Afraid You’re Not Saved? Stop Doing THIS

Scrupulosity Video Post

Jaimie Eckert

Published on Apr 26, 2024; Updated on Apr 26, 2024

Are you afraid you’re not saved?

Despite all your best attempts to draw close to Jesus…

Despite your fastidious prayers and confessions and surrenders

Despite your earnest and tearful rooting out of sin…

Despite the obvious presence of “good fruit” in your life…

Do you still lie awake at night with the inescapable feeling that you might not be saved?

Most people with religious OCD deal with this fear to some extent–some more than others. You might be afraid that you are not currently saved, or you might fear that you might do something horrible enough (or something small often enough) to warrant a loss of salvation at some point in the future. This crippling fear puts the stakes so much higher than any other OCD theme. It’s scary to think of being lost for all eternity!

In today’s post I want to address a mindset that I’ve commonly seen contributing to salvation fears. To see if this damaging mindset might apply to you, ask yourself if you ever struggle with the “details” of salvation. I’m not talking about having an overall, hazy sense that you might not be saved. I’m talking about being very obsessive and anxious about the specific steps or details that are involved in coming to Jesus. For example:

  • Fear you weren’t sorry enough when you confessed your sins
  • Fear that you are too proud and don’t really see yourself to be a sinner
  • Fear that your repentance wasn’t genuine since you keep stumbling 
  • Fear your heart is hardened or your conscience is seared because of negative thoughts or emotions you feel towards God
  • Fear you aren’t believing or having faith just right
  • Preoccupation with seeing the fruit of the Spirit in your life as proof of your salvation 

Such fears are not random. They might sound odd, and you might think you’re the only one having these concerns. But in fact, they are based on a specific mindset that is keeping us locked in a spiral of salvation fears. Let me explain this mindset that contributes to a constant fear that we aren’t saved. 

The Mechanics of Chronically Being Afraid You’re Not Saved

Here’s the problem: we often view salvation in a very formulaic, mechanistic way instead of a relational way.

Thanks to all the revival meetings and sinners prayers we’ve heard over our lifetimes, salvation has become a reward that is offered at the end of a series of clearly definable steps. It becomes a formula rather than a living, breathing relationship. So we obsess about the steps:

Recognize you’re a sinner. Own that status fully. 

Check. 

Repent and confess your sins. (Don’t forget any, and make sure you’re actually sorry when you confess them.)

Check. 

Believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Like, really BE-LEEEEEVE believe. 

Check. 

Done! Congrats, your name has now been enrolled in the Book of Life.

Unless you didn’t get the steps right, in which case you need to start over again. And possibly admit in front of your entire church that you weren’t actually saved. Yet. But maybe now you can be, if you ruminate long enough and get the “steps” just right…

That’s how the discussion goes, isn’t it?

Scrupulosity and salvation fears

Salvation has become a formula, and OCD becomes preoccupied with each of these steps because each step to salvation becomes a danger zone, an area where we could potentially mess up and lose the goal. 

Just believe? For some that is great news. For the person with OCD, it’s an opportunity for failure. 

What if I don’t believe just right?

Recognize you’re a sinner? For some it’s a relief to stop having to pressure ourselves to be perfect and recognize that we ARE sinners and that Jesus is the One who loved a sinless life for us. But again, for the person with religious OCD, it’s another point of fixation. It represents another vulnerable point in the formulaic path towards salvation. 

What if I am too prideful or hard-hearted and I don’t recognize myself to be a sinner? That would derail the whole train!

Stop Viewing Salvation as a Formula

The solution to this “just right” kind of thinking is to stop viewing salvation as a formula. It isn’t something that can be sliced and diced into neat little steps like that. Salvation is a relationship with our living, breathing Lord, a relationship that both saves and transforms us. Yes, there are certainly aspects that will be present in everyone’s conversion story, but it can’t be reduced to a checklist.

