Last updated on April 23, 2020  by 
Jaimie Eckert

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Scrupulosity is a subcategory of OCD in which obsessions and compulsions center on religious themes. People often seek help for scrupulosity when they begin to realize that their spiritual anxiety may be more than just a spiritual problem. On the outside, these obsessions can appear like normal spiritual concerns, such as

  1. How do I know I am saved/forgiven?
  2. Am I in the right religion?
  3. What if I have grieved the Holy Ghost?
  4. Am I keeping all the religious codes of my faith community?
  5. How can I avoid sinning?

But on the inside, these “normal” spiritual concerns are driven by anxiety, inescapable rumination, and obsessive-compulsive cycles. Seeking help for scrupulosity is one of the best decisions you can make. In this article, I’ll share with you one positive practice to incorporate into everyday life that will help you keep OCD out of your faith experience.

Help for Scrupulosity: Knowing the Difference Between Religious Legalism and Religious OCD

For some people, religious OCD can become a severe condition, leading to the loss of hours per day spent in anxious spiritual rumination or fear-driven fulfillment of religious rituals. Typically, the cycle begins with a trigger — often an intrusive thought that plants a seed of doubt in the mind — which is followed by intense anxiety. To gain relief, the scrupulous individual either ruminates or engages in compulsions.

This is why religious OCD can frequently be seen from the outside as legalism, a works-based form of religion.  It’s similar, but here’s the key difference:

  • Religious legalism seeks to earn eternal salvation through works
  • Religious OCD seeks to find emotional relief through works 

Sufferers of scrupulosity usually have accurate, orthodox beliefs.  Christians with OCD know cognitively that we are saved by faith – the compulsive actions are not meant to earn salvation; they are an unwanted reaction to intense inner anxiety. 

To help your scrupulosity, it’s imperative to recognize the similarities and differences between religious legalism and religious OCD. It’s also key to begin tuning in to your motive when you start your cycles of excessive spirituality: are you motivated by a desire to earn salvation, or to find emotional relief?

Sabbath: A Rest Within Scrupulosity’s Storm

One of the spiritual practices that I found most helpful while recovering from OCD may sound controversial, because some people may regard it as a “work.” But I passionately advocate this spiritual practice (which I have personally followed for many years): it is the practice of keeping the Sabbath. 

Sabbath keeping is understood in a vast variety of ways.

Why do I see Sabbath as a precious shield, my “cozy blanket in time” against anxiety and OCD? More than any other practice in Scripture, Sabbath underlines the importance of rest rather than works. Sabbath is a commemoration of Creation (Genesis 1-2). God told Adam and Eve to rest because of what He had done, not because of what He expected them to do.

Anxiety tells me something is wrong and I need to spend time obsessing about it until I solve it. Scrupulosity tells me I am not good enough and have not done enough to be saved. OCD urges me to research more, seek for more reassurance, and work, work, work. 

Sabbath is a time of rest. Observing Sabbath is a time when I physically commit myself to the belief that ultimately, in the grand, cosmic scheme of salvation, it is God’s great work of creation and redemption that saves me — not anything I could ever do.  It is a weekly ritual in which I act out what I believe – it is His works, not mine. 

For me, keeping the Sabbath means that:

  1. I do not work – neither in the corporate world nor in my personal life.  I don’t cut the grass, clean the house, or even cook.  I prepare a special meal ahead of time and close my emails.
  2. I attend church to spend time in corporate worship and contemplation of God.
  3. I seek for special time with family, friends, and nature.  

How Sabbath is a Help for Scrupulosity

Keeping Sabbath does not insulate us entirely from intrusive thoughts.  We will still go to church and sweat during communion and freeze in panic when authenticity questions are raised.  Our compulsions to “do something” to solve emotionally-charged spiritual questions will still be there. We will still have intrusive thoughts about blasphemy and the unpardonable sin and salvation. We will still feel “off” for not completing our prayers correctly.

But wait – it’s Sabbath.  What if we’re committed to the Biblical view of not working on Sabbath?

It’s a parallel to the exact treatment that counselors prescribe for the intrusive thoughts of OCD: Sit it out.  Be anxious and do nothing about it.

When Adam and Eve kept the first Sabbath, perhaps they were anxious, too.  They might have thought, “Hey, God!  You gave us dominion over the earth! If we don’t keep working on it, the universe might self-destruct!”

And God might have said something like, “Just rest. Resting is your act of faith that shows that you trust Me to hold everything together.” God said,

Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.

