How We Take God’s Name in Vain: The Wonder and Warning of the Third Commandment (2023)

The language in the Ten Commandments is countercultural, counterintuitive, offensive, and shocking to anyone who has not embraced the God-centeredness of God. We might summarize the first two commandments like this:

Have nothing above me in your thoughts and affections and words and actions. Have no carved substitutes that steal away your thoughts and affections and words and actions. For I am jealous to have all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength.

Then comes the third commandment: “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” (Exodus 20:7). This command is no less countercultural, counterintuitive, offensive, and shocking. Yet if God were not this jealous for his own name, we would have no salvation and no joy.

The call of the third commandment, then, is this: Turn away from taking the name of the Lord in vain. Repent, receive forgiveness, and then, by the power of God’s Spirit, be done with it. Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

Greatest Name

Let’s press into the meaning of name and the meaning of in vain, and then let the flow of thought from commandment one to two to three help us define what it means to take the name of the Lord in vain.

The name — what’s that? What is it that we should not take in vain?

I Am Who I Am

The first focus of God’s meaning is surely God’s proper name that he had revealed as Moses delivered the people from Egypt, Yahweh, which is built on the verb “I am” (Exodus 3:14) and signifies God’s absolute being: “I Am Who I Am” — no beginning, no ending, no becoming, no dependence on anything outside myself. That’s my name. Everywhere you see Lord with small caps, that’s what you should think — over six thousand times in the Old Testament.

(Video) Don't Misuse God's Name | The Third Commandment For Kids

We know this is foremost in God’s mind because he has made it so prominent within the Ten Commandments themselves:

  • Exodus 20:2: “I am Yahweh your God.”
  • Exodus 20:5: “I Yahweh your God am a jealous God.”
  • Exodus 20:7: “You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain.”

So, the first and most obvious focus of name in verse 7 is Yahweh. “I Am Who I Am” — don’t take that name in vain.

Naming Reality

But the very fact that the name Yahweh has a meaning reminds us that, in the Bible, someone’s name tells decisive things about the person. They are not mere labels that help you distinguish one person from another. They are expressions of a person’s reality.

For example, here in verse 5, it says, “I Yahweh your God am a jealous God.” So, jealousy is part of his reality. And when we get to Exodus 34:14, here is what we read: “You shall worship no other god, for Yahweh, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” It was a description of reality in Exodus 20:5. Now in Exodus 34:14, it is his name. And so it is throughout the Bible.

  • Isaiah 57:15: “Thus says the One . . . who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy.” That’s his reality, so that’s his name.
  • Isaiah 9:6: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given . . . his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” That’s his reality, so that’s his name.
  • Matthew 1:21: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” His reality is a Savior, so his name is Yeshua — Jesus, one who saves.
  • Revelation 19:13, 16: “The name by which he is called is The Word of God. . . . On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” That is who he is, his reality — Word of God, King of kings, Lord of lords — so those are his name.
“God’s jealousy for his name — his jealousy to be supreme in our affections — is our salvation and our joy.”

So, “Don’t take the name of Yahweh your God in vain,” means “Don’t take God, or anything that his name expresses about his reality, in vain.” God is I Am, absolute being, Jealous, Holy, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Jesus, Word of God, King of kings, Lord of lords, “the Alpha and the Omega” (Revelation 21:6). That is who he is, his name, his reality, his God-ness. Don’t take him or any aspect of his being, his name, in vain.

Taking in Vain

Take in vain — what does that mean?

What does it mean to take some revelation of the reality of God into our minds and to have thoughts about him in vain? To take some revelation of the way God is into our hearts and have feelings about him in vain? To take some expression of God’s reality into our mouths and speak words about him in vain? To take some revelation of God into our resolves to do actions in this name in vain?

(Video) The 3rd Commandment: Taking His Name In Vain w/David Carrico S5:EP4

What does that mean — to treat God, his name, in our thoughts or our feelings or our words or our actions in vain?

Futile, Pointless, Empty, Wasted

The meaning of this phrase in vain in Exodus 20:7 is really quite plain when you just look up the uses in the Old Testament and then cap it off with a word from Jesus. Listen to these uses:

  • Jeremiah 2:30: “In vain have I struck your children; they took no correction.”
  • Jeremiah 4:30: “In vain you beautify yourself. Your lovers despise you.”
  • Jeremiah 6:29: “In vain the refining goes on, for the wicked are not removed.”
  • Jeremiah 46:11: “In vain you have used many medicines; there is no healing for you.”
  • Malachi 3:14: “You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge?’”

