Is It a Sin to Cuss?
Bad language, or cussing, is very common in our world. Is cussing really something to avoid, or is it no big deal? What does the Bible say about cussing?
As a boy, I remember my uncle telling me that cussing, or using profanity, was a sign of a limited vocabulary. In other words, if you have to resort to swearing, it means you haven’t educated yourself well enough to express your thoughts and feelings in a more socially acceptable manner.
But is cussing just a violation of an arbitrary social construct on language? Or is it more than that? How concerned should a Christian be about the use of crude and offensive language? Does it really matter?
In other words, is it a sin to cuss?
A growing trend of bad language
The use of profane and obscene words is reported to be steadily on the rise in the Western world. While older generations typically report a lower propensity for cussing, younger generations tend to accept and use all forms of profanity, from the relatively mild to the extremely vulgar.
These words are seen more and more as acceptable means of self-expression, and we find them being used widely and casually in virtually every setting. Some will even claim their use is desirable and a sign of greater intelligence!
However, God makes it clear that the values of our society should not be the default standards by which a Christian lives (Romans 12:2). A Christian must ensure that his or her standards are biblical. A Christian must be concerned with God’s—not people’s—perspective.
What we say is a matter of the heart
One argument for using crude and rude graphic language is that words have meaning only because society has assigned meaning to them. And that meaning differs with language and evolves over time.
Consider that we say “thank you” in English, “medaase” in Twi, “danke” in German and “merci” in French. Those sounds have been formed into words over time and assigned their meaning by human beings. Therefore, it is argued that profanity truly is only a social construct, a combination of various sounds, and not inherently right or wrong.
The words we use, along with the tone with which we say them, reveal what is in our hearts—who we are on the inside.But that perspective misses the most important part of language: Words do carry meaning, and our words reveal what is in our hearts!
Notice what Jesus said about the significance of our words: “But whatever goes out of the mouth comes from within, and that’s what makes a person unclean. Evil thoughts, murder, adultery, other sexual sins, stealing, lying and cursing come from within. These are the things that make a person unclean” (Matthew 15:18-20, God’s Word Translation).
The words we use, along with the tone with which we say them, reveal what is in our hearts—who we are on the inside. If we deliberately use crude and profane words, knowing what they mean, or refuse to police our words, we are revealing a heart that is irreverent and disrespectful to God and our fellow man.
To learn more, read “Profanity: Why God Cares About the Words You Use.”
Using God’s name irreverently
One major aspect of profane speech is the violation of the Third Commandment: “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). God’s name represents Him and all of His wisdom, power and glory.
God expects us to use His name with great respect!
Yet today we hear God’s name used as an expression of strong emotions like excitement, horror, disgust or condemnation. At other times, it’s treated as just something to say, almost like a filler or to add emphasis to a statement. In none of these cases are people thinking respectfully about God or giving praise to Him. His name is flippantly used without care or consideration.
For more insight on the appropriate (and inappropriate) use of God’s name, read “Third Commandment: You Shall Not Take God’s Name in Vain.”
What does the Bible say about cussing?
In order to better understand God’s perspective on our use of language, let’s consider the following scriptures as a sampling of what the Bible teaches about profanity:
- “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth” (Colossians 3:8).
- “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:3-4).
- “But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness” (2 Timothy 2:16).
- “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless” (James 1:26).
Rather, if we desire to be Christians, we are encouraged to:
- “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:6).
- “Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in . . . sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you” (Titus 2:6-8).
- “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
King Solomon sums up these principles in his statement: “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut out. The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked what is perverse” (Proverbs 10:31-32).
How to stop cussing
Once we see what God expects from us, we face a new challenge: How do we change? Often the use of profanity is so deeply ingrained that the words come out without much thought. For some, cussing is so habitual that it’s no longer a conscious decision. The words seem to pop out almost on their own!
We have to be thoughtful about our words and strive to be more aware and in control of everything that comes out of our mouth. Here are three steps to overcoming cussing:
1. Repent to God for using bad language.
After we realize that cussing is a sin, we should feel guilt and go to God in prayer, asking for His forgiveness and help to change. If we continue struggling with bad language, we will have to pray to God regularly about this issue.
Continue asking Him for strength to change. (For more information on how to have the willingness to change, see our article “How to Repent.”)
2. Become hyperaware of our words.
By paying close attention to what we say, we can see how big the problem is and where and when we need to change. We have to be thoughtful about our words and strive to be more aware and in control of everything that comes out of our mouth.
Asking friends and family can be a huge help because they sometimes hear things that you may not recognize.
3. Remove yourself from sources of bad language as much as possible.
The less you hear or read those words, the less they will be in your mind. That may mean separating yourself from some people or from environments where bad language is common. It may mean abstaining from some media that is filled with bad language.
For more insight on choosing positive influences, read “Surround Yourself With Good People.”
In the beginning, you will likely have to struggle to stop bad words when they are on the tip of your tongue, but not yet spoken. As you progress, you will begin to reject them when they first enter your mind. Eventually, you’ll grow to the point where they rarely, if ever, enter your mind. That is where we should want to be. You can pray to God for the help to not even be inclined to cuss.
However, there may still be times when we stumble. We may find bad words slipping out in sudden anger, frustration or desperation. When that happens, it’s important that we go to God, asking again for His forgiveness and redoubling our efforts to overcome this sinful habit.
The answer to the question “Is it a sin to cuss?” is a resounding yes.