Forever Lost Your Salvation?

Beyond Redemption?

Spiritual Fear & Worry Examined

Bible worry

By Grantley Morris

This page in German, Macedonian

Are you forever fearing that you have lost your salvation or worrying that you are beyond forgiveness? Or you are a Christian suffering from unwanted thoughts so ugly that you wonder whether you are demon possessed? These are symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Although most people have heard of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, few recognize it when it turns spiritual. So we’ll look briefly at OCD and then consider how it causes Christians to be plagued with false guilt feelings and worries or suffer spiritually repulsive thoughts that horrify them. We’ll then examine whether these insights and modern treatments can be of practical spiritual help to Christians.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder. Some experts go deeper into the cause of the anxiety and call it a biochemical or neurological (nerve) disorder. This highlights that the anxiety is not the person’s fault or ignorance or lack of faith. It is still correct, however, to call it an anxiety disorder because it manifests itself as anxiety that, in turn, causes repeated, unwanted thoughts or doubts (obsessions). For many, but not all OCD sufferers, these obsessions lead to feeling driven to certain repetitive behaviors (compulsions) such as excessive cleaning, checking, counting or seeking assurances. A not uncommon form of OCD that is less publicized is for a normal heterosexual to be plagued with fear that he or she is homosexual. Another is for a normal, mild mannered person to be stricken with an abnormal fear that he or she will violently harm loved ones.

The United Nations’ World Health Organization ranks Obsessive Compulsive Disorder high among the most disabling of all illnesses, in terms of the monetary and personal cost. Millions of people have their lives dominated by some form of OCD. It is so common throughout the world that if there are just one hundred people in your church, two or three of them probably have OCD, although there is a good chance that one is so embarrassed by it that he is trying to keep it secret, and another does not even know she has it. (More about these figures)

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a medical condition. Put at its very simplest, OCD seems to be the consequence of a brain mechanism intended to warn a person of danger, doing so excessively. Scientists think they have identified a small part of the brain that does not function as perfectly in people with OCD. A key role of this part of the brain is to filter out inappropriate thoughts and feelings. Unless this filter is functioning normally, another part of the brain becomes overactive. Scans have shown unusual patterns of activity in the brains of OCD sufferers. In a few cases, head injuries seem to have caused OCD.

Scrupulosity is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that plagues people who are anxious to please God. For them, the unwelcome, involuntary thoughts or images feature God or the devil, and compulsions feature the need to keep seeking assurance of salvation, or repeatedly engaging in some sort of religious exercise – such as prayer or witnessing or confessing sin – beyond what other Christians feel is needed.

The word scrupulosity alludes to the torment of an oversensitive conscience. It often involves mistakenly thinking that innocent or unavoidable things are sin and so feeling needlessly guilty. (Actually, it is other way around: anxiety feels like a guilty conscience, so the presence of excess anxiety causes its victims to feel needlessly guilty about minor or harmless things.) People afflicted with this condition often feel driven to do what to them seems to be minimum Christian requirements for God’s approval but is actually abandoning grace and heading for spiritual burnout in a joyless, exhausting religious works program. As mentioned, when scrupulosity turns to obsessive thoughts, it can generate upsetting, uncontrollable blasphemous thoughts or images about God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit, or exalting the devil. We’ll see later how people with an abnormally sensitive conscience end up hounded by the very thing they detest. We’ll also see that as the loving Lord holds no one responsible for being forcibly raped against his or her will, so he holds no one responsible for invasive thoughts or images that a person does not want.

Just as some people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder feel compelled to keep checking locks or washing their hands, others feel compelled to obsess over blasphemous thoughts that they hate or to keep doubting their salvation. In fact, scrupulosity has been called “pathological doubt.” OCD sufferers do something simple – depending on the person, it might be locking a door, switching off the oven, or receiving God’s forgiveness – and then their illness causes them to worry abnormally over whether they did it correctly. They feel driven to keep seeking assurance far beyond what is rational.

Scrupulosity can fill people with such false guilt that many are unlikely to admit to it, while others have no idea that they have an unhealthy sense of guilt and so suppose there is nothing wrong with them. Consequently, scrupulosity remains such a hidden disease that researchers have been unable to determine how common it is. One study of Catholic high school students found that a staggering 25% seemed to have scrupulosity. Perhaps there was something in their religious teaching that contributed to this astounding figure.