Ezekiel 20:12, NKJV

Every time we keep Sabbath, we are participating in a sign — a deep, symbolic act — that ritually cements the fact of salvation by faith rather than works.

You may feel increased anxiety by the thought of spending extended time in a spiritual practice if you have a history of associating spirituality with emotional discomfort.  But I do not believe that OCD can be overcome through comfortable activities – it requires a fight, and this fight is the fight of resting. 

Sometimes, help for scrupulosity involves “not doing” rather than “doing.”

For me, Sabbath is the private theater in which I demonstrate my faith in God’s works by suspending my own.  And often, it is in that moment of physical rest that I find rest in my soul.

How about you? Have you ever kept Sabbath?  What was it like?

Wishing you all the best on your journey,


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  1. I love your articles💜🤍.

    And I love that they’re from a place of personal experience and it so much helps that you’re a believer too.

  2. And with sabbath can you go to a family party, I'm 15 so I don't "Work", and would buying fast food be bad bc your having other people work, and you cant go shopping right , and when does it start like on Friday on sunrise orrr……. and can you make food or no

    1. I love spending Sabbath with family. 🙂 It’s a wonderful time to strengthen important relationships in your life.

      As far as eating out on Sabbath, you’re right. The fourth commandment implies that we ought not employ others on the Sabbath. But Jesus taught us not to overload the Sabbath with regulations and restrictions. How do I personally apply this? I avoid eating out in restaurants on Sabbath, but I do eat hot, yummy meals at home on Sabbath. 🙂 Remember, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

      As far as the timing of Sabbath, the description in Genesis 1 is that the spiritual “day” (in contrast to the astronomical day) begins and ends at sunset. Nehemiah 13:19 also suggests that Sabbath begins at sundown Friday. This is the Sabbath that Jesus kept, as far as we can tell, and we have no record that the New Testament Church kept any other day as holy (although we do have record of them eating together on the first day of the week, Acts 20:7).

      Hope this helps. 🙂 Blessings,
      Jaimie

  3. hi, my name is Italia and im 15 years old, rn I would say my OCD blau is almost gone ??? or that what I THINK I still wake up in the morning and the same thoughts pop up like god is good god is great which I hope is not bad, and im fine with repeating that bc I feel like when I try to get peace of mind and or realize I haven't had OCD thoughts or any thoughts that are compulsive I get anxious and I start to remember the old Blaough thoughts but then when its ab to pop up I say it towards my self like (I am dumb god is smart) so i guess I have control over that, my mind is pretty negative i kinda have a mind like job at a time like (i wish i wasn't born) or i see EVERYTHING in life as useless, and I'm always questioning my salvation , i have become numb when ocd thoughts do come, im not stressed no more only sometimes when I feel like somethings going to pop up in my head, I also feel like im in a rut I dont know how i should live if that makes sense, i get angry at myself when i get annoyed at someone like ive alwasy been "sesitve" to vocies some voices get me a lil mad and i get made bc i sinned and I think that im not actually saved bc alot of people say when there saved they have peace or like depression axtiety all go away and the "if your saved by the son you are saved indeed" so how come i still have that , i have to be perfect bc jesus is looking for a church with no wrinkle and hes coming as kings of kings , and i also feel numb when saying this too , and when i feel my ocd is lying to me for some reason is gose towrds god and i find my self saying god is truth im a lie or im a lier or sometimes i call my ocd the lier , perhapes is because i feel like its the thought that im sining is what put god in my head OR its bc i think and i dont even realize that god is NOT my ocd , but what if it IS? like when my ocd was really bad i would clean alot like ALOT glory to god bc idk how i did all that stuff under stress and confusion, but now i dont have that so i feel as if im lazy and im deny gods voice ? The thing im also scared of bc now since I'm numb i don't get that heart-racing feeling I would get but i still search and research and watch videos that help me, and i feel like i don't glorify the lord enough or at all, and knowing christ deeper I have struggled with that, bc you can't get into heaven is Jesus doesn't know you, I'm thinking of getting a spiritual counselor to help my relationship with God, If you have ANY advice for me PLEASE ANYTHING WOULD HELP IS THIS NORMAL HAVE PEOPLE GONE THROUGH THIS CAN I GET FIXED?

    1. Hi Italia,
      Glad you’re here and are sharing your story. All the things you’ve talked about are relatively common for people with religious OCD. Getting stuck in these loops of impossible-to-solve spiritual obsessions, needing to repeat mantras or “praises” in your mind, constantly guilty feelings that don’t go away after repentance/research, and yes, even those “voices…” I know what you mean. There are many here in the scrupulosity community who would also raise their hands and say, “me too!”

