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Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain

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In our current sermon series at ACC, we are looking at the 10 Commandments. The third commandment says, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.”

What does this commandment mean?

First, it means that we must honor God with ourlips. We must only speak God’s name in ways that are thoughtful and reverent.

A person’s name is more than a random arrangement of letters on paper. It is more than a mere sound that might be spoken. A person’s name signifies all of who they are. Their name is a representation of their character and their being. A third grader whose name is mocked on the playground immediately reacts with anger or tears because she knows that to disrespect her name is to show contempt for her as a person.

If this is true with human names, how much more so with the name of God. Throughout Scripture we are told that God’s name is holy, that it is to be treated as sacred. To utter the word “God” or the name “Jesus” flippantly or irreverently is therefore a serious form of blasphemy. To use these names merely to express surprise, disgust, or contempt is even worse. In Leviticus 22:32 God says, “Do not profane my holy name, for I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am the Lord, who made you holy ….” Every time we speak the name of God, we invoke his presence. We should only do this with an attitude of veneration and praise.

Secondly, the third commandment means that we are to honor God with ourlives.In my opinion, this is probably the main intention of the commandment. The prohibition is against “taking” the LORD’s name in vain, not against “speaking” it in vain.

The Hebrew word translated “take” means: to lift, to bear, or to carry. It is used in Exodus 28:29 to describe how the high priest carried the names of the Israelite tribes with him when he entered the tabernacle, because they were written on his clothing. In a similar sense, as followers of Jesus, the name of our God is “written” on our lives. We are the people who bear God’s name (Daniel 9:19, 1 Peter 4:16). Everywhere we go our lives speak to the world of the nature and character of our God. When our way of living contradicts the name we profess, we do serious dishonor to God’s reputation.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus seriously warned people who say “Lord, Lord” but who do not do “the will of [the] Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21-23) The problem is not in the way they speak God’s name. The problem is in the way they carry God’s name. They misrepresent the character of God through lives that do not match their words.

Jesus said, “The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me.” (John 10:25) The works we do in our Father’s name testify about us, as well. Our works reveal the true view of God’s name that occupies our hearts.

When we understand the third commandment, we will realize how much we need a Savior. Which of us has never spoken the name of God without properly reflecting on his greatness and majesty? Which of us has a life that always dignifies the name of the God we profess to adore? The warning attached to the third commandment is that “the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:7) If we did not have a Savior who bore our guilt on the cross and atoned for our sin with his blood, we would surely be in trouble. Thank God that we have such a Savior in Jesus!

The third commandment also shows us how much we need the Spirit.Jesus said, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Matthew 12:34) Sooner or later, what is really in our hearts will be revealed through our words and in our lives. Therefore, we can never follow the third commandment by merely trying hard to control our words and working hard to reform our lives. Unless something radically changes in our hearts, we will eventually find ourselves dishonoring God’s name. Thank the Lord that he has sent us his Holy Spirit to transform who we are on the inside. Let us pray that the Spirit will do this work in us more and more with every new day.