Every month, 100,000 people search google for a “list of sins.”
I wonder how many of those people have the religious form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as “scrupulosity.”
That’s what we talk about here at scrupulosity.com — the intersect between the vibrant realities of a relationship with God, and the compulsive, overextended energies of religious OCD.
Today I thought we’d sit down and write out a complete list of sins for the scrupulous. You might be surprised what’s included — and what’s not!
Discovering a List of Sins from Scripture
Human beings love lists. We like to have all the requirements on one page in front of us so our minds can grasp the totality of what needs to happen.
God understands that.
In fact, He created our brains to search for patterns and birds-eye views. Creating a list of sins might sound like a severely obsessive-compulsive thing to do, but in actuality, it’s been happening for ages, all the way back to Bible times.
In the Garden of Eden, we know there was only one verbalized restriction — eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Pretty simple list, huh? But there was more to it. The law of God was written in their hearts. Naturally, they had no desire to kill, steal, or create idols.
But after the fall, sin grew like weeds. God’s requirements had to be taught and remembered.
By the time Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, it was necessary to codify God’s laws and get them written down. But watch carefully, because the next episodes in the “list of sins” saga are a bit tricky…
There were actually THREE bodies of laws that came into existence in the time of Moses. These three sets of laws were:
- The Ten Commandments (written in stone by the finger of God, Exodus 31:18)
- The Civil Laws (written in a book by Moses’ hand, not God’s hand, relating to civic society)
- The Ceremonial Laws (also written in a book by Moses’ hand — relating to ceremonial cleanliness, sacrifices, offerings, and feast days)
Which List of Sins Applies Today?
In Jennifer Traig’s memoir of her own experience with scrupulosity, Devil in the Details, she talks about how she would read the Old Testament ceremonial laws and feel compelled to never sit on beds.
Because beds might be “ceremonially unclean” if an “emission” from a married couple had “defiled” it. Traig couldn’t possibly know what activities had taken place on beds, so she compulsively sat on floors instead, trying her best to follow the Old Testament purity laws.
Others have felt bound by obscure Old Testament injunctions that relate to the civic structuring of ancient Israel. One of my clients used to get intrusive thoughts that she might be required by God to stone someone for their sins — the OT version of capital punishment, which today is carried forward by our nation’s law enforcement officials.
All this stems from a misapplication of the laws found in Scripture (and we haven’t even touched the scrupulous tendency to creatively “invent” sins and rigorously hold ourselves off-limits from completely innocent things — but we’ll discuss that later).
For the scrupulous soul that is compiling a lengthy list of sins from the Bible, the first thing we need to understand is which still apply to us today.
Jesus and the Law
When Jesus referred to the Law of God, He spoke of the Ten Commandments. Remember when He talked to the rich young ruler? He didn’t bring out a list of ceremonial requirements and animal sacrifices. He talked about the Ten Commandments.
When the Pharisees were quizzing Jesus about the Law, He famously summarized all ten commandments into two: love God supremely, and love your neighbor as yourself. Theologians have typically suggested that the first four of the ten commandments relate vertically to our relationship with God, and the last six relate horizontally to our relationship with others.
So yes, Jesus believed in the eternal perpetuity of the law. List of sins? Yep, He had one up His sleeve. But not necessarily the one that was expected in His day.
He regularly breached the expectations of religious leaders of His time. He was guilty of “harvesting” grain on Sabbath, healing on Sabbath, and eating in a state of ceremonial uncleanness. But yet, the book of Hebrews assures us that Jesus never sinned.
Everything that Jesus did in His life showed that the ceremonial pattern of symbols that had been pointing forward to the Messiah was passing away. Shadow was about to meet substance. No longer would believers need to sacrifice a lamb, because the true Lamb of God had come. No longer would the stringent community laws of Israel be in effect, for God’s chosen ones would be found in every Gentile community around the world.
This is how Paul could write that Jesus had
…wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross…So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.Colossians 2:14-17
Christ’s incredible victory on the cross put an end to the yearly round of religious ceremonies, purification requirements, and intricate feast days. Praise the Lord! We have direct access to our Father in Heaven, because the Passover Lamb has died for us, once and forever!
Moral Law vs. Ceremonial Law: Knowing the Difference
However, Christ’s death on the cross did not change the validity of God’s eternal law. This is why we can logically say, “hey, don’t steal your neighbor’s lawnmower. It’s a sin to steal.”