So, in vain means futile, empty, pointless, wasted: You spank the children, but there’s no correction. You put on makeup, but there are no lovers. You put the wicked through the refiner’s fire, but there’s no repentance. You take the medicine, but there’s no healing. You serve God, but there’s no profit. It all happens in vain.

Hearts Far from God

The question becomes, How do you take the name of God (expressions of his reality) into your thoughts, into your emotions, into your words, and into your actions in such a way that your thoughts and feelings and words and actions are futile, empty, pointless, wasted?

Jesus gives us a double answer in Matthew 15:8–9. He’s quoting Isaiah 29:13:

This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

This is about worship. But what it teaches applies to all of life, because, for the Christian, all of life is worship (Romans 12:1–2). “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).

(Video) The Ten Commandments - Part 13: Graven Images, Third Commandment - Taking the Lord's Name in Vain

Emptied of Affections and Truth

Jesus says two things cause the worship of God — the name of God — to be empty, futile, pointless, wasted.

1. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” The heart is emptied of affections for God, for his name — love, admiration, reverence, cherishing, treasuring.

2. The second thing that makes the worship “in vain” (Matthew 15:9) is that “they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Words, statements about God, have been emptied of God’s truth and replaced with human opinions.

When the heart is emptied of affections for God, and words are emptied of the truth of God, all thoughts, all words, all emotions, and all actions are empty, pointless, futile, in vain. Therefore, to take the name of God in vain is to take up some expression of God’s reality into our thoughts or emotions or words or actions when the truth of God has gone out of them, and true affections for God are missing.

“Fill your words with the weight of God’s truth, and fill your hearts with affections for his name.”

If you thought I was going to address cuss words in this article, like “Goddamn!” and “Jesus Christ!” and “Oh my God!” well, I have — if you have ears to hear. The elimination of that kind of use of the name of God is kindergarten in the school of Christ. If you still have kindergarten behaviors, here’s the remedy: fill your words with the weight of God’s truth, and fill your hearts with affections for his name.

Our Life in His Name

Now, back to the first two of the Ten Commandments.

Recall the countercultural, counterintuitive, offensive, shocking language of God: “Have nothing above me in your thoughts and affections and words and actions. Have no carved substitutes that steal away your thoughts and affections and words and actions. For I am jealous to have all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul, and all your strength.”

(Video) Armor of God - The Third Commandment (Mike James)

And now, therefore,

Don’t treat me — my name — as empty, futile, pointless, trivial, inconsequential, insignificant. Don’t let your words be empty of my truth. Don’t let your hearts be empty of your affections. Revere me. Love me. Trust me. Treasure me. Satisfy your heart with me.

What so many fail to see is that God’s jealousy for his name — his jealousy to be supreme in our affections — is our salvation and our joy.

For your name’s sake, O Lord,
pardon my guilt, for it is great. (Psalm 25:11)

Deliver us, and atone for our sins,
for your name’s sake! (Psalm 79:9)

He saved them for his name’s sake. (Psalm 106:8)

The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
the righteous man runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10)

(Video) The Third Commandment: The Holy Name | Mike Mazzalongo | BibleTalk.tv

Don’t treat this tower like a crumbling shack. It’s not. It is your life.

FAQs

How do you take God's name in vain? ›

We can also take God's name in vain when we use it to swear an oath such as "I swear to God." If we lie or do not follow through on the oath, we have taken His name in vain.

What is the 3rd commandment telling us? ›

you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” This command not only tells us about the importance of the name of God, it tells us about the misuse of the name of God, and it tells us that the name of God is not to be dishonored.

How do you keep the third commandment? ›

Ways to Keep This Commandment

This involves confessing truths about God and praising Him, both in acts of worship and in everyday conversation. Attending worship, reading His Word, praying to Him, and actions such as those are ways that we honor His name. We also keep this commandment by teaching others to do so.

What does saying God's name in vain actually mean? ›

Vain can indicate a preoccupation with self or mean that something is worthless. The word misuse means to misappropriate something by using it for an unintended purpose. This is why people misinterpret the commandment. Casually saying, “Oh my God,” suggests a lack of importance in God's name.