Jesus said,

And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

John 17:3

Eternal life is not completing all the steps on a checklist. Eternal life is to know God. It is to cling to Him, trusting that the warm clasp of our dear Savior is what saves us from eternal death. It is to open our hearts to Him as to a friend, telling all our secrets and fears and woes. To live in relationship with deity is to press forward boldly to His throne in the times when we feel most unworthy. It is to lay bare the anger, betrayal, and disillusionment with God that can creep in when we struggle with a mental health disorder. It is to learn more about His heart–through Scripture, through nature, through the love of the Church, and through our darkest valleys.

It is also a mutual sharing–as someone told me before I got married: when two become one, the joys are doubled and the burdens are halved. Union with another is a relational mystery. How can two become one? How can we really, deeply “know” another? And how is it that eternal life is to “know” God?

It is a mystery.

And it’s messy, like all relationships.

I can guarantee you don’t believe “just right” all the time. Who does? Wouldn’t we be more than human if we didn’t have our questions when bad things happen? You probably don’t see your sinfulness all in one moment (and thank God none of us do, otherwise we’d all give up before starting!) Virtually every part of your conversion story has been imperfect. I don’t even know you and I’m sure that’s true of you, because that’s the human condition.

When the ancient Israelites were instructed to bring animal sacrifices for burnt offerings, they were to bring only a perfect sacrifice:

You shall offer of your own free will a male without blemish from the cattle, from the sheep, or from the goats. Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it shall not be acceptable on your behalf. And whoever offers a sacrifice of a peace offering to the LORD, to fulfill his vow, or a freewill offering from the cattle or the sheep, it must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no defect in it. Those that are blind or broken or maimed, or have an ulcer or eczema or scabs, you shall not offer to the LORD, nor make an offering by fire of them on the altar to the LORD. Either a bull or a lamb that has any limb too long or too short you may offer as a freewill offering, but for a vow it shall not be accepted. You shall not offer to the LORD what is bruised or crushed, or torn or cut; nor shall you make any offering of them in your land.

Leviticus 22:19-24

The unblemished sacrifice represented the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the “lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19). This is why no mere human could die on the cross for the sins of the world. We are all like sheep gone astray, imperfect and full of eczema and scabs and sores, blind and maimed since birth. Jesus is perfect, and He imparts that perfection to us through His cleansing blood.

Afraid you're not saved? How to trust Jesus for salvation

How interesting that our scruples make us think that we must get the “steps” perfect as we come to Jesus. It is almost as if we’ve taken the promise of salvation, boiled it down into a series of quantifiable steps, and now attempt to achieve these steps perfectly in order to be assured of our salvation.

My dear friends, I assure you this is an exercise in futility. You cannot perform the steps to the perfectionistic dictates of your OCD mind, and God doesn’t require that from you anyways. But if you allow yourself to buy into the “step salvation” mindset, AND you happen to be a fairly ruminative, anxious person, it’s going to be very easy to live in fear that you’re not saved.

Come just as you are. If God needs to perfect the way you’re believing, or seeing yourself, or confessing–He will do that in the context of your relationship. Because eternal life is relationship and trust, not mechanistic steps.

Afraid You’re Not Saved–No Longer!

A few years ago, my sister-in-law achieved a dream she’d had for a long time: she obtained her pilot’s license. She showed me footage of her first flights (the exciting part) and then wanted to show me the flight checklist that she has to go through before taking off. I followed with interest for the first page or two…but then the checklist started getting really, really long. As she explained every point on her checklist (I could tell she was very enthusiastic about each one), I tried to keep myself from yawning.

“Is it boring?” She asked partway through. “I know it’s really long.”

“It IS really long,” I admitted, and we laughed together. I couldn’t believe she did all those things just to take off (and she agreed not to show me the checklist she has to follow when landing the plane!)

Trusting Jesus to pilot us through religious anxiety

I knew that each item on the checklist represented an important learning step that she achieved through many hours of flight training. And I listened because I knew it was important to her. But what I was really interested in hearing was her actual experience. What was it like to be in the air flying solo for the first time? How did she feel when she finally finished all her training? How did it feel to own her own plane and be able to hop from one European country to another whenever she wanted?