No one would refute that it’s a bad idea to murder. Even unbelievers recognize such atrocities as morally unacceptable.
What was “nailed to the cross?” The “handwriting of ordinances that was against us.” Let’s compare that language to how Moses’ book of the law (which was the ceremonial and civil laws) was referred to in the Old Testament.
So it was, when Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book, when they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying: “Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there as a witness against you; for I know your rebellion and your stiff neck. If today, while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord, then how much more after my death?Deuteronomy 31:24-27
The tables of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written were kept inside the ark of the covenant. The ceremonial and civil laws were written in a book kept beside the ark.
One was written by God’s finger, the other by Moses.
Deuteronomy 31 and Colossians 2 speak of the law which was “against us,” and the Colossians passage specifically mentions food, drink, festivals, and new moons, which clearly indicate that we are speaking of the ceremonial law.
In short, the ceremonial law has been nailed to the cross and taken out of the way. There is absolutely no compelling evidence anywhere that Christians of today must keep the Old Testament ceremonial laws.
The Ten Commandments, Applied
Despite the fact that I take a strong theological stance against the keeping of Old Testament ordinances (and yes, I’ve listened to some very sincere people try to convince me otherwise), at the same time, there is strong Biblical evidence for the keeping of the Ten Commandments.
I will assume that most of my current readership on this blog are in agreement, so I will not spend a lot of time defending my belief in the Ten Commandments.
The real issue we face with scrupulosity is that we are so concerned with wanting to keep the Ten Commandments perfectly that we build a whole scaffold of supporting rules to help us keep them, and these manmade rules are typically quite one-sided.
For example, we want to make sure we don’t break the commandment about committing adultery, so we check off all the boxes: not looking at porn, not having an affair, not even going to the pool or places where an accidental glimpse might happen. But despite all these restrictions, which are intended to safeguard a passionate, God-glorifying marriage, I’ve talked with clients who haven’t made love with their spouse for several years (no exaggeration) because of a fear of sin.
It’s like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
Believe me: I don’t take sin lightly. Coming from a conservative theological background, I believe the Bible teaches that some things are wrong, and I’m not going to play with that. But the scrupulous person creates sin where there is none, and I want to be a voice to balance that tendency.
To combat this one-sidedness, I decided to try developing a comprehensive “list of sins for the scrupulous” that will remind you of “the other side” of the discussion. There are undoubtedly a lot of things that you consider sinful that will not be on my list, like the client I had who thought wearing cologne was sinful, or the client who felt oppressive guilt for not “doing enough” for God even though she was working full time and leading out two huge nonprofits on the side.
The following list is based purely on an application of the Ten Commandments and Christ’s own statement that He has come that we may have life, and that we may have it more abundantly (John 10:10) — that is, rules are primarily meant to safeguard the gifts of God in this life — for us and for other people.
A Comprehensive List of Sins for Scrupulosity
1. Supreme Loyalty to God
And God spoke all these words, saying: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.Exodus 20:1-3
The uncomplicated meaning: no religious syncretism. You may not be Hindu and Christian at the same time, for example. You may not pledge yourself to follow a pagan deity and still belong to God.
What it doesn’t mean: this doesn’t mean that everything in life that gives you pleasure is a “god.” God created us to have love, pleasure, and enjoyment, and the scrupulous tendency to feel guilty and sinful in beautiful moments is not the true meaning of the first commandment.
2. Unmediated Relationship with God
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.Exodus 20:4-6
The uncomplicated meaning: God invites us to have an unmediated relationship with Him, one that does not pass through an intermediary or statue. Applied, this means we should neither create idols nor pray to them.
What it doesn’t mean: similar to the previous commandment, it doesn’t mean that everything in life we enjoy is an “idol.” Nor does it mean we cannot have beautiful images and art, unless we are praying to them as an intermediary to help us access God.
4. Respect for God
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.Exodus 20:7
The uncomplicated meaning: God asks us to remember the distinction between creature and Creator by showing Him due respect. We should avoid using His name in a frivolous or vulgar manner. Expletives like, “Oh my God!” “Jesus Christ!” “I swear to God!” “God d*** it!” and so on are offensive to the Lord.
What it doesn’t mean: Although it is reasonable to make recommendations or requests, the third commandment does not require us to police others in their choice of language. It also does not mean that unwanted, intrusive, blasphemous thoughts that stem from obsessive-compulsive disorder are sinful.
