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Guest Post: Mackerels, Schmoley, and the Spirit of God

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Mackerels, Schmoley, and the Spirit of God

by Michael Coughlin

What do mackerels, “schmoley,” and the Spirit of God have in common? If you listen to people in normal conversation, apparently all these things are holy.

Did you see something that surprised you, but you’re a Christian so you don’t want to blaspheme God? Just exclaim, “Holy mackerel!” Maybe you don’t even know what to say, so just make up a word and mutter, “holy schmoley!”

And when you want to refer to the third person of our thrice holy God? Well, just use the same terminology and call Him the Holy Spirit.

Maybe you are sensitive to the word holy, so when you are surprised you let people know by saying, “Oh my goodness!” That’s way better than actual blasphemy or cursing or especially that eff word the heathen use, right? Ah, but goodness is one of God’s attributes, and the concept of goodness is synonymous with who God is, so when we say “oh my goodness” are we really just saying the dreaded and deftly avoided “Oh my God” anyway? What about “oh my word?” are we saying something new or different when we replace God’s name with “word?” Ponder that…

Please, bear with me! My goal isn’t some sort of legalistic “here are the words that are OK and here are the words that are not” post. But I want you to consider a few things and let God’s Word and common sense guide you toward repentance if necessary in your life.

God is holy. Anything God sets apart is holy. NOTHING ELSE IS HOLY. When we use the word holy as an adjective before anything God hasn’t set apart, are we diminishing the concept of holiness at all? Even if it’s just a little, that’s a problem!

What about when you replace God’s name with the word “gosh,” or “goodness” or “golly?”

At some point, Christian, are you sure that you are saying something different in your heart that God sees than the careless language of the pagan? We bemoan the outward sins of a filthy culture while committing the same sins to lesser degrees often in our hearts and the privacy of our homes, our speech included!

Paul said in Ephesians 4:29:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Not only is corrupting talk forbidden, but we are obligated to ONLY have such as is good for edification come out of our mouths. It isn’t enough to avoid the dirty words; we are to express ourselves with clean talk which is meaningful or helpful or build up.

Jesus said in Matthew 12:36-37:

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

How we speak is a direct fruit of our heart. That is, your speech indicates your heart toward God. So, dear Christian, do you speak carelessly? Why do you affix the term holy before that which is not holy?

And why are we so shocked all of the time? Seriously, how often are you really so shocked that you have to say “oh my whatever?” Is it possible that we are not meditating on the greatness and majesty of God enough and the world is too easily awe-inspiring?

Christians, our words mean things, even the ones we utter without the intention of actually communicating what they mean. James warns us that taming the tongue is a vital Christian virtue, and I think that goes along with what Paul said in Ephesians and what our Lord Jesus said above.

but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. James 3:8-9

Brother or sister, part of making your calling and election sure is seeking Christ through His Word and submitting to the Holy Spirit to sanctify you that you may practice the virtue of self-control over your tongue. I submit to you that those who cannot tame the tongue reveal themselves to not truly be one of his children. If you don’t believe that, read Matthew 12, Ephesians 4 and James 3 in their full context and you will see that a contrast is being made between the children of darkness and those who tame the tongue. Extra credit if you can find self-control anywhere listed in Galatians 5.

So join me and let’s see if together we can express ourselves more like our perfect Lord to whom we desire to be conformed, who never wastes a word, nor does he fail to use the best ones when words are required.

For further reading, here is an old blog post which supports the same ideas presented herein.

Michael Coughlin is a street evangelist from Ohio. He and his wife, Erin have 5 children. You can find him on Twitter, at his blog, or on Sermon Audio.


10 thoughts on “Guest Post: Mackerels, Schmoley, and the Spirit of God”

    1. That depends on your theological viewpoint. In our sanctification, we are surely directed to be careful with our words. And the fourth commandment is profound. I just get a little concerned when we speculate where someone’s heart is when they use a phrase like “oh my word,” or “oh my goodness.” We will not be perfect until we are glorified. We will sin with our words, as hard as we try not to. And, as the elect in Jesus Christ, our sins will not be counted against us. Does that mean we “continue to sin so Grace may abound?” Of course not.

      Yes, we can look Pharisaical (and I’m very guilty of this at times in a variety of topics) if we spend too much time applying “rules,” without a balance of the Gospel.

      Just wanted to clarify that we will not lose our salvation over breaking the fourth commandment. Should we be convicted of that sin and repent? Yes, and that conviction by the Holy Spirit is what testifies to making our calling and election sure.

      If the believer is not convicted of a besetting sin, that’s a problem. However, again, it is not something we can automatically assume that someone is not a believer. It may take longer for some people than others to “conquer” that besetting sin, realizing that Christ has already conquered the dominion of sin.

      Good discourse. And I can definitely benefit from reading articles like this to establish more accountability in many areas of my life.

      By the way, I live in the deep South, and I do not hear, nor do I think I’ve ever used words like schmoley, mackerel and Toledo used with the word “holy.” We say things like, “I didn’t fall off a turnip truck,” and the fish on our menus are flounder, trout, and catfish.



  1. My 5 year old daughter literally put me in my place on this the other day. What a timely post. She knows the we do not take the Lord’s name in vain, and she brought it to my attention that saying ‘Oh My Word’ is not appropriate either. I had never even thought about this or what it means. Oh my word, more than likely, refers to the word of God. I was speechless, I couldn’t believe that my 5 year old little girl taught me something so simple yet so very important.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a great story. I hope you maintain that humility! Many people would not listen to their child and would not only go on speaking the same way but would even harden their child’s sensitive conscience. Good job!


    1. Here’s a list of them. Thanks for asking!

      Matthew 12:36-37
      Ephesians 4:15,25,29,31;5:4
      James 3:5-11,13
      Galatians 5:15,22-23


      1. <>>>

        Are you saying a believer can lose his or her salvation? You are taking this out of context. The verse you may be using here is Gal. 5:21, and that is not referring to believers who are penitent. We have to be careful not to be legalistic and profess wrong doctrine, however zealous for the Lord and well-intentioned we desire to be.


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