Likewise, the steps and processes of salvation are not unimportant. We can’t say they don’t matter. But they aren’t the main focus. The relationship that we have with Jesus is a matter of the heart, not a checklist. When you’re chronically afraid you’re not saved, there’s probably a bit of checklist mentality going on.

And guess what? Your mind can grow and change. Your thinking habits are not set in stone. You can stop relating to salvation as a checklist and start looking to Jesus with relational trust. We can start looking to Him as our perfect Pilot who is handling the checklist for us and with us.

For my sister-in-law, forgetting something on her pre-flight check could spell disaster. But we trust that Jesus is our pilot, leading us safely to the Promised Land. He is the One who gives us all that we need: not merely saving grace, but all that which comes before and after it–faith, repentance, self-realization, contrition, softness of heart, desire for heavenly things, hatred for sin, and all the rest.

You might be afraid you’re not saved because of the way you’ve been focusing on the checklist. But Jesus can help you look beyond that and focus on Him, our perfect Sacrifice and our trustworthy Pilot.

Best wishes on the journey,

  • I love the pilot story. True, we try to checklist our salvation experience and end up falling short anyways. We keep forgetting that we’re really just passengers and that Jesus is the pilot that fulfilled every requirement so we can fly safely.

  • You might be afraid you’re not saved because of the way you’ve been focusing on the checklist……
    This is it for me. I don’t know how to stop it. It just takes offer and I can’t stand it. For years I didn’t even realize what it was and that it was wrong. But now with the diagnosis of scrupulosity it makes sense but still scary that it is hindering me from coming to Him. All he wants is me but I can’t stop dragging things to him as if I need to earn or be approved and accepted by him by the way I believe. I know this is not true it just will not stop it is overtaking. And I fear that he is saying because of this I can’t be saved because I’m truly not trusting him but my own actions

    • hey, jessica! that anxiety you experience is part of having OCD :’). and what are we supposed to do with that anxiety? ignore it, no matter how much fear wells up in us. that is relentless trust :D. praying for you! there is light at the end of the tunnel!

  • This was a great article, however like Allison I agree that preachers that have a strong tenor in their message can really make one doubt their salvation. They bring up things as easy believeism and focus on a goal of almost trying to convince you are not saved focusing on external behaviors. I absolutely believe we will have fruit from salvation experience but OCD will focus on much and motivation. It’s a vicious cycle.

  • I guess if nothing else this proves my scrupulosity problem. Ev en in your really great article I find things to obsess over. I just don’t feel I have a relationship…..I do avoid church(because it seems it always sermons that make me feel unsaved)….same reason I barely pray. I am worried that everything is sin and also know I am not close to God because of these things. Also it seems to be so much legalism and in many famous pastors I have listened too…have only made me spiral.

    • hey, allison :’)! I am sorry you are going through all that, but you are not alone. I would encourage you to join our group-coaching community. it’s such a safe space, and Jamie has great talks during our weekly zoom calls. there is also a masterclass, which is helpful – to be honest, that’s a must-do class for anyone struggling with scrupulosity. things really do get better :). praying for you!

    • Hey, girl. I feel your struggle of not feeling like you have a relationship with God. It’s also a struggle of mine sometimes. “I should love God more right now! I should feel this much desire for him right now! I should feel super close with him right now!”

      But may I offer some things that helped me in this area?

      The disciples didn’t have a close relationship with Jesus on day 1. They believed he was holy, he was a teacher, they followed. If you asked Peter on day 1, I doubt he would have said that their relationship was warm and very loving and that he never questioned Jesus.

      But he believed in Jesus enough to follow, to learn from him, to get to know him. They spent time and built a relationship through the years.

      “Come to me, those of you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and learn from me…” Just come to Jesus, Allison. And let the relationship build itself.

      • What’s scary is I have been a believer for almost 50 years….but I agonize did I really believe as a child? It is hard to read the Bible or go to church. So maybe I am not…I don’t pray everyday either. Maybe I am just a sinner and that’s my problem and not sceupulosity…..that’s how I feel.
        Thanks for the kind response.

