Can someone with OCD receive forgiveness?

Do the staff at Third Millennium think the Bible has anything to say about OCD and religious scrupulosity? I seem to never feel forgiven, no matter what I do!
Third Millennium Ministries is not your personal physician, or psychiatrist. We are not qualified to treat or diagnose OCD. But we do want to provide information for pastors and lay-leaders in the church who find themselves dealing with questions about these and related matters.

But some of us have talked to people who grew up in evangelical churches, heard the gospel, understood it, but they were always worrying if they were going to Hell. “What if I didn’t say the salvation prayer right?” They always had doubts in their mind. “Is this really my faith?” “Am I really a Christian?” “What if I’m going to Hell and I don’t know it?” “Can I be forgiven if I’m doubting this much?”

For those who might not have a lot of experience with OCD, it’s more than just wanting to wash your hands over and over. For some people it is, a focus more on perfectionism and things being “just right.” And then worrying—in a debilitating way that consumes every waking hour—about the consequences of things not being just right. 

OCD is often about an intolerance of uncertainty. Many seek reassurance or do mental compulsions like comparisons or playing out complex scenarios in their minds to gain a feeling of certainty. But it’s never enough.

Another aspect to OCD and its religious expression is that the advice you get from religious people can be terrible. “Pray more!” or “You have a demon!” or “Have you tried memorizing Romans?”— these are not helpful counsel. They tend to feed, rather than starve, the compulsion to find the perfect answer, and this time, to get it “just right.”

What people with this sort of experience are often left with is the sense that, as Susanna Black Roberts describes, belief is agony. [1] Alan Noble gives a brief view of his own struggles when he says, “Nobody warned me how obsessive-compulsive disorder can take the thing you care about most – your faith – and turn it against you.” [2]

To answer your question, since OCD is an intolerance of uncertainty, the Scriptures respond to this with faith. But faith is often taken by people with OCD-tendencies as a means to certainty—“If I’ll have enough faith, THEN I will be certain!” But this is not the case. Faith in God is how we travel through times and situations that trigger uncertainty. Hebrews 11 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.”

The writer of Hebrews is speaking to those who want to follow Christ, even when they're facing tough times. He encouraged them to stay strong and hold on to the promises of God, even if they can't see them right now. This flows from his reasoning in Hebrews 6:12, urging all to be "imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises."

The writer of Hebrews gives the example of Abraham (Hebrews 11:15) and other faithful people from the Bible. He mentions Noah, who was warned by God about events that hadn't happened yet. Out of respect and fear for God, Noah built an ark to save his family (Hebrews 11:7).

The idea is that, just like Noah, we can act on our faith, even when we're dealing with things that are unseen or uncertain. With OCD, uncertainty can be smothering. But from the perspective of faith, we can see a different way to think about it, as faith exists to guide us through uncertainty, not automatically give certainty to the faithful.

This brings us to some brilliant counsel from Thomas Watson on the topic of faith in his "The Ten Commandments" (1692. pp. 204-5 [The Banner of Truth Trust, 1981].). For many might say, “But my faith is too weak to even follow this advice!” Dr. Watson counters with the following:

  Be not discouraged. For,

(1) A little faith is faith, as a spark of fire is fire.

(2) A weak faith may lay hold on a strong Christ; as a weak hand can tie the knot in marriage as well as a strong one.

(3) The promises are not made to strong faith, but to true.

(4) A weak faith may be fruitful. The thief on the cross, who was newly converted, was but weak in grace; but how many precious clusters grew upon that tender plant! Weak Christians may have strong affections. How strong is the first love, which is after the first planting of faith!

(5) The weakest believer is a member of Christ as well as the strongest; and the weakest member of the body mystic shall not perish. Christ will cut off rotten members, but not weak members.

Therefore, Christian, be not discouraged. God, who would have us receive them that are weak in faith (Rom 14:1), will not himself refuse them.

  Our prayer for everyone struggling with this is from Psalm 94:

I cried out, “I am slipping!”
but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me.
When doubts filled my mind,
your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.


[1] Susannah Black Roberts. Mere Orthodoxy. "When Belief is Agony." ( Last Accessed 08 Jan 2024.

[2] Alan Noble. Plough. "Living with Religious Scrupulosity or Moral OCD." ( Last Accessed 08 Jan 2024.

Related Links

Lessons on Repentance - Psalm 51
Can You Give Me a Word Picture on Forgiveness?
Only God Can Forgive Sin

Answer by Rev. Robert Barnes

Rev. Robert Barnes is a minister in the PCA and the Managing Editor for Bright Media.