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The 3rd Commandment: What Does It Mean To Take God’s Name In Vain?

The 3rd Commandment: What Does It Mean To Take God’s Name In Vain?

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It always amazes me how young our children are when we see rebellion in them. I recall that our toddler daughter didn’t want to submit to my authority – or her mom’s authority. If she didn’t want to eat her veggies, she’d try to throw the jar across the kitchen or knock the spoon from my hand. If she didn’t want to be held and if she wanted to walk—never mind the fact it was 100 degrees outside—she’d try to hurl herself out of our arms.

But we always had her best interests in mind.

Likewise, many believe the Ten Commandments to be limiting instructions given by a far-off God who doesn’t want you to “live a full life.” He’s seen as a “cosmic killjoy.”

But, truth be told, the commandments provide us a look into the character of God, a look into our own sinful heart, and — rather than restrict, they give us a way to be free. The commandments were given to the Israelites after coming out of Egyptian slavery, and given as a way to live free.  Thus, it’s for our good—indeed, our eternal perspective—that the commandments were given.

From Exodus 20:7, the Third Commandment reads:

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.

So, what does this mean? Literally, this means to falsify who God is and what He stands for. Indeed, each person should actively reflect God’s nature in actions, speech, thoughts, plans, etc.—all of life! Taking God’s name in vain, then, is to reflect His nature in an erroneous way.

The character and names of God speak to His nature and person (Ps. 20:1), His teaching (John 17:26), His saving work (John 1:12; Acts 4:12), and His power (Acts 3:6). In this way, it’s impossible to disconnect God from His name.

Are You Guilty of Breaking This Commandment?

If you are a Christian, the name “Christian” means “little Christ.” And, as such, when we take on the name of Christ by repenting and believing the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-8), and then misrepresent God in our sin, we’ve broken this commandment.

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Here are some common ways we break this commandment:

1. We swear by God’s name and character when a promise won’t be fulfilled.

Simply put, we use our language carelessly. How often do we say, “I swear to God” as if it means zilch? In truth, we’re vowing by the name of a God that can’t lie and whose word can never be broken. Jesus said to let your “yes be yes” and your “no be no” (Matt. 5:37).

2. We try to make our name more famous God’s.

Even after being saved from all of our sin, we’re unenthusiastic to lay down the desire to make our name great. Though it is Christ’s name that should be propagated among the nations, many times we want our name, our talents and our personality to ring out to the world. We reverse the words of John the Baptist (John 3:30) and say, “I must increase, and God you must decrease.”

3. We link God’s name with ideas it should not be associated with.

The 3rd Commandment: What Does It Mean To Take God’s Name In Vain?Think of the Crusades from the Dark Ages. People were rallied around “God’s will,” and this led to a complete abandonment of biblical principles in just war and the sanctity of life. And today we do this by attaching God’s name to political parties and ideologies.

4. We don’t worship in a manner that uplifts God’s name.

You have been there, right? Our minds wonder during church, we come in late, we’re texting or checking our e-mail, as if nothing has been done for us, at all. And our lack of excitement and enthusiasm in worship misrepresents God’s name.

5. We employ God’s name lightly.

Let’s be honest: People stub their toe on a table and blurt out a curse word related to God’s name. You aren’t asking God to eternally judge the table, are you?

Surely as Christians who bear His name, we’ve broken this commandment. But, if you’re a non-Christian reading this, you were created to display His image. You were created by God and for God. And, therefore, you take the name of God in vain also when you twist who God is.

Can Jesus Save Us From Our Guilt?

Jesus did justice to God’s name because He never took the name of His Father in vain. Even in His final hours on the cross, the question was still churning of what name should be attached to Jesus. He was asked in Mathew 26:64, “Are you the Christ, the Son of God?” And Jesus retained that name, and lived up to it perfectly to the point of death.

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A guiltless man—Jesus Christ, the God-man—was seized guilty so that you, being guilty, could be avowed guiltless. Paul speaks of these commandments as a mirror into our sinful hearts (Galatians 3:19-29). The commandments were given by His grace so that we would see our need. We don’t live up to God’s standard and, therefore, we need a Savior. Not one drop of the blood of Christ was shed in vain. None for whom He died will ever perish.