        • I just wanna put this out there, see how it could help you. I say this in the kindest way possible… So what if you didn’t really believe as a child?

          God is not someone who says, “Oh, so all this time you weren’t a believer? Oh, so you don’t pray everyday? Nu-uh, can’t welcome you anymore.”

          God is a father. He didn’t tell the prodigal son “Sorry, you took too long to come back, you didn’t even bring a single sheep from your inheritance, you didn’t even write to me…” We, you and me, are his children. He’s always calling out for all of us to come home. Forget the past. Here and now, God is calling you still.

          I recommend meditating on the story of the prodigal son. It has been greatly helpful in this battle for me. I know you overthink too so might as well put it to good use hahaha.

          Praying for you.

          • Thanks Mary. But all this says to me is that u can never be sure u are saved….u can never know whether u go to heaven or not. So..al these years I am not saved..so I will get re saved ….rearrange baptized…and then later oh goodness I am the prodigal son..get saved again…

          • God doesn’t want us to be in limbo about our salvation :’).

            “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”

            ‭‭I John‬ ‭5‬:‭13‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

            you can know you are saved, because God said that whoever trusts in Him would be. faith is not perfect trust – faith is the decision to trust. we may have questions, we may have doubts, but we choose to trust what God has spoken. praying for you!

          • I feel your confusion over this coz I (and i’m sure many others here) have gone through the same cycle countless times.

            That’s not God’s heart. Don’t look at it as if you’re going through steps and hoops and checklists to get saved. You are building a relationship which sometimes ebbs and flows. And your Father is giving you the most simple step. “Come to me”. And if you come to him, he saves you!

            How can we be sure? Coz he promised!

            Is that a one-time thing? We come to him and work on the relationship. And if we make a mistake or sin, we come back again.

            I pray that our good Father will shed light on this for your heart to see.

  • (This is a lengthy comment. I’m a bit of a writer and can be wordy. I just felt compelled to share some of my journey. I hope that’s ok.)

    Great post! Thank you! My OCD Scrupulosity thoughts center mostly around assurance of salvation and intrusive thoughts which I fear could threaten my eternal security. For me, Scrupulosity is a pretty recent diagnosis. A biblical counselor (who seems to have experiential insight) I have been seeing identified Scrupulosity as a possibility, when I began expressing my salvation doubts and the daunting sense that every choice I make is probably a wrong choice no matter what I’m doing. I had developed this constant fear of being in disobedience. I remember a friend coming up to me in church, as I stood in tears, sobbing that I felt like I was doing everything wrong and that I don’t know what I’m doing, to try to reassure me with the reminder that we don’t have to get it right on our own because of Jesus’ finished work on the Cross. But that reassurance didn’t last long, as it felt like this black-and-white, concrete way of thinking had developed in my mind and I thought, “One false move and that’s it – I’m doomed.”

    These doubts began to surface after a scary medical event happened with my heart. I started thinking about my mortality and found myself asking, “Jesus, are we OK?” Before my heart event, I struggled with some besetting sin that stemmed from a stronghold that I have struggled to get completely free of over the years. I would be OK for long stretches of time, and then would fall into another season of struggle. During the most recent season, I was vastly aware that my choices were wrong, and would pray to overcome it, and (again) would be ok for a while, but would then give in again (so full of guilt and shame). I have since realized the value in confessing one to another (with trusted confidants), even when it seems hard, because sin and shame brought to light has a way of losing its power and dying. Since my heart event, I stopped doing those things, and I really don’t miss them. It almost feels like a deliverance.

