The Real Reason behind the Scrupulous One’s Obsession with Sin: Blog #20
Constantly plagued with the fear of committing sin and of falling short, the scrupulous person enjoys no peace. How can such a one ever find freedom from such torment? Knowing the root cause of our fear and anxiety is invaluable to getting well. Otherwise we don’t really fully understand why we fear sin so much. It is vital to get a revelation of the sound doctrine and to become convinced of it: We are right with God not because of our perfect performance and self-righteousness but through saving faith in Jesus Christ. It is a whole new covenant. A whole new way of living. A whole new righteousness from what was previously prescribed (faith vs. law). It makes it much easier to get well when we know exactly what is at the source of our torment. And, that way, we know what we really need to repent of and renounce in order to get lasting victory. The root cause of our fear and anxiety needs to be fully exposed and brought to light so that we can efficiently deal with it and experience permanent freedom.
The reason why the scrupulous person is so obsessed with sin and morals is because he believes his salvation is dependent upon his being able to be sinless and morally perfect in thoughts, deeds and actions at all times. He fears that any one given committed (or perceived) sin makes him worthy of hell if not dealt with promptly and on time. Every day, he frets over sin for fear that he might die before he has had the time to confess a sin or for some, before he has had the time to make things right through compulsions or rituals. Sin is a real threat to him. Hence the fear, double-mindedness, doubts and the thorough quest of the scrupulous one to find out whether he is in sin, whether what he is doing is sinful and whether there is hidden sins in his life. I remember being tormented with the “system” of confession; I feared that if I didn’t have time to confess one sin before I died, I would end up in hell as a result. Confessing my sins had become a law to me. After all, doesn’t the Bible teach us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (see 1 John 1:9)? I began to realize through in-depth study of Scriptures that Christ in me was my hope of glory (see Col. 1:27), and my hope was not my perfect performance or my carefully ensuring that not one sin went unnoticed. God was to be my keeper (see Psalm 121:5) and He would let me know if there was something in my life in need of change. Of course, we need to confess and turn from known sins, but not legalistically out of fear of going to hell if we don’t. Instead, we confess our sins and turn from them out of intimacy with and love for God and yes, out of reverential fear of the Lord. But there is a difference between reverential fear and the spirit of fear. The latter isn’t of God (see 2 Timothy 1:7). The Bible says that God hasn’t given us the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the Spirit of adoption by which we cry Abba! Father! (See Rom. 8:15). We now can approach God as our heavenly Father through Christ, not as a perfectionistic and merciless judge.
The scrupulous individual’s salvation depends on his ability not to sin and/or on his ability to make acceptable atonement for his sin (through confession, rituals or compulsions). This is the law. This is old covenant. However the Bible states that the law doesn’t rest on faith (see Gal. 3:10-14). This is a scary thing given that the Word of God tells us that only faith in Christ Jesus can save us (see Rom. 5:1, Rom. 10:9, Eph. 2:8-9, Phil.3:9 and Gal. 2:16). The law is powerless to save us from our sins and it can’t make anyone morally perfect. In fact, the law strengthens sin (see 1 Cor. 15:56). Legalism has the appearance of godliness, but it denies the very power of Christ and Christ crucified. Legalism obscures the reality of Christ crucified. Someone bound with legalism finds it hard to understand what Jesus’ work at Calvary means to them and to their right standing with God. Legalism is very deceptive because it has an appearance of godliness. After all, what’s wrong with trying hard not to sin? It appears very pious and righteous. However, not so before God because the scrupulous person’s effort not to sin stems from rebellion, unbelief and pride. There, the legalist has placed his trust in the law (any law) and in his own ability to meet it somehow. Again, the Bible says that we are made right with God through faith in Christ. And the beautiful thing is once we receive the free gift of righteousness through faith in Jesus, we are empowered to live righteously, from glory to glory. We cannot produce what we don’t have. So we are made righteous freely first and then we are enabled to produce righteousness. We must be made right through faith first. And there, we are changed from the inside out.
The ironic thing is what the scrupulous individual fears the most has come upon him. His sinful reliance on self and on a law along with his faithless motivation behind trying hard not to sin and be righteous (the motivation being to avoid hell and go to heaven) is what earns him a ticket to hell. And why is that so? It is because deep down, His faith and reliance isn’t in and on Jesus but in and on his own self-righteousness. He tries to be perfect and sinless in order to save himself or to stay saved. He no longer trusts in Christ’s work at the cross for his salvation. He has fallen from grace.
“If you seek to be justified anddeclared righteous andto be given a right standing with God through the Law, you are brought to nothing andso separated (severed) from Christ. You have fallen away from grace (from God’s gracious favor and unmerited blessing).”―Galatians 5:4 AMPC
And because such a one is trying to earn his salvation through perfect performance and his own ability to do everything right, he will never measure up to God’s righteous standard for holiness. We can’t save ourselves. Jesus is our only hope. The Bible clearly says that there is only one way to heaven and that is through saving faith in Christ. The legalist has switched his allegiance to a law and someway, somehow, he must comply with it perfectly at all times. What labor! What heavy burden! He submits to the law (any law, or any moral law) and no longer to Christ. And there he keeps control over his life. This is legalism. There is no mercy under the law dear one. Grace is our only hope. At the root of legalism (scrupulosity) is rebellion (see Galatians 3:1 KJV), doubt and unbelief (i.e. not trusting in the finished work of Christ) and pride (if one can earn it, one can boast, but not so before God; see Eph. 2:8-9). Ritualism and compulsions performed in order to temporarily appease or reduce anxiety and in order to cancel or pay for sin is pure legalism; relying on rituals, works and self-effort to earn forgiveness and righteousness. God despises self-righteousness and works of the flesh.
As born-again Christians, we pursue righteousness out of love for God, love for righteousness and out of a hate for sin. We serve God because we are saved, not in order to get or stay saved. The driving force of our pursuit for holiness shouldn’t be a fear of going to hell. If this is our motivation, then we have turned from Christ to the law and we need to repent and come back to Christ. We also need to revisit our foundational belief system and doctrine.
Lastly, the legalist lacks a revelation of the real and intimate love of God for him personally. He needs a deep revelation of God’s love and he needs to receive that love by faith if he wants to get well.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.] Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls. For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good—not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne.”―Matthew 11:28-30 AMPC
Be encouraged dear one, there is hope! There isa way out.