      My advice to you as a 15-year-old is to do your best to get your parent/s or legal guardian involved. Since you’re young, your OCD will respond well to getting early intervention, and you can probably see this whole set of uncomfortable symptoms go into remission. Can your parents help you get an appointment with an OCD specialist in your area?

      Jaimie

      1. I'm going to TRY I don't want to waste money and IDK if they would take me seriously but ill still ask, I have gotten relief after hearing your body can become numb when going through so much so I felt like it wasn't my fault that I got that way I did feel ashamed that people still felt guilty after having OCD for like years and I caved in to fast …..if that makes sense my mind makes me feel like if I was more scared and guilty god would love or have more mercy with me, but then I saw this video and he said how OCD will take over what you care ab the most and my numbness went away for like 5-7 seconds bc I was happy ab that, but also kind not bc when my OCD goes down dose that mean my "Main priority in life " went away like saying that idc ab god. Later on that day, things got better I felt like olds feeling and thoughts ab god came back like the blanket of numbness was gone, my fear for god is still there I do have a little bit of "trauma" like when I see dishes I used to wash them a lot I still do but not as much, I got kinda scared I feel like my image of God is destroyed, and if I do something nice I feel like God is watching me but this weird feeling comes like he's judging me, my mornings have been ruff the" judy god "comes back, i can only know he is love but I dont want that tricking me into slacking off, and my realtionship isnt how it used to be I used to wake up at 6-10 and pray, now I dont bc I feel the blauphsy and strees in my head coming up, I just talk to him when I can or when my mind can and I say things that are most important yesterday I was telling him what triggered me or things that really scare me, today i plan on telling him things i feel like are distored in my head and how my image on him is not how i want it .

        1. That’s a very good idea, Italia. I guarantee seeking help will not be a waste of money. Your parents love you and will want you to be open about your struggles so they can help you. As a teenager, you’re going through a lot of healthy life changes, like defining your personality, likes/dislikes, and life goals. As you go through this process, you naturally start to become more independent from your parents. Sometimes this experience is a little rockier for some teens than others, but usually there’s at least a little bit of tension as everybody learns new ways of relating to each other! So it’s exactly at this stage in life when it’s hardest to open up with your parents about your personal struggles, but is the MOST important time to do so. I know it might be a little difficult or awkward, but please do make it a priority to talk to mom or dad about your OCD. You can say, “Mom, I need to talk to you about something serious. I know it’s going to sound really weird, but I need you to try and listen and take me seriously.” Tell them you believe you have OCD and would like to see a specialist. This would be the best thing at this point.

  4. I really am so glad that God revealed to me to keep the sabbath and I’ve decided to keep it so in your other article you said that the sabbath is not about dos and donts but….. I’m worried about that cause I don’t know what to not do 😬😬 I mean uhh it’s probably my ocd but like can I paint? What should I do with my food!!!

    1. Hi Paola,
      You’re right, sabbath is not about do’s and don’ts — it’s an entire day every week dedicated to “letting go” of human works. It’s so incredibly backwards how people in the time of Christ had turned it into such a legalistic tradition of what you can and can’t do. The ancient Jews had a belief that if everyone in Israel could jointly keep just ONE sabbath perfectly, then the Messiah would come. So Sabbath turned into a “work” that they did to bring about their salvation. That’s 100% the opposite of God’s intended meaning here!

      Your question is about what you can and can’t do on Sabbath. To be very literal, there’s only one thing the 4th commandment says not to do: common labor and the employment of others. The clearest reading of that would simply be to not have a job that requires working on sabbath. (This is a bit different for health and service-related roles, like hospital nurses or nursing home cooks; Jesus repeatedly showed that “work” done to care for the sick and weak is 100% in keeping with the concept of sabbath).

      Can you paint? Can you eat a hot meal? Yes, I think it’s totally fine. I often do crafting, reading, eating special food, visiting friends, hiking in nature, and other very enjoyable activities on sabbath. The main point is that on sabbath I spend special time with the Lord and I let go of the need to “fix” whatever personal issues in my life are vying for my attention. It’s this “letting go” that I feel is especially helpful for OCD — just remember that the letting go doesn’t give us permission to make a bunch of new rules! 🙂

      Hope this helps a bit!

      God’s blessings,

      Jaimie

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