Three months after leaving Egypt, the Israelites come to Mt. Sinai. The people camp in front of the mountain while Moses meets God on top of it to receive the Law. This Law contains the terms and conditions of God’s agreement to be Israel’s God and take Israel as His people. It is summarized in the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1-17). The third commandment says, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God” (NIV). Other translations read, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.”
A Flawed Trend
Many think this commandment means not to cuss. I was raised in a Christian home and taught not to say the names “God” or “Jesus Christ” as profanity because that is taking the Lord’s name in vain. The Bible does say not to use profanity (Eph. 5:4), but this is not what God means when He tells us not to misuse His name. Christians who think they obey this commandment because they don’t cuss may actually be living in disobedience to it!
What the Bible Says
In the Old Testament, people often take oaths. Part of taking an oath is calling upon a witness to make sure you fulfill it. The Israelites call upon the LORD and make statements like: “As surely as the LORD lives…,” “May the LORD deal with me if…,” “The LORD is witness…” Sometimes they are more direct and swear “by the LORD.” Taking God’s name meant invoking Him as a witness who makes sure you keep your word.
Jesus gives the full meaning of this commandment in His Sermon on the Mount: “But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King…Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No'” (Matt. 5:33-37). Jesus advises not to take oaths but to simply do what you say. This is because, if you take an oath, you risk breaking it and taking God’s name in vain.
What It Means For Us
This commandment has two applications for Christians today. First, we should be reliable. There is no reason for us to break our word; it is our bond. In fact, our faithfulness to our word is an indication of God’s faithfulness to His Word. We must honor our commitments and keep our promises. We should not resort to making deals or guarantees that we might break. People should be confident that we will do what we say because we are trustworthy and dependable.
The second application is much more serious. When someone calls themselves a Christian, they literally take the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. How many have taken His name in vain? So many call themselves “Christian” with no regard for the obligation it brings to allow the Holy Spirit to reproduce Jesus’ life and character in them. They make no effort to imitate Him in their thoughts, feelings, words, or actions. They care not to preach His gospel or minister to others in His name. It is these to whom He will say, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matt. 7:23).
Christian – are you living in obedience to Jesus’ commands? Or are you taking His name in vain?
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