Is using the Lord’s name in vain a big deal? Apparently, it is because it made it into the Big Ten. Right up there with murder, adultery, lying, and stealing. In fact, OMG made it into the top three if we’re ranking the Ten Commandments in descending order of importance. Just after commanding us to make God our first love and not to worship anyone or anything other than him, he commands, “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).
Taking the Lord’s name in vain is so much more than the mere utterance of an “Oh my God,” or an exclamation of a “Jesus Christ,” or a backing up of a fantastic story, promise, or threat with “swear to God.” It is speaking about the Lord lightly. It is a barometer of our countenance toward him.
Webster defines the word ‘vain’ this way: “Empty; worthless; having no substance, value or importance. Not effectual; having no efficacy.” We can only conclude that thoughtlessly throwing around God’s name to emphasize a point, or as a curse, or to back up a promise is an index of the depth of a person’s faith. John Piper explained, “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.”
AFFECTIONS FOR HIS NAME
Charles Spurgeon said, “The third commandment requires the holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works.” Psalm 29:2 tells us to “ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.” Revelation 15:4 exults, “Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy.” Psalm 96:9 commands us to “worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.” Leviticus 20:26 reminds us, “You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” And Deuteronomy 7:6 says, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
God’s name is to be revered by his people. We have been set apart by the King of the Universe to exalt him and hold him above all of our affections. His name and his attributes are to be adored and appreciated above all else. His holiness, his “other-ness,” is to be remembered every moment we draw breath. Because he is the “One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15). He is our Creator, the One who loves us more than we can ever know, our Great King, who knows us by name (Isaiah 43:1). Because his name is “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).
Remember, the third commandment ends with “for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” to take the Lord’s name in vain is to express how little you think of him. And that is a serious problem. It is no small thing to lack reverence for God. Using the name of Christ as a curse, for example, flies in the face of the excellencies of his character and demeans his very nature. Consider Colossians 1:15-20 the next time you want to use the name of Jesus Christ offhandedly:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
WHO WE ARE IN CHRIST
Taking the Lord’s name in vain belittles who we are in Christ and indicates a profound lack of understanding of our station before him. Romans 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” 1 Peter 2:9 proclaims followers of Jesus Christ “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” And 1 John 3:1 says of Christ’s followers, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.”
Followers of Christ are people who have received the salvific power of his blood. We are recipients of a rescue, gifted with an eternal destiny. Our position before him, every moment of every day, must be one of humility, adoration, and gratitude. Our countenance at all times should be like Isaiah’s, who, after standing before the presence of God and surviving, stammered, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).
Christ declares, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart” (Matthew 15:18). If to punctuate a point, your mouth blurts frivolous or boorish utterances of God’s beautiful and holy Name, perhaps it is time to examine the heart that expresses them.
Leslie Schmucker retired from public school teaching to create a special education program at Dayspring Christian Academy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She is the author of the upcoming book, Broken Children, Sovereign God: Rejoicing in God’s Goodness in the Midst of Childhood Mental Illness (Christian Focus, 2023). She belongs to Grace Baptist Church. She and her husband, Steve, have three grown children and eight grandchildren. She blogs at leslieschmucker.com, and you can follow her on Twitter.