3. Rest and Security in God
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.Exodus 20:8-11
The uncomplicated meaning: God invites us to refrain from working on the Sabbath day. It is the only commandment that includes the injunction to “remember,” perhaps predicting our busy lifestyles that would lead us to forget our God-dependency. As a memorial of creation that reminds us of God’s power to create the world, Sabbath is elsewhere called a “sign” that indicates our trust in His ability to re-create us spiritually.
What it doesn’t mean: This commandment is not something to “do.” It is a “not-do” moment where we stop our works and rest in God’s. (See my article on Sabbath as a beautiful weekly ritual for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.)
5. Care and Respect for Parents
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.Exodus 20:12
The uncomplicated meaning: there are many culturally appropriate ways to “honor” your parents, depending on where you are in the world. The Bible stipulates that we should obey them when we are children (Ephesians 6:1) and make sure they are comfortable and cared for in their old age (Mark 7:9-13).
What it doesn’t mean: This commandment does not endorse letting yourself be hurt or manipulated in toxic parent-child relationships. You are not breaking the fifth commandment if you need to draw healthy boundaries.
6. Protection of Life
You shall not murder.Exodus 20:13
The uncomplicated meaning: avoid engaging in actions that take life or quality of life. Not only would this refer to murder and suicide, but it would most likely include slower forms of death, such as drugs and self-harming practices. (What about watching violent movies or playing violent video games? See next section.)
What it doesn’t mean: some have equated anger with the sin of murder because of 1 John 3:15 — “whoever hates his brother is a murderer.” However, hatred is not the same thing as anger. And hatred is not the same thing as the “general annoyance” or “suspicion” that many people with scrupulosity feel guilty about.
7. Protection of the Marriage Relationship
You shall not commit adultery.Exodus 20:14
The uncomplicated meaning: no extra-marital affairs. This would include any kind of extra-marital sexual activity (penetrative or not), emotional affairs, or remarriage after cases of unbiblical divorce. (What about porn? See next section.) And for cases of unmarried persons, this commandment would still be relevant, since you have no way of knowing whether your premarital sexual partner is your future spouse or someone else’s.
What it doesn’t mean: many people with scrupulosity struggle with intrusive, unwanted lustful thoughts. They believe that such thoughts indicate they are breaking the seventh commandment. Others deal with unwanted and inappropriate emotional attractions. These issues are not what this commandment is addressing. A temptation is not a sin. Don’t ruminate for too long on whether it is a “chosen” thought or an unwanted temptation. The more attention you give to a thought, the stickier it will become. Ignore the thought and move on.
8. Protection of Community Assets
You shall not steal.Exodus 20:15
The uncomplicated meaning: don’t take what doesn’t belong to you.
What it doesn’t mean: it isn’t referring to your obsessively-marked timecard, items you touched in the supermarket, or favors/coupons you received.
9. Protection of Truth and Reputation
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.Exodus 20:16
The uncomplicated meaning: speak the truth about others, and don’t corrupt justice with lies.
What it doesn’t mean: this commandment uses legal vernacular. “Bearing witness against” someone is what takes place in a courtroom. A courtroom witness or testimony involves very serious thought and intention. The same would go for everyday lies or even “white” lies. But this commandment is not talking about accidental misinformation. People with scrupulosity are highly fastidious about getting the “details” correct so they aren’t guilty of lying. I’ve had clients email me after sessions to “fix” their mistakes, like saying they take medicine X when they actually take medicine Z. These kinds of mistaken details might be misleading, but they are not sin. Also, the ninth commandment does not mean we may never speak a negative truth about someone else. If you are in an abusive or emotionally toxic situation, it is not “bearing false witness” to speak to a pastor or counselor about it, even if you’re confused about the details.
10. Contentment with God’s Gifts
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.Exodus 20:17
The uncomplicated meaning: no matter what our materialistic culture tells you, focus on a spirit of contentment and gratitude rather than greediness.
What it doesn’t mean: it doesn’t mean you can’t “want” anything. Many people with scrupulosity guilt trip themselves for normal desires. This has crossover with the first and second commandment about having other gods or idols. I’ve coached a few people with scrupulosity who intentionally purchased shabby thrift-store clothing and cut their hair in awkward styles to avoid the “pride” of looking nice, and others who feel guilty for the feeling of admiration that arises when they look at their neighbor’s new car. Admiration and self-respect are very different from the covetous, self-seeking greed this commandment appears to be addressing.
What About Porn and Violent Entertainment? Do They Make It on the List of Sins?