Famous Christians often thought to have suffered from scrupulosity include Martin Luther, who spear-headed the Protestant Reformation, and John Bunyan, author of one of the most influential of all Christian books, Pilgrims Progress. If so, it highlights how Christians can not only survive but spiritually thrive despite this affliction. The Almighty can turn this horror on its head, even bringing incalculable good out of a most distressing illness. This most certainly does not mean, however, that the God of love who went to the extreme of the cross wants anyone to suffer the torment of believing they are unforgivable – to say nothing of the fact that such a belief insults our Savior.

It is well known that in his early days as a monk, Luther was overwhelmed by feelings of utter depravity and terror of judgment. It is claimed that, despite desperately wanting to please God, he was assaulted by anger and hatred toward God, urges to curse God and, during prayer, obsessing about the devil’s rear end. It is frequently told how he threw an inkpot at a vision of the devil, but less well publicized is that he also threw an inkpot at a vision of Christ. I can only speculate, but perhaps Luther’s violent reaction was because the vision of Christ was sexual or in some other way grossly insulting to Christ. The great reformer often suffered such depression that he wished he had never been born.

Interestingly, Luther’s wife, Kate, is thought to have suffered from a different anxiety disorder; Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Not only is this condition often treated with the same medication as used to treat OCD, it can also be spiritually bewildering. A dear friend of mine was tormented by mysterious guilt feelings and feeling cut off from God. He suffered from a serious illness that caused great physical pain and yet he found this inner pain far worse than the physical pain. The torment persisted for years despite him having a solid biblical understanding of salvation, being strongly committed to God and frequently being powerfully used of God. Eventually, he discovered that GAD was causing what almost seemed to be spiritual symptoms. I will not pursue this subject here, but keep it in mind as another possible cause of feelings of guilt and/or alienation from God.

Other possible reasons for persistent guilt feelings include major depression, bipolar disorder, or even schizophrenia or delusional disorder. If there is no obvious psychological disorder, another possibility that should be examined is a besetting sin one is aware of, or maybe past sins that one finds too upsetting to think about or perhaps even consciously remember, but have not been confessed to God and repented of. There is a wide range of mental afflictions in which people are quite sane except for one small area of life in which their mind keeps lying to them. Take phobias and anxieties as an example. Most of us have one thing – perhaps heights or harmless spiders or public speaking – over which our mind, against all logic, floods us with fear or anxiety. Anorexic girls whose minds keep mistakenly telling them they are fat is another example. Hypochondriacs are people with healthy bodies whose mind keeps insisting that they must have an illness. Then there are people plagued with ridiculously low self-esteem.

We could go on and on listing examples until nearly everyone on the planet is included. Almost all of us have one area of life over which our mind consistently goes haywire, setting off alarms when there is no need for concern. Scrupulosity, or religious OCD, is simply another example.


If you suffer from scrupulosity, the sad, frustrating thing is that your sincere, heartfelt efforts have the opposite effect to what you want. The more you focus on your sin, the less time you have to focus on God’s love and grace; the harder you try to stop thinking about something, or the more it alarms or repulses you, the more you will think of it. It is like wiring people to detect the slightest change in sweat, breathing, blood pressure and pulse. Everything is fine until the stakes are raised by holding a gun to their heads and threatening to kill them if they show the tiniest bodily sign of nervousness. The more important it is to them that their hearts not beat faster, the more inevitable it is that this is exactly what will happen.

Just like increased heart rate, unwanted thoughts are not a moral or spiritual issue but an uncontrollable psychological reaction to anxiety. Unwanted thoughts are not sin. Morally, any thought you regret is in a totally different world to deliberately cultivated thoughts that come from a heart that truly hates God. In fact, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder latches on to what is most precious to us. A common form of OCD, for example, involves being hounded by thoughts of violently harming loved ones. This is to be expected because, with OCD, the very reason thoughts keep returning is because the thoughts horrify the person. This distressing illness reveals people’s heart by showing what they most fear doing. With OCD, repeated thoughts reveal not what a person wants but what the person least wants.

The God of infinite understanding and compassion knows this. The Almighty views obsessive blasphemous thoughts through eyes of love and not only does not see this behavior as sin, but sees it as proof of a heart that is anxious to honor him.

Moreover, even if you had repeatedly and deliberately committed the most atrocious conceivable sins, it could not keep you from God, if you want him. As biblically expounded elsewhere on this site, God’s Word is emphatic that no sin is beyond the forgiving power of Christ’s sacrifice, provided the offender wants God’s forgiveness and trusts Jesus for it. Yes, even enjoying the most vile, sinful, disgusting thoughts about sacred things, cursing the Holy Spirit and selling your soul to the devil after fully experiencing salvation, is fully forgivable the moment anyone repents and trusts Jesus for forgiveness.

