What Does it Mean to Take God’s Name in Vain?
The third of The Ten Commandments states, “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). What do you think it means to take the name of the Lord in vain? Since God says He “will not hold him guiltless who takes His name if vain”, I think it would be wise to know what it means. Many believe that it simply means not to curse using God’s name. Though that is certainly inappropriate and showing the utmost disrespect for Him, that is not all that is meant by this command.
Another way we can take His name in vain is to use it casually in phrases such as “Oh my God!” or “Jesus!” Even phrases like “Thank God” or “Praise the Lord” are often used in a less than sincere and reverent manner. These type phrases are commonly used in daily speech without really giving any thought to God. For the most part, they have become simply figures of speech.
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. But as bad as all these misuses of the Lord’s name are, there is still an even more serious way in which we can take His name in vain.
To understand the fullness of the commandment we need to consider the meaning of the word “vain.” Webster’s defines vain as “1) having no real value or significance; worthless, empty, idle, hollow, etc.; 2) without force or effect; futile, fruitless, unprofitable, unavailing, etc.”
Though these definitions certainly apply in the examples cited above, I ask you to consider this: To take God’s name in vain is to say we are Christian but not live a life in keeping with that profession. Many bear His name without it having any real effect on their life. What God is saying is that we should not claim His name without living under His lordship. Taking the Lord’s name in vain is another way of saying “false believer” or “hypocrite.”
Jesus put it this way in Mark 7:6-9 “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” Notice that Jesus refers to those who “worship me in vain” as hypocrites. They take His name on their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. They care more for their own religious traditions than the commands of God. This same problem is plaguing the church today. Many have taken His name but have no interest in learning and following His ways. They “do church” as it has been handed down to them but have no real relationship with the Living God.
After delivering one of His most powerful sermons, Jesus poses the question in Luke 6:46-49, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” In essence, He is saying, “Why do you take my name in vain? You call Me Lord, but do not do as I say. My name is useless to you.”
Jesus continues in verse 47-48, “I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.” Jesus himself is often referred to in Scripture as the Rock. But in this parable, Jesus refers to obedience as laying the foundation of our spiritual house on solid rock. Those who truly belong to Him will obey His teachings and commands. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
On the other hand, in verse 49 of Luke 6, Jesus goes on to describe the fate of those who take His name in vain. “But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” Those who only fool themselves by taking the name of Jesus without fully committing themselves to a life of obedience will find themselves cast out of His presence in the end.
Jesus gave this alarming warning in Matthew 7:23, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is 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 many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Once again, Jesus makes clear that it is not the religious works of man that counts, but obeying the will of God out of a genuine relationship with Him.
Let me leave you with a final thought. How often do you study the Word of God in order to find out what Jesus expects of you? And how diligent are you to obey the things you know He commands? Are you truly living a life worthy of the Name you profess? We must all take a good long hard look at our life to see if we may be taking the Lord’s name in vain. Its serious business, for eternal life is at stake.