Question: "How should Christians respond when people use God's name as a curse word?"
Answer: It is a clear violation of the third commandment to use God’s name in a vain and meaningless way (Exodus 20:7). It’s a sin. With that in mind, the profane use of God’s name should be treated like any other sin. Using God’s name as a curse word shows a heart that doesn’t have a proper fear of God, but it is not any worse than other sins.
It’s all too common today to hear people using God’s or Jesus’ name as a curse word in television shows and movies. The response of a Christian when that happens might be as simple as turning off the television set or finding something different to watch. Other situations, such as when a co-worker uses profanity, require a different approach.
First, when a friend or co-worker is using God’s name as a curse word, we should understand the nature of the problem. Profanity is not the root problem; it is the symptom of a deeper heart issue. If people know and fear God, they will have respect for God’s name. The need is for spiritual transformation in Christ, and that is what we should be pointing people toward.
When we hear people using God’s name in vain, it should be an occasion for us to pray silently for them. As we have opportunity, we can explain to them how it hurts us to hear our Lord’s name profaned. In our conversation, we don’t demand that people cease from cussing, but we do ask, as a favor, that they refrain.
There should be a standard we hold believers to that is different from our standard for unbelievers (see 1 Corinthians 5:12–13). We shouldn’t expect non-Christians to be living up to God’s standards, and it shouldn’t surprise us when they sin. We do have a responsibility to be a light in the darkness (Matthew 5:14). This doesn’t mean that every time people say, “Oh, my God,” we tell them they’re sinners. It does mean we look for appropriate opportunities to speak with them about their heart condition, their enslavement to sin, and how Jesus can save them (see 2 Timothy 4:2).
Often, when people around us know that we are Christians, they will be more careful in their speech. Some who normally use God’s name as a curse word may even catch themselves and apologize when they do let a word slip. This is an example of believers being salt in the world (see Matthew 5:13), and it may lead to deeper conversations about the reasons why they should not profane the name of God or Jesus.
Those who are called by God and are born again by the power of Christ are held to a different standard. They ought to know better than to use God’s name as a curse word. They should be expected to uphold God’s standards in their speech (Ephesians 4:29). Yet even when believers are using God’s name in vain, we are called to rebuke in a spirit of gentleness, and we should be quick to forgive (Luke 17:3, Galatians 6:1).
When we hear someone using God’s name as a curse word, our response should be rooted in meekness and fear, not pride. Someone who has better control of his mouth might think, “She is breaking a rule that I would never break!” or “He should be more like me and respect God’s name.” Such responses head dangerously in the direction of legalism. When we think our standing before God is based on our ability to keep rules, we lose sight of grace. We are all equally in need of God’s mercy, and we are all equally recipients of God’s grace.