Studies, such as one by psychologist Stanley Rachman, have found that normal people admit to having shockingly bizarre, perverted, sadistic or blasphemous impulses from time to time. It is an inescapable part of being human.

Almost never, does Satan or one of his demons use his own audible voice to tempt anyone. His time-proven method is to tempt by speaking to us in our minds. Since Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are” (Hebrews 4:15), the sinless Son of God must also have at times suffered the type of temptation that comes in the form of unwanted thoughts and urges. As I have explained elsewhere, temptation is spiritual rape. And we know that Jesus was tempted to “bow down and worship” Satan (Matthew 4:9). (Would you panic if that thought came to you or an image flashed into your mind of you worshipping Satan? Would you wrongly think there is something spiritually wrong with you?) And let’s not suppose that Jesus was only tempted in the wilderness. When the forty days were finally over, Luke 4:13 says the devil “departed from him for a season” (KJV) or, as the NIV puts it “left him until an opportune time.” So it is scriptural to believe that the Holy Lord suffered from unwanted blasphemous thoughts and images, “yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Average Christians have the occasional blasphemous thought or spiritually disgusting image flash through their minds. They dismiss it as nonsense and are so unconcerned that they quickly forget that it had ever happened. If, however, you managed to fool them into supposing that such a thought could doom them to hell, the very terror would make it inevitable that they could not stop thinking about it. The thought would keep returning over and over, not because these people are sinful, but solely because they are excessively anxious not to think such thoughts. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, you will recall, is an anxiety disorder.

Phobias are another type of anxiety disorder. OCD is similar in that both problems involve an exaggerated fear of something that is unlikely to prove a genuine reason for serious concern. And the fear might not be an accurate barometer of the person’s faith. There are ways, however, in which OCD is even more distressing than phobias. One is that the average person can more readily identify with, and sympathetically tolerate, people who have phobias. Even if someone does not fear spiders, for instance, he can usually put himself in the shoes of those who do. With OCD, however, the fear is of one’s own thoughts. The average person might find that harder to understand. People with OCD might display behavior that frustrates other people and those close to them might need to be reminded that OCD sufferers are coping the best they can. Most of the time, people with phobias can chose to avoid what they fear, even though avoidance might be most inconvenient. When the fear is one’s own thoughts, however, there is nowhere to hide and it could strike at any time. (Source)


To try to reassure Christians with scrupulosity, I have gone way over the top in producing a vast number of webpages about the certainty of God’s forgiveness, starting at Feeling Condemned? There’s Hope! But just as arguing that someone’s hands are clean does not stop a compulsive hand washer from washing dozens of times a day, so rational, biblical arguments do not stop a Christian with religious OCD from continuing to feel anxious about his salvation and keep craving still more reassurance. Moreover, convincing arguments can only prove certain thoughts incorrect, they can never stop those thoughts from buzzing around in our brains like pesky flies.

Seeking reassurance on the Internet is particularly dangerous because lurking in cyberspace are many wolves in sheep’s clothing and “know-alls” who know nothing about OCD. If you must keep checking, please limit yourself to your pastor, or people he delegates, and my exhaustive, Bible-based exploration of the subject. But know that doubts will persist, because that’s the nature of the illness, and the relentless nature of the Tempter. Salvation is by faith – by choosing to disbelieve your own doubts and guilt feelings and placing your faith solely in the fact that Christ died for the sins of the whole world, which must include every sin you could ever commit.

No part of us – our consciences included – is infallible. The Bible insists that forgiven Christians can have hearts (consciences) that condemn them but this does not change the spiritual reality that the infallible, all-seeing Judge sees them as forgiven.

    1 John 3:19-20 This then is how we . . . set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts . . .

Saving faith is about choosing to exalt Christ above your own conscience. Faith involves stubbornly and defiantly believing in the unlimited power of Christ’s sacrifice to forgive, even in the face of a relentlessly accusing conscience. This is spiritual warfare at its highest and those who hold on to Christ, refusing to believe their faulty conscience, win heaven’s highest praise.

Strongman Samson was eventually defeated by Delilah, a physically much weaker woman. Here’s how it happened:

    Judges 16:16 With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death.

She wore him down by using the same old method day after day. It’s one of the devil’s favorite tactics. Be smarter than Samson. Keep resisting the nagging of your conscience, no matter how tiring it gets.