Of course, let me reiterate that my purpose for writing a post where I attempt to make a comprehensive list of sins is simply to dial back and remind the scrupe community that we usually take it too far. And while the Ten Commandments can be probed for almost infinite applications as society adapts and changes, it’s good to remember that there are limitations. Many people in the world (probably the vast majority) need to be reminded of the claims of God’s law. But for our teensy little segment of the population, we need to be reminded to not label innocent things as sin.
That’s my goal here, is to try and talk about God’s requirements with faithfulness to the Biblical message without giving ya’ll permission to go overboard. 🙂
But here I just want to insert one element that many people might be wondering about. What shall we do with porn and violent entertainment? Should that be on the “list of sins” or not?
Porn isn’t high on my list of topics to discuss with my clients, but occasionally someone will bring it up. Usually, it’s viewed negatively. Such views are based on verses like Matthew 5:27-28, Job 31:1, and Psalm 101:3. Taken together, these verses suggest that voluntary looking equals vicarious participation in such sins.
(Note: please don’t start ruminating now if you’re one of those guys who accidentally sees a scantily clad woman in the supermarket, looks away rapidly, and then obsesses about whether you actually meant to look or not.)
I’m talking about people — this could be men or women — who voluntarily turn the computer on, go to specific sites, and sit there ogling.
In my view, as far as I can understand Scripture, consuming porn is sin.
And, thankfully, there’s a huge segment of the Christian world who believes that way, too.
But if voluntary looking equals vicarious participation, then why are many Christians against porn but not against violent entertainment?
How can we play video games that involve pulling the trigger and killing someone? How can we watch movies that glorify shoot-outs, deadly explosions, and mysterious murders?
The same principle would seem to apply.
Either porn and violent entertainment are both sinful, or neither are sinful.
Trying to Be “Too Righteous”
King Solomon wrote an interesting statement in the book of Ecclesiastes. He said, “Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise: why should you destroy yourself?” (Ecclesiastes 7:16.)
He must have seen that there is a tendency within some people to strive so hard and be so persnickety in the details that we actually end up harming ourselves.
Paul wrote in Romans 7:6 about serving in the Spirit and not in the letter. He must have understood that clocking out a few minutes early and then answering some business calls on the weekend was better than standing around doing nothing in the lobby for the last 6 minutes and 35 seconds of the workday.
Making a list of sins is only as effective as our understanding of sin and righteousness actually is. Do we understand how we actually become righteous through the indwelling spirit of Christ, or are we trying to white-knuckle ourselves to holiness? Are we aiming for the true spirit behind God’s laws, or are we more interested in ticking off a million little boxes?
An old friend of mine used to be a faculty at the Bible college I attended. Every year, staff and teachers had to sign off on all the school’s agreements and waivers. This staff member regularly refused to sign the contract allowing him to drive school-owned vehicles, because it stipulated that he could not drive over the speed limit.
Sounds like a good stipulation, right?
But he thought about the spirit of the law rather than the letter, and he refused to sign. He recognized that there would be times when following the speed limit would be a safety hazard — for example, in highway situations where the speed limit is 55 but everyone is going at least 70. Rules that are intended to keep everyone safe, if followed with determined fastidiousness to the letter of the law, might sometimes cause more harm than good.
So when we sit back and think about the ever-so-small “list of sins” we find in the Ten Commandments, let’s remind our scrupulous selves to pay attention to the spirit of the law. The spirit behind it is life, preservation, and rich relationships with God and others.
Not intensive guilt-tripping for minuscule details that don’t even count as sins.
God’s law doesn’t lead to death, it leads to life!
Writing up a comprehensive “list of sins” isn’t easy, but since 100,000 people are searching for it every month, I decided it might be a topic to try wrangling.
I hope my attempt has been helpful in some way.
If you have scrupulosity, remember that the intense passages in Scripture about sin and guilt were more or less written for people with a less sensitive conscience than you. Others need a big kick in the pants. You may need only a nudge. Don’t let your hypersensitivity to guilt and sin lead you to a state of resentfulness towards God or an avoidance of religion.
God loves you.
He sees that you are authentically and genuinely trying to follow Him.
And He’s the One who will make that a reality.
Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.Philippians 1:6
May you have an accurate and not overblown picture of sin. May you trust in God to work the miracles of sanctification in your life that you cannot produce in your own human effort. May you rest trustingly in His hands with the calmness of a little child.
Best wishes on the journey,