Grace Not Works:

Praising God for Disgusting Thoughts,
Unwanted Fears, Worries and Feeling Unforgivable

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Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.

Kristina’s Testimony

I was born again at 16. I literally saw the light people see when they die and I knew it was Jesus. I had an amazing conversion from dead religion to an awesome journey of answered prayers – often answered to the very letter of my request. Not long after I was saved, however, while I was falling asleep, I was hit hard with the fear of the unforgivable sin. Before long I was terrified of my own thoughts. Disgusting things would plague my mind and I was petrified that I was beyond forgiveness. I had developed religious OCD (scrupulosity). I could not even have a normal conversation without stopping to “fix” a bad thought. I was a disaster. Tormented severely, I used to call prayer lines; fearing I had somehow committed the unforgivable sin. Pastors would say, “If you committed the unpardonable sin, you would not care about having done so.” I wanted to believe that, but I couldn’t. Instead of believing in Jesus’ power to forgive all sin, I wanted a peaceful feeling or something.

After going through a tortuous time during college I cried out to God continuously for help. I was tormented night and day. I literally wrote letters to God with cries for help. I thought I would end up in the looney farm. I could not see any way out. I specifically prayed that God would put a person in my life who had endured, and overcome, the same thing that was plaguing me. Three days later, I met a woman outside a hair salon. Anna told me that she struggled with the same thing, but was able to overcome it by grace. “Grace is just saying thank you to God,” she said

“Why am I suffering this?” I asked.

She replied, “God wants to teach you to receive grace.”

I was clueless as to what that meant. I had been caught up by legalism and thought I had to be perfect in my thoughts and words to be acceptable to God. I was missing the whole point of the cross. Two parables – the parable of the prodigal son and the parable of the sin-riddled tax collector who “went home justified before God” simply because he asked for mercy (Luke 18:10-14) – have finally helped me break free from the flawed thinking of trusting in my own performance. For both of these people, their only hope of restoration with God was God’s mercy alone – his faithfulness not theirs. And Jesus told these parables because God’s mercy always wins. I love the verse “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

I had not understood grace while I was tormented. I was very hard on myself. I thought God just wanted me to be perfect. In reality none of us can be perfect in our thoughts or behavior. That is why for all of us the cross is our only hope of right standing with God.

Even though initially I had trusted Christ to save me, the enemy had tried to get me to put my faith in myself instead of Christ. I had become like the Galatians that Paul wrote his letter to. They had started off with faith in Christ alone but, to Paul’s horror, they had slipped back into trying to gain God’s approval by their own efforts (Galatians 3:1-5). Like them, I had been duped into living under law instead of under grace. Martin Luther, John Bunyan, and St. Augustine also struggled with scrupulosity/OCD and learned this wonderful truth. Understanding grace is the only thing that provided real peace and rest for their souls. God’s grace and mercy are the only way out.

Grace is “undeserved favor.” How refreshing! It is truly good news. Grace provides rest. That’s what trusting in the cross alone does. Trusting in our own good works or good thoughts is putting ourselves under the law without realizing it. Legalism provides no hope or rest because we are all flawed – whether we realize it or not. Legalism is bad news. It puts all of the focus on us and our performance. Jesus paid our bill in full. It is finished! Jesus won all our battles! He slayed every giant we will ever face. That is grace! We can’t do it. That is why God did it by his own hand and it is why we must tell God, “I can’t save myself, but no matter how hopeless I am, you have done all it takes to save me completely.” His Word says so. That is why we can rejoice and give thanks in all circumstances. Even when bad thoughts come, we can praise God for them because an overcomer crown awaits us.

These are some of the Scriptures I had to keep holding on to, despite my fear about being unforgivable:

    John 6:37  . . . whoever comes to me I will never drive away.

    John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him [Despite all the turmoil going on inside me, my desire to come to Jesus is proof that God is drawing me to him.]

    Mark 10:26-27 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

    Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

The Lord also made me aware that before I could totally be free of the torment I needed to completely forgive others. Jesus’ parable talks about the unforgiving servant being handed over to torturers until the matter was resolved (Matthew 18:34). God has taught me to pray mercy on others first and then I can receive mercy. Through forgiving our enemies we become more like Christ.

Forgiving others is a choice, not a feeling. If we wrongly think that God is reluctant to forgive, we are likely to be reluctant to forgive. The positive side, however is that if we are willing to forgive others, it will reinforce in our mind how willing God – who is more loving than us – is to forgive us. I truly believe that by me holding on to bitterness I had let the enemy mess with my head.

Yes, forgiving everyone, including ourselves, is important. Give grace to yourself and others. If God can give you grace, why can’t you give it to yourself and others? Grace cannot be earned. It is a free gift, received only by those who know they can never be good enough on their own. Humility is the key to receiving like a little child.

We all will be tempted, endure trials, and face “giants.” Religious OCD is like Goliath; it looks scary and big, but God is BIGGER! With God’s help and faith in him, the OCD giant can be knocked down. The key is to focus on God’s ability; not our own ability.

I thank God that, no matter how abandoned I sometimes felt, the reality is that God did not leave me for a second, but lovingly drew me closer.