To believe in the saving power of Christ’s sacrifice and yet be plagued with a guilty conscience is like having the misfortune of living in a house with a faulty fire alarm that goes off every few minutes. That would be most unpleasant, but taking the alarm seriously and fearing that you are about to be burned alive every time the alarm goes off, would needlessly turn an unpleasant situation into sheer torment.


While preparing this webpage I received an e-mail from a middle-aged man. It illustrates the steadfast faith we can have in the power of Christ’s salvation despite numerous challenging issues in our lives.

    Over my life I have been hospitalized 23 times for mental illness. I have been a Christian less than a year. After I got saved I had another psychotic break and ended up in hospital for two months. Since getting out I have had disturbing thoughts of a sexual nature toward God and I am constantly reminded of these things. I am very disturbed by some of the things that go through my mind – distressing, unclean, profane, irreligious thoughts, etc.

    I don’t really like myself very much. I could dredge up a lot of memories that contribute to this. When I was 15, for instance, I forced myself on a girl. People could see us. It is extremely hard for me to call it rape but it was very nearly that. Now I deal with perverse thoughts that I compulsively think about. It even happens at church and takes the joy out of worship. When we sing praise I think about the devil and think I’m praising him and not God.

    I feel like killing myself almost every day. I am belligerent toward God. I am so preoccupied with my problems that it makes it hard for me to consider a relationship with a woman because all I can seem to think about is my problems.

    I remember hearing John 3:16 the first time and thinking, “God loves me? So what?” But I am beginning to realize that the overriding reality in life is God’s amazing love. Really knowing deep down inside how truly loved and valued I am makes a big difference. I will keep revisiting your webpages about God’s love for me, because a core issue of mine is thinking that I am not loved or am unlovable. Why would anyone love me after all the sins I’ve committed? I do feel worthless at times.

    Today I was really feeling like a person with a mental illness. I went to my mental health program for some horticultural therapy and really felt disabled. I had to come back to my apartment to chill out. I feel like I am letting God down. When I lie awake in bed for hours I feel guilty and the thought keeps coming that I am going to hell because I am not doing what God wants me to.

    The Bible verse that came to me yesterday was if I delight in the Lord he will give me the desires of my heart. I immediately discounted the thought and started thinking about Satan and having compulsive thoughts but was able to bring myself out it. Just believing that Jesus lives in my heart and will never leave me brings everything back into focus. (Emphasis mine)

What a superb example of faith! How proud of him God and all of heaven must be! Great faith is not about instant changes to circumstances but holding on by sheer grit. Remember how Scripture repeatedly exalts Abraham as faith’s role model because he kept believing year after year after year that God would give him a child, despite there being no change in his circumstances, other than increasing age that seemed to make the situation increasingly hopeless.

The Bible reveals that not just salvation but everything in the Christian life – the power to love, answered prayer, victory over temptation, wisdom, spiritual gifts, understanding Scripture, and so on – is God’s unmerited gift that becomes ours through faith. Since it is through faith that we receive all these priceless gifts, faith is without question the most precious thing in the universe. Just as our physical bodies grow strong by being repeatedly pushed to the limit, so it is with growing in faith. Scrupulosity pushes one’s faith to the limit. By doing so, it can produce spiritual giants. So if Luther and Bunyan and other outstanding people of God had religious Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it comes as no surprise to me.

Oppressively strong doubts, a condemning conscience and feeling unforgivable are nothing but temptations to stop believing in the power of Jesus’ sacrifice to forgive all sin. Temptations are as sure to come as pimples on a teenage date. Yes, even the sinless Son of God was tempted. We can stop temptation from entering our minds no more than we can stop the devil from existing, but no matter how tortured with guilt feelings we are and how many anti-God thoughts flood our minds, we can stop ourselves from being fooled into thinking our Savior cannot, or will not, save everyone – no exceptions – who wants his salvation.

My mother has a phobia about birds. Intellectually, she knows that entering an aviary would be safe, but the thought of doing so terrifies her. This has nothing to do with her intelligence; it is a psychological condition. Likewise you can know that you are forgiven because you have put your faith in the power of Christ’s forgiveness, but you can still be afflicted with false guilt feelings, fears and unwanted thoughts. This has nothing to do with your salvation; it is a psychological condition.

This Next Page is Short but Vital:

The Surprising Answer to Hardness of Heart, Severe Condemnation, Doubt & Vile Thoughts

Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2007, 2012, 2013 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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