What does the Bible say about taking God's name in vain? ›

Exodus 20:7 reads: Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

What does it mean to take something in vain? ›

If you do something in vain, you do it with no result, or to no effect. Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address to make it clear that Union soldiers did not die in vain. If an effort is futile, it's in vain.

What value does the 3rd commandment protect? ›

Exodus 20:7

The third commandment emphasizes the holy quality of His character and offices as identified by His names. His names reveal what He is.

How does the 1st to 3rd Commandments teach us to live in right relationship with God explain? ›

Summarized by Jesus into two "Great Commandments" that teach love of God and love of neighbor, they instruct individuals on their relationships with both. The first three commandments require reverence and respect for God's name, observation of the Lord's Day and prohibit the worship of other gods.

How do you explain the third commandment to a child? ›

This commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” encourages us to live as though God were everything he reveals himself to be. It encourages us to treat God as everything that, in fact, he truly is.

What specific actions can we do in the proper observance of the 3rd commandment? ›

We can follow this commandment by simply taking the time to go to Church every Sunday. We can leave time for God and rest so then we can prepare our minds and our bodies for the week ahead of us. We can spend our Sundays in prayer and celebration.

What are ways to keep the great commandment? ›

The scriptures tell us how we can obey these commandments.
...
How to checklist:
  • Put the Lord first; focus your thoughts and lives on Him.
  • Keep covenants; obedience shows your love for God.
  • Reach out to others; find ways to serve; be Christlike.
  • Spread the gospel; share what makes you so happy.
29 Dec 1995

How Christians can faithfully respond to the Third Commandment? ›

The proper response

Since the essence of the commandment is that God rested from his work on the seventh day and made it holy, a proper response to this gift is simply to do the same.

Is OMG taking the Lord's name in vain? ›

"If you say something like 'Oh my God,' then you're using His name in vain, but if you're saying something like OMG it's not really using the Lord's name in vain because you're not saying 'Oh my God. ' It's more like 'Wow.

What does don't take the Lord's name in vain mean? ›

The word vain (as it's rendered in the ESV) can mean “empty,” “nothing,” “worthless,” or “to no good purpose.” We are forbidden, therefore, from taking the name of God (or taking up the name or bearing the name, as the phrase could be translated) in a manner that is wicked, worthless, or for wrong purposes.

Why do Catholics take God's name in vain? ›

The Significance of Names

What does it mean to take the Lord's name in vain? Simply put, it means calling out Jesus or God in a way that does not show reverence or respect.

Why does respecting God's name is important? ›

Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses his name (Exodus 20:7). As many of you already understand, the Ten Commandments define and describe major aspects of what it means to love God as well as other human beings (your neighbor).

What does vain mean spiritually? ›

The Hebrew word we translate as “vain” carries a meaning of empty, hollow, nothing, worthless, or to no good purpose. This doesn't mean that we should avoid saying God's name, as some do.

What does it mean to take a name? ›

Sl. to make a list of wrongdoers. (Often figuratively, referring to a schoolteacher making a list of the names of misbehaving students to be sent to the principal.) The boss is madder than hell, and he's taking names. Gary is coming by to talk about the little riot last night, and I think he's taking names.

What is forbidden by the third commandment? ›

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” That is the King James Version of the third commandment (Exodus 20:7). Like most of us, I was taught that it meant there is certain language you can't use – swear words being chief among them.

What does the third commandment teach? ›

The third of the Ten Commandments recognizes that God has entrusted to us something special, something precious. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” (Exodus 20:7) He has invited us into relationship with Him. He has given us His name. We must not take this for granted.

How should we obey the first three commandments? ›

Because God is the source of everything we have and love, to place anything before Him also distorts our relationship with other people and things. We can keep the First Commandments through constant acts of faith, hope, and love; praying to God; and keeping our promises to Him.

How do you build a right relationship with God? ›

How to Build a Relationship with God
  1. Talk to Him through Daily Prayer. The greatest way to create and maintain a relationship with anyone, including God, is through communication, and we use prayer to communicate with God. ...
  2. Read the Scriptures. Quality conversations are not one-sided. ...
  3. Serve Others.
12 Aug 2017

How do you explain the Lord's name in vain to a child? ›

'Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain' means that we should not use God's name as if it had magical powers, for good or bad, just by being spoken. For instance, it is wrong to call out the name of God if you are angry at something or someone.

Why must we respect God's holy name in both words and actions? ›

In Isaiah 42:8 it says, “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols. God's name used in the right way can do so many powerful things. His name has the power to heal you, His name has the power to save you, His name has the power to protect you, God's name is powerful!