God taught me to praise him through the battle. So when a bad thought comes I think, “Wow, the enemy is reminding me to worship God!” I think about the cross and start thanking him for winning the battle for my mind. No matter what ugly thoughts afflict me and try to distract me, I start praising God instead of trying to fix the bad thought. Pretty soon, I start singing, “Jesus won my battle, Jesus won my battle, Jesus won the battle for my mind.”

Especially when you feel riddled with guilt and condemnation and you feel as if God wants nothing to do with you and that you are beyond forgiveness and your mind is continually flooded not only with doubts but with the vilest and most defiling thoughts and images about God, the slightest praise takes enormous faith and effort. It is like being asked to run when you feel too exhausted to walk. But no matter how hard it is, and how artificial and hypocritical it feels, we can force ourselves.

Praise really works because it takes our eyes off ourselves and onto the cross, where he alone purchased our victory. It might take a long while before we start seeing the benefits. It will eventually result in relief and joy but people with OCD are unlikely ever to feel better without abandoning slavery to feelings. They must be determined to keep on praising God even when it not only does not help them feel better but makes them feel considerably worse. We must do it in faith that God loves us so much that our pathetic efforts to praise him gives him pleasure – no matter how hopeless and unloved we feel and how tempted we are to imagine that our ugly thoughts defile the whole process. We should be determined to keep it up even if we continue to be flooded with false feelings of despair and hopelessness.

Focus is everything. If we keep focusing day after day on the problem – ourselves – the problem keeps getting bigger in our eyes. If, however, we keep re-focusing on God’s amazing grace, then it is grace, not the problem, that gradually grows bigger in our eyes. It is like ever so slowly zooming in with a microscope.

Praise and worship are powerful weapons. The walls of Jericho fell with praise and worship. David slayed the giant who was harassing and tormenting God’s chosen people by having faith in God, fully leaning on, and trusting in, God’s grace alone.

Grace is the answer.

I really believe we are to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18) because this shows God we truly trust him. It takes great faith to thank him for OCD. It takes endurance and perseverance. It requires a stubborn commitment to cooperating with God. Isn’t that exactly what he wants? Isn’t that why we have weaknesses? Isn’t it so that we rely on him not ourselves? Isn’t that grace? We cannot, but God can! With humans it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

I used to believe I had to think about God and nothing else in order to walk with him. What a lie! Becoming a parent has changed my perspective, helping me see things as Father God sees them. He is good and wants the best for us. I would never demand that my kids think only of me every moment of every day. I had taken Scripture to an extreme, instead of seeing it the way our loving God intended. I now understand that God wants us not only to work, but also to rest and play. We need to give ourselves permission to do this. I am learning to trust God more.

I am now a happily married woman with three kids. Occasionally, I still struggle with bad thoughts, but I keep remembering that Jesus died for all sins and that to be forgiven we must believe this. That is it: simple, child-like faith. The peace and joy I have now is amazing!

If God could do it for Anna, Martin Luther, John Bunyan, St. Augustine, and me, God can and will do it for you. Keep pressing into him and praising. I must emphasize, however, that it took years for me to get where I am today. I am now 42 and my OCD started at 18. Renewing our mind takes much time and effort. We must be willing to endure and not expect quick changes, nor to look to our feelings or circumstances as indications that God is with us.

By Grantley Morris

24 years have passed since Kristina begun suffering with religious OCD and even now she is still hit by the occasional unwanted thought. Kristina is living proof of two things that need emphasizing:

    1. It would be a mistake to expect instant deliverance from disgusting, anti-God thoughts and oppressive feelings and fears and worries. The Lord does not want to have to insult you by perpetually babying you; artificially propping up your faith by signs and feelings and circumstances as he sometimes does for baby Christians. It would be a source of great shame if the Lord thought your faith and commitment were so weak that they would disintegrate without such artificial props. Your God believes in you. He believes you have what it takes to honor him by living by raw faith alone and that you can keep resisting powerful temptations to imagine God has abandoned you, even though you can no longer feel him and instead feel spiritually cold and distant and condemned and overwhelmed by unwanted thoughts and doubts. To do that takes real faith and God believes you are capable of such faith.

    2. Being plagued by atrociously repulsive thoughts about God and swamped with awful feelings of guilt and condemnation and doubts and fears of being unforgivable need not spoil a beautiful relationship with God. The Lord is not fazed by any of these. On the contrary, he is thrilled if you keep praising him even when your prayers and praises are so attacked that they are mixed with blasphemous thoughts and images. The very act of praising him while suffering such thoughts and images and feelings and doubts is a precious act of faith that the blood of Christ truly cleanses us from all sin. Displaying this faith both delights and honors your Savior.

It is important that you keep reading these webpages. There is so much more that you need to get deep into your spirit so that you will be as unfazed by these attacks as God is.

Next Testimony:

My Thirty-Year Battle with Blasphemous Thoughts

Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2014 Grantley Morris. Not to be copied in whole or in part without citing this entire paragraph. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings by Grantley Morris available free at the following internet site Freely you have received, freely give.

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Scripture quotations are from the New International Version © Copyright, 1978 by New York International Bible Society

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