There is More to Taking the Lord's Name in Vain Than You Think
The Third Commandment
There are many ways to take the Lord's name in vain. But where does that term come from? It is the third commandment of the ten commandments in Exodus 20.
One day a religious leader asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. The man wasn't asking only about the ten commandments, but the 613 commandments written in the first five books of the Bible (known as the Pentateuch or Torah). Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself." The first one comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and the other from Leviticus 18:19. What he was saying is if you boil down all the commandments, it comes out to loving God and loving others. The first four commandments are about loving God, the rest are about loving others.
The first two commandments say, "You shall have no other gods before Me," and "Do not worship idols." He adds, "You shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments."
These two tell us we are to recognize and worship God as the One and only true God and to have no others. So this third commandment goes on to mean, if you worship Him as your God you are to revere His name. Don't use it in vain. The word vain can be translated as "empty," "worthless," "for no purpose." 1 This means not to use God's name flippantly, with no purpose, for evil, or for the wrong reasons.
Why is God's name so important? It should be obvious, but for many, it is not. Let's see what the Bible tells us about God's name.
His Name is Holy
The Lord's prayer begins: "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name" (Matthew 6:9). The word hallowed means to make holy, sanctified, consecrated. 2
God's name is holy, set apart for Him alone as the Sovereign of the universe. Psalm 8:1 says, "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth." No one who's ever lived or will live can claim their name is majestic in all the earth.
This includes the name of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This comes from the concept of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They are co-equal. Anything more on the Trinity is for another day. But the Bible makes it clear over and over that the name of the Lord is sacred, and Him only.
Therefore God has highly exalted Him [Jesus] and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:21).
We see that His name is exclusively sacred because He is the only One that can grant salvation to the human soul.
And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
Dave Miller PhD. said it this way: "The name of the Lord is holy, as He is holy. The name of the Lord is a representation of His glory, His majesty, and His supreme deity. We are to esteem and honor His name as we revere and glorify God Himself. To do any less is to take His name in vain." 3
The Lord's Name Used as a Curse Word
Most people understand that to take the Lord's name in vain is to use it as a curse word. That would be correct. People use the name Jesus Christ when they are appalled, surprised, or indignant at something. They damn God's name when they are angry or just because. This is utterly abominable. God's name is holy. His name is consecrated only for Him. Consider that God is the Creator of all things (Genesis 1). He made you, He rules the universe, He is the Majesty on High. How dare we use that precious, sacred Name as a curse word.
Let me ask you something: Why do you use God and Jesus' name to curse and not Hari Krishna, Buddha, Shiva, Brahman, or Allah? And would you use your mother's name to curse? God's name rolls off the tongue instinctually because Satan is behind it. It is evil. All the gods mentioned above, and all the one's I didn't mention, are not real, thus they are not sacred. They do not rule the universe or create anyone. They do not exist. Satan only wants people to curse God's name because He is the only true God and holy.
Satan does not knock on the door of your heart or mind and say, "Hi, I'm the devil and I would love to mess with you and make you sin." He does not show up looking like a cute little red character with a pitchfork and pointed tail. The bible says he is a deceiver (Genesis 3:13; Revelation 12:9, 20:3, 10; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:14;); comes as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14); and blinds their eyes (2 Corinthians 4:4). Most people have no clue Satan is at work in their lives because he doesn't announce himself. He influences them through many means to believe he is not real, or only works in obviously evil people. Most people have good things about them as well as bad things in their hearts. Because they do and behave nicely often, they would never guess Satan was involved in their lives. The bible says he is also a counterfeit, meaning he comes in the form of men who deceive people. Satan is behind them. Biblical examples are, "The coming of the lawless one [Antichrist] will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved" (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10).
Satan even deceives Christians if they are not aware. However, a good Christian should never, and don't usually use God's name as a curse word; if they do so, I question their commitment to the Lord, even their salvation.
To sum it all up, people use God's name as a curse word because of Satan's influence. It is a learned response also. Children in families who regularly use profanity will grow up to do likewise or pick it up from outside sources.
God's name is holy, and to use it as a curse word bears consequences.
Making Oaths and Doing Things Attributed to God
As I mentioned in the beginning, using God's name in vain is using it flippantly, without holy cause, or without purpose. A common expression is "Oh my God." This is using His name in vain. When people say this they aren't saying it out of reverence, or prayer; in fact, they aren't thinking of God at all. This also includes OMG. Just because you use initials doesn't nullify the power of its sinfulness. Gosh, Geez are altered, softer forms as well. Here are some other ways to take His name in vain:
Swearing or making an oath or vow to God falsely: “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:12). They utter mere words; with empty oaths they make covenants; so judgment springs up like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field (Hos. 10:4a).