How do we keep God's name holy? ›

We honor God as holy by being holy ourselves in matters of piety and relationships with others, in worship and in justice. Thus, keeping God's name holy involves our whole lives as we serve God in all we do.

What are the two obligations of Christians in the observance of the Third Commandment? ›

ARTICLE 3. THE THIRD COMMANDMENT

Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work. The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.

Why is it important to observe and follow the Ten Commandments? ›

The Ten Commandments are laws that God has revealed to us. Heeding the guidance God gives us in the Commandments will help us know how to serve God and how we should live with each other. It also helps us to be open to the grace of the Holy Spirit and what God can accomplish in us and through us by that grace.

Why did the keeping of the Third Commandment move from being observed on Saturday to being observed on Sunday? ›

Why did the keeping of the Third Commandment move from being observed on Saturday to being observed on Sunday? The keeping of the Third Commandment moved from being observed on Saturdays to being observed on Sundays because it was on a Sunday that Jesus resurrected.

How do you apply the commandments to your life? ›

Today, you can apply the Ten Commandments in the same way Jesus showed us. Live your life striving to not only keep the letter of the Commandments, but also to fulfill them in spirit through a life of service and love for others. To help you keep them fully from your heart, God promises to give you His Holy Spirit.

How do I follow God's commandments? ›

Following God's Plan for Your Life:
  1. Be in prayer. A way to know that you are following God's plan for your life is by being in prayer. ...
  2. Be actively reading in the Word. ...
  3. Follow the commands He puts on your heart. ...
  4. Seek a godly community. ...
  5. Obey the Truth.
29 Mar 2019

Which commandment is the most important and why? ›

Gospel of Matthew

"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. ' This is the greatest and first commandment. Love God above all else.

What is taking name in vain? ›

Speak casually or idly of someone, as in There he goes, taking my name in vain again. This idiom originated as a translation from the Latin of the Vulgate Bible (Exodus 20:7), “to take God's name in vain,” and for a time was used only to denote blasphemy and profanity.

What is taking someone's name in vain? ›

idiom UK humorous. to criticize someone or talk about someone without respect, especially when they are not there. SMART Vocabulary: related words and phrases. Insults & abuse.

Why is it rude to say oh my God? ›

It's blasphemous. It's against Christians' religious beliefs to take God's name and use it to indicate surprise or shock, because that is disrespectful. AKA "Taking the Lord's name in vain".

How do you take the Lord's name in vain? ›

We can also take God's name in vain when we use it to swear an oath such as "I swear to God." If we lie or do not follow through on the oath, we have taken His name in vain.

What is an example of taking the Lord's name in vain? ›

Instead of saying, “Wow!” people often use God's name as an exclamation point. “Oh my God! I got the job.” While some people may think this sounds extreme, it is a clear example of what it means to take God's name in vain.

What does the 3rd commandment command us Catholics to do? ›

ARTICLE 3. THE THIRD COMMANDMENT

Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work. The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.

What does the commandments tell us? ›

The Ten Commandments teach about respecting God, being honest, honoring our parents, keeping the Sabbath day holy, and being good neighbors. These rules are as important today as they were thousands of years ago.

How do I follow God's commandment? ›

Following God's Plan for Your Life:
  1. Be in prayer. A way to know that you are following God's plan for your life is by being in prayer. ...
  2. Be actively reading in the Word. ...
  3. Follow the commands He puts on your heart. ...
  4. Seek a godly community. ...
  5. Obey the Truth.
29 Mar 2019

Why is obeying God's commandments important? ›

By obeying in all things, even the mundane, you are showing God that you are willing and able to obey whatever he asks of you. Obedience to God is not only a way to worship him, but a way to get closer to him, prepare for whatever he leads you to and grow as a person.

Videos

1. Using God's Name In Vain // Rules To Live By pt3
(Werribee Baptist Church)
2. You Will Never Use The Lord's Name In Vain Again After Watching This!
(Lion of Judah)
3. Reverence God's Name | Exodus 20:7 | Pastor John Miller
(Revival Christian Fellowship)
4. Are You Dishonoring God's Name? Taking God's Name in Vain?
(Names of God)
5. The 10 Commandments EP 3 - You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
(Creekside Fellowship)
6. The Ten Commandments (Part 4): Dont Take The Lords Name in Vain -- David Pawson
(Hosanna)
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