    At this point, though, I find myself constantly looking over my shoulder, not just at those most recent struggles, but at almost every sin in my past (and my memory keeps bringing up ones I thought I had forgotten), and I think, “Really? I was a believer, and I did all those things. Really? Was I really even saved?” My pastor preached a really intense message about the fear of the Lord, and it’s like my brain is unable to find a balance, since I’m all too aware that there isn’t a human alive that is without sin, and yet it still started me thinking (as mentioned above) “one false move and I’m doomed.” So for me, Scrupulosity has come up as the fear that I’m doing everything wrong, sinning when I don’t know (I tend to scan my brain for sin), even though I have come into this already knowing that perfection is unattainable. I also have intrusive thoughts that vary between blasphemous thoughts, fear of the unforgivable and unpardonable sins, worry that my faith isn’t “right” or constant enough, etc. – all those “what ifs” and “yeah buts.” I started seeking reassurance from several friends and co-workers (I work in the grad school of a Christian University, so I’m surrounded by believers and theology scholars) and the occasional pastor well before the OCD was identified and I found out that reassurance-seeking is one of the compulsions. It became clear that I was asking many of the same questions repeatedly.

    Because I came into this season after having struggled with some besetting sin, I have questioned whether I have been correctly diagnosed, but the symptoms fit. And reflecting back, I know that in the back of my mind I have never felt 100% sure of my salvation, but I pushed those concerns aside, probably because I felt OK. (I read your post on faith versus feelings, and it made so much sense). I think my health issues triggered and brought the OCD to the surface. I have rejection issues from my childhood that are likely part of the root problem. I now have a Christian therapist and I’m praying I will be able to work through and heal from some things and find some peace.

    I definitely have been a “checklist person,” ruminating on when, how, and under what circumstances I got saved. I’m embarrassed to have been a believer for so long and to think that there are still so many things I don’t fully understand. I have to find a way to adjust my thinking to the idea that continued faith and trust is much more important than some formulaic moment when I prayed a prayer (or many prayers). I’m grateful for websites like yours. Thank you!

    • hey, heather! I totally get always being worried about making a false move and being doomed :’). I’ve realized, though, that that’s not how God wants me to live. we are supposed to have confidence in Him as the keeper of our souls.

      ”My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.“
      ‭‭- John‬ ‭10‬:‭29‬

      no one, no sin, is able to snatch us from His hand :’). we don’t have to live in a constant state of fear that we’ll fall. He is powerful, and He is with us.

      in his epistle, Peter talks about faith that works by love. a faith that rests wholly in Christ’s merits will lead to obedience. but at least for me, my assurance of salvation was so feeble because my focus was on not sinning. “Jesus forgives my sins, and I make sure I don’t sin again.” lately, I’ve realized that my assurance needs to be based on Christ’s perfect sacrifice alone, and as I do this, God will work in me. yes, there is need for watchfulness against temptation, but never as a condition for salvation – always as the fruit of faith. faith works by love! and love stems from a heart that realizes “we have peace with God through Jesus” (romans 5:1).

      I would highly encourage you to join our group coaching community! the masterclass Jamie offers is great, and our Zoom sessions are encouraging.

    • Hang in there, girl. I totally get your doubt over your diagnosis.

      I encourage you to keep going, keep looking to God. Probably you have been looking and subconsciously highlighting the scary parts of the Bible. It’s very easy for people with our personality to focus on those.

      But i would like to remind you (and me) that it also tells of a God who sent his Son to heal us (and not to condemn us), so patient with the disciples with their many questions and character flaws, so loving that he invites us to rest with him first before we start learning from him (Matthew 11: 28-29).

    • Heather, I could have written your comment….down to the details…I too have had health issues (honestly mine were probably somatic symptoms from anxiety because the docs could never find causes…but it was scary enough) and also your concerns with besetting sins and thoughts of “how can I have been a believer this long and still struggle with x,y,z?” I too have lots of rumination around the circumstances and details of “when” I really became a believer. Know you aren’t alone. There’s someone who else out there who is pretty closely living your story. I would say I have struggled with scrupulosity since I was around 10 years old and I wasn’t properly diagnosed until 3 years ago at age 33. But through all the suffering and chaos in my mind I know God is good, and Jesus is beautiful and true. And I cling to that. A clinging faith is still faith.

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