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.
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.
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.
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).