We must recognize the greatness that is in the name of God. In this name is salvation, love, mercy and grace. The psalmist said, “Great is His name and greatly to be praised” (Psalm 96:4). Knowing, seeing, meditating and living this out puts you on the path of sanctification in not taking His name in vain, but, rather, living in reverence and honor to it in all you say, think, plan and do.

And, finally, Christian, let me say something about your work for God. It is not a vain thing to serve the living God. If you are doing the work God called you to, it can’t be in vain, whatever the apparent outcomes (1 Cor. 15:58; Gal. 6:10). Don’t be discouraged today, wondering if it’s worth it. It’s impossible for anything you ever do in God’s name to be in vain. Just when we think that all of our ministry and work efforts have been in vain, we see that God has been working above and beyond our greatest hopes (Eph. 3:13-17).

Are you trusting your vain efforts — or the great God today

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4 comments

  1. Question: “What does it mean ‘to live is Christ’ (Philippians 1:21)?”

    Answer: Philippians 1:21 says, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Most people focus on the second part of the verse, “to die is gain,” and contemplate the joys of heaven. But we should not overlook what comes before. The importance of the phrase “to live is Christ” cannot be overstated. In all honesty, this phrase should be central to every Christian’s life.

    In this statement, the apostle Paul is saying that everything he has tried to be, everything he is, and everything he looked forward to being pointed to Christ. From the time of Paul’s conversion until his martyrdom, every move he made was aimed at advancing the knowledge, gospel, and church of Christ. Paul’s singular aim was to bring glory to Jesus.

    “To live is Christ” means that we proclaim the gospel of Christ. Paul preached in synagogues; he preached at riversides; he preached as a prisoner; he preached as an apostle; he preached as a tentmaker. His message was constant: “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). He brought the message of Christ’s sacrifice to kings, soldiers, statesmen, priests, and philosophers, Jews and Gentiles, men and women. He would preach to literally anyone who would listen.

    “To live is Christ” means that we imitate the example of Christ. Everything that Jesus did and said, that’s what Paul wanted to do and say. The church benefitted from his godly example: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). What would Jesus do? That’s what we want to do.

    “To live is Christ” means that we pursue the knowledge of Christ. We want to know Christ better and better each day. Not just a set of facts about Christ, but Christ Himself. “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).

    “To live is Christ” means that we are willing to give up anything that prevents us from having Christ. Paul’s testimony in this regard: “Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:7-9). We cling to the promise of our Lord in Mark 10:29-30 that our sacrifices for Jesus’ sake will be repaid a hundredfold.

    “To live is Christ” means that Christ is our focus, our goal, and our chief desire. Christ is the center point of our mind, heart, body and soul. Everything that we do, we do for Christ’s glory. As we run the “race marked out for us,” we lay aside the entangling sin and worldly distractions, “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2). He is our life.

  2. MARCELLINUS Ugochukwu

    TO LIVE IS CHRIST could simply mean to live for Christ in totality in my concluding understanding..Thanks for your answers.

  3. Name of God response to off the Grid News article 2017 09

    I know that this may strike a nerve with many as being “nit picky” , “legalistic” , etc. but the fact remains that we are to exercise a GREAT caution and be fully knowledgable of the consequences that are very specific when we use or speak the Name of God. I am reminded of the Exodus 20 passage when persons in positions of responsibility and influence use a slang for God and not reckoning the inadvertent approval to follow in their example of language and practice. 2 Thes. 3:7-9
    Though I am not Jewish but I have considered following their practice of so respecting the name of God as to leave out the vowel as some ministries have done. I believe we have become way too casual with our approach and reverence to God and the things that God says are important, sacred, consequential and pleasing to Him.
    Thank you for the reminder and a call to reconsider our understanding of how we apply a clear truth from scripture, represented throughout the scripture.

  4. Taking God’s name in vein is like a woman who gets married, takes her husband’s name, but still lives like she is single. Cursing is when you tell your child “You will never amount to anything”.

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