The Ten Commandments:
- You shall have no other gods before me
- You shall not make for yourself an idol
- Do not take the name of the Lord in vain
- Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
- Honor your father and mother
- You shall not kill/murder
- You shall not commit adultery
- You shall not steal
- You shall not bear false witness
- You shall not covet
The Third Commandment says:
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)
Taking the name of God in vain is more than using it as a curse word. Any time we use God’s name flippantly or disrespectfully, we use it in vain. Jesus restated the Third Commandment by flipping it around: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9, NKJV).
Why does God care if we use His name in vain?
God’s desire is to have a loving relationship with us. In relationships, when we show disrespect for the other person, it interferes with that relationship. When we use the name of God or Jesus in a disrespectful manner, it interferes with our ability to have the kind of relationship with Jesus that we were created to have. Taking God’s name in vain doesn’t change how God thinks about us; it affects how we think of God. It reflects disregard and indifference on our part toward God. When we use God’s name in vain, it inhibits our ability to love Him the way we should.
What does it mean to take God’s name in vain?
In the Hebrew, there are four consonants used to spell God’s name. In English we see them as YHWH. We pronounce them as Jehovah or Yahweh. We also use many other names for God: Jesus, Lord, Savior, Father, Christ, and so forth. The Bible actually lists over 300 titles for God, many of which are commonly used as names. Using God’s name “in vain” means using it in any way that is disrespectful, false, or trivial. We can do this by using it as a curse word. We can also use His name in vain by claiming God says something that contradicts or isn’t supported by the Bible. An example that’s getting considerable attention right now is the claim that God thinks homosexuality is acceptable to Him. This belief is clearly and repeatedly refuted by the Bible, yet many people, even Christians, claim it’s true. Invoking the name of God in an attempt to justify sin is using God’s name in vain. We also use God’s name in vain when we make false promises, such as “I swear to God that I’ll do such-and-such.” When we do this, we are lying in the name of God, and using His name flippantly. There are any number of variations on using God’s name in vain, far too many to describe in depth in a brief blog. The point it, we all at least occasionally use God’s name disrespectfully, falsely, or irreverently. We all have missed the mark of the Third Commandment.
What is the consequence for taking God’s name in vain?
“…the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
As with any sin, taking the name of God in vain interferes in our ability to love God. It separates us from Him. It does not change God’s attitude toward us, but rather, changes our attitude toward God. For those who have never placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, sin prevents them from knowing God and from spending eternity in His presence. For those of us who have been saved, it interrupts our fellowship with Him. Using God’s name in vain reflects disrespect for God in our hearts, and the consequence is broken fellowship with Him.
What can we do about it?
First, if a person has never received forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ, never been saved, and never made Jesus Christ Lord of their life, that’s the place to start. Everyone has sinned, and the only way for God to forgive is by our receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
For those of us who are saved, we need to begin by cultivating a love and reverence for God’s name. We need to grow in our relationship with Him. We need to value God’s holiness and give God the respect He is due. As we grow in our relationship with Him, we will begin to respect and revere the name of God and the name of Jesus. Taking the name of the Lord in vain will become the exception rather than the rule. Although we will never obey this commandment (or any other, for that matter) perfectly this side of Heaven, as we grow closer to Jesus, our sinful tendencies will become less and less.