Back in the ’70s, an American comedian, George Carlin, preformed a routine called, “Seven words you can never say on television.” As you can imagine those “seven dirty words” are common cuss words and vulgarities. Interesting that many of those words are now commonplace on prime-time TV. Consider churches for a moment, leaving aside words of vulgarity; there are also seven often avoided words in our gatherings.
Before we reveal the list of those seven “naughty” church words, there is one common reason for their banishment. Each one of them has been abused by church folks and leaders to control the behaviors of others. As such, part of our hesitancy to speak these words is a rejection of that abuse. But another part is simply that these words are often uncomfortable and bring conviction or condemnation. Neither is this a scathing rebuke, more a gentle reminder.
The first word is “sin.” This one is a bit tricky since the word still makes an appearance now and again. The problem is it is often divorced from its full meaning. Sin is much more than missing the mark or falling short. Sin separates us from God and others. Regarding God, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NASB95) The center of our faith is the recognition of our sin and the saving grace of Jesus Christ to forgive us.
The second word is “hell” and its related concepts. Here we must separate much of the dark age’s imagery from Biblical revelation. What we often mean by “hell” is that place of final punishment. It is not a pleasant place, but the nature of that unpleasantness is shrouded in imagery. Much in the same way that we don’t know what heaven will really be like, we don’t know what that final punishment will be like. Yet, the reality of it remains. Consider, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:14–15, NASB95) In the end, what is often imagined as hell, the realm of Satan, Hades, is itself thrown in the lake of fire.
The third word is “wrath” Specifically, God’s wrath. John the Baptist’s final testimony concludes, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36, NASB95) The Biblical age we live in emphasizes grace, as it should. But that doesn’t remove the reality of God’s wrath. The wrath of God is just as real as His love. Paul wrote in Romans, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” (Romans 1:18–19, NASB95) This doesn’t mean that God is wrathfully scrutinizing our every move ready to release lighting, famine, and disease. God’s wrath is real, but that’s not the whole picture.
The fourth word is “judgment.” That may confuse a few folks since a common encouragement is for Christ-followers to refrain from judging others, a necessary word of truth. But that doesn’t mean that all judgment is thrown away. The very last act of this age is a moment of judgment. Consider this from Revelation, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.” (Revelation 20:11–13, NASB95) God’s judgment is just, right, fair, and real.
The fifth word is “holiness” and related words such as purity. Paul wrote to Timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Timothy 6:13–14, NASB95) And, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” (2 Timothy 2:19b, NASB95) In reality, we will fight the sin in ourselves until death or the Lord comes. Holiness doesn’t mean sinless perfection or some flavor of super spiritualism but humbly striving after God’s glory in all that we do, think, and say.
The sixth word is “guilt”, and the seventh is “shame.” It’s not so much that these have become bad words, but when the previous five are ignored, there’s no need to bring up guilt and shame in relation to our sin. Yet, we are guilty sinners filled with shame. It is the blood of Jesus that cleanses and forgives us from the guilt and shame of our sin. It is continual moments of confession and repentance that refines us when we do sin. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NASB95) If we haven’t felt guilt and shame for our sin, then I wonder if we really understand the godless darkness within and the fullness of Christ’s love.
Again, these seven words have been and continue to be greatly abused for the sake of control and self-righteousness. But that abuse must not destroy their reality for Christ-followers. These words are meant to be balanced with other truths from God’s Word. Adopting these words and failing to peruse love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, peace, joy, and humility leaves a distorted picture of our faith in Jesus Christ. In the same way, perusing those positives while neglecting sin, hell, wrath, judgment, holiness, guilt, and shame also produces a distorted view of our faith in Jesus Christ.
It is easy to read something like this and judge our leaders and other churches. That is an incorrect use of judgment. The real take-away is this. As we accept the realities and truth of sin, hell, wrath, judgment, holiness, guilt, and shame with the realities of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, peace, joy, and humility, we arrive at a brighter day. A day filled with purposeful growth, meaningful service, and humble worship. Perhaps it’s time to humbly return these words to their rightful place.