance good enough?” “Have I done enough?” “Is my work good enough?” “Am I praying enough?” “Should I fast longer or more frequently?” “I should be reading the Bible right now.” “Do I perform all of the church expectations perfectly?” “Are the words I speak the right ones?” “Am I representing Christ well enough?” “How about the morals I must comply with?” “What if I feel jealousy?” “And how about if I am not kind enough?” “How do I know whether I love others and if I love them enough?” “What happens if I lose my temper and don’t have time to confess it and die?” “I fear that I am evil, of the devil, of darkness.” “Did I really repent enough?” “Did God really hear me when I confessed my sin?” “How do I know for sure that I am forgiven?” “I feel condemned and guilty.” “I can just see God, disappointed in me. I can just see His frown.” “I am concerned I will end up in hell.” “I am trying God! I really want to do what’s right! I really want to make it in!”
Constantly plagued with the fear of committing sin and of falling short, the scrupulous person enjoys no peace. Is there a way out of this ever-doubting state, double-mindedness, and distressful inner turmoil? Yes, I can assure you that there is. Why can I be so sure? I am sure because a lot of what you just read above represents where I was a number of years ago. Really, the burden of my salvation rested on my shoulders. I had to somehow make sure that I kept up with all of the moral and religious expectations. Someway, somehow, I had to try really hard to be righteous if I wanted to remain saved. I had, through my own abilities, to comply with all of the righteous requirements necessary to make it in. But even those, I wasn’t really sure what they all were, not really. Because after all, what if I unknowingly didn’t comply with some? What if I missed one? What if I was unaware of some? How could I know all of the conditions and holy requisites needed to secure my salvation and entrance into heaven? What if my righteousness fell short of perfection? How could I measure my righteousness and know for sure I was good enough to make it in? What a lonely and self-centered place; trying to fight for my own safety and survival, alone. What an uncertain place. And what a troubling place.
I had reached such a catastrophic place that by the time I cried out to God back in 2011, I hadn’t slept for 3 or 4 days and I was experiencing numerous panic attacks, day and night. The anxiety I felt was extreme. But one day, while driving home from work, I cried out to God. Everything in me cried out. “God! What is wrong with me?” I knew He heard me. That night, praise be to God I was able to fall asleep. The Lord gave me two dreams in response to my cry. Both dreams led to the same diagnostic. Though what I was experiencing was classified as scrupulosity or religious OCD by the medical field, these are not the terms the Lord used. He went deeper. He touched the very root of my problem. If we only seek to get rid of the fruits, but won’t deal with the root, the root will always end up producing other branches and the unwanted fruits of fear, guilt and anxiety will reappear. We must deal with the core issue; we must deal with the root cause of our anxiety if we ever want the anxiety to go. Mind you, it may not happen overnight. I know it didn’t for me. But if we will persevere in the truth of God’s Word and in trusting God, it is only a matter of time until we begin to experience the long awaited relief from all of the fear, anxiety and torment associated with scrupulosity.
That night, our Heavenly Counselor revealed to me that the real core problem in my life was legalism. Legalism had grown to infect my entire life. My belief system was infected and my mind was totally corrupted as a result. The scary thing was my trying so hard to secure my salvation was the very thing that was robbing me of it. Through seeking to be justified by my own self-righteousness, my worst fear had come to pass. Galatians 5:1-6 (NKJV) accurately summarizes what the Lord showed me that night:
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.”
Through trying to earn my salvation by my own works and self-righteousness, I had fallen from grace. You see, we only have two options: Either we will seek to be made right with God through complying with moral and religious law, or we will seek to be made right with God freely through faith in Christ, but we can’t have both. We must choose the means by which we will obtain righteousness. Will it be through striving or by freely receiving? The first originates from pride, the other from godly humility. Hebrews 9:14 (NKJV) says: “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” The Blood of Christ is powerful enough to purge our conscience from guilt and condemnation so that we can be free to serve the Lord, not out of guilt and self-serving motives, but out of a love that springs forth out of a sincere faith, a clear conscience and a pure heart (see 1 Timothy 1:5). If we are under a constant sense of guilt and condemnation, it indicates we need to earnestly examine our core belief system. Somewhere in there, we believe our right standing with God depends on our works and self-righteousness. There can be no rest there. However, Hebrews 4:3a (NKJV) says: “For we who have believed do enter that rest.” If we are not experiencing rest, we must seriously ask ourselves those hard questions and be willing to face the truth and repent. Legalism is another gospel, not that there is another gospel.
I understand how troubling this blog may be to some of you. Your first reaction may be, “I should have never read this blog! I feel worse now!” Believe me, I felt the same way, too. Part of me thought, “God, how could you do this to me!” Yet, I would never have been free had I not known the truth. I needed to repent from submitting to the law and not to Christ. The law had come between Christ and I and all He wanted was for me to come home. God is quick to forgive. Simply come to Him and confess that you have switched your allegiance to the law and tell Him you are sorry and that you repent. He will forgive you immediately. From there, you will enter a journey of recovery from legalism with Jesus on your side, where, as you trust Him and place your hope in His Word, He will lead you out of legalism step by step. But remember, you will not come out of legalism the way you came in―your way out will be through reliance upon Him and His Word.
Be encouraged dear one, there is hope! There is a way out.
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”―Galatians 3:1-14 NKJV