I hear people say flippantly "I swear to God on a stack of Bibles I'm not lying (or I'm telling the truth). They are not reverently swearing in God's name, especially if they have no allegiance to God whatsoever. How many of us have said at one time or another in life, "God, if you get me out of this one I'll follow you the rest of my life." It's a hollow promise, a meaningless prayer. It might be heartfelt at the moment, but as soon as relief comes, they go on about their merry ways doing it again. It was using the Lord's name in vain.
Attributing one's actions to God's will when it wasn't. This can be done with deliberate falsehood, ignorance, being deceived, or wishful thinking. In Ezekiel 13 the Lord spoke to Ezekiel, "Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who prophesy, and say to those who prophesy out of their own heart, 'Hear the word of the Lord.' Thus says the Lord God: "Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing...They have envisioned futility and false divination...Have you not seen a futile vision, and have you not spoken falsely and say, 'The Lord says,' but I have not spoken?'" The prophets of Israel were giving false messages they attributed to God. They deliberately lied for their own gain. They paid a heavy price.
Many people (and I've done it myself) will say "The Lord told me to do thus and so." We need to be careful with that. God does not typically say something to us aloud or even inside "I want you to do thus and so." I know people who constantly share the conversations they have with God. "God told me, 'Sam, you should build a fence over there.' And I said, 'God? Why do you want me to build that fence?' And He said, 'Because while you are building the fence, a stranger is going to come by and I want you to tell him (fill in the blank).' People who say these things habitually are using the Lord's name in vain. The Lord speaks to us through His Word, and through the Holy Spirit. God may use another person or situation to speak to us, but it must not be contrary to what the bible teaches or the character of God. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit speaks to us in what the Bible calls "a still small voice." It's a strong impression, a stirring of the heart, but again, the Word of God is our guide. If you say "The Lord spoke to my heart that I should quit my job," you can see that goes against what God says in the bible, which is "If a man does not work he shall not eat "(2 Thessalonians 3:10). Other times, you feel a strong impression that God is telling you not to be afraid, or that you are doing something sinful. Those line up with Scripture. Those are principles in the bible. God tells us not to be afraid and reveals sin to us either by direct word or through characters and situations in the Scriptures.
It's not always plain what God wants us to do. But He does not do or say something to us that goes against His characters stated in the Scriptures.
There are many people who get caught up in antics and attribute them to the Holy Spirit. This is blaspheme and taking His name in vain. For example, the holy laughter movement where people act like drunken fools by laughing in church. I witnessed this up close and personal when I went to such a meeting. The pew in front of me fell backward onto my feet and I got elbowed in the ribs. This was an egregious sin. I pointed out to my friends who took me that this was Satanic and an unbiblical characterization of the Holy Spirit. Their answer was that the Holy Spirit can do more than the Bible says. Maybe so, but it must line up with the character of God as revealed in the bible. Nowhere in the Bible does God manifest in mindless drunkenness. I also noticed that the so-called pastor supported this behavior by quoting verses grossly out of context. It broke my heart and made me angry.
In Matthew 7:22 Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness."
When someone attributes evil or wrongdoing to God, they are blaspheming His name. When they deny his power and sovereignty they are Blaspheming His name.
The positive way to look at it is to revere God, love God, delight in God, know God, fill up God with all that he is. And then out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak."— John Piper, How Do You Define the Sin of Taking the Name of the Lord in Vain
John MaCarthur summed it up well: "You could say it this way: it would be to cheapen God’s holy name or to empty God’s name of glory. Any form of worship, any form of worship that comes from an impure heart, any form of worship that is connected to the kingdom of darkness, any form of worship that is self-centered, self-indulgent, frivolous, shallow, hypocritical is taking the Lord’s name in vain. It is emptying God of His glory. Don’t empty His name of any glory. Don’t think of Him or speak of Him or sing of Him in any way that empties glory that belongs to His name." 4
1Strong's Concordance. 7723. shav. https://biblehub.com/hebrew/7723.htm
2Strong's Concordance. 37. hagiazó. https://biblehub.com/greek/37.htm
3 Miller, Dave PhD. What Does It Mean to Take the Lord's Name in Vain. Truth According to Scripture. https://www.truthaccordingtoscripture.com/documents/christian-life/name-in-vain.php#.X4FDOY7Yrq8
4 MacArthur, John. (2020, January 19). Acceptable Worship: Part 1. Grace to You. https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/81-64/acceptable-worship-part-1
© 2020 Lori Colbo