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Greg Laurie is the author of 12 inspirational books, which are available online.
In a previous article, I listed God’s “Top Ten list” of all time, the Ten Commandments. Now let’s consider the third commandment on God’s list:
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)
Here is one of the most misunderstood of the commandments, one that can be so easily broken. One of the most common ways to take the Name of God in vain is through profanity.
Have you ever noticed how many who claim to be atheists invoke God’s name quite regularly? “Oh my God!” or “Oh God!” Or by cursing. Look, God’s last name is not damn. Such talk is clearly not a genuine call to the one true God, but is rather using the Name of God in a vain – that is, in an empty, frivolous and insincere – way. The Bible states clearly, “The LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His Name in vain.”
This is no idle threat but is simply a statement of fact. God is laying down an unchanging truth, not unlike the law of gravity. If you step off a 30-story building, you will fall to your death. That’s not a threat, but a simple statement of fact. In the same way, if you take God’s Name in vain, you will not be held guiltless or go unpunished. I shudder when I see people go out of their way to insult or blaspheme God.
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked.” (Galatians 6:7) We must remember the God is holy. If there is one thing we see repeatedly in Scripture it is this fact. So we want to always have reverence and respect for God’s Holy Name.
Another common way people take the Name of God in vain is by saying, “I swear to God this is true.” But why do we have to “swear to God”? Isn’t this because our word isn’t reliable normally? Do we find ourselves backing up our words because we make commitments we don’t keep or say things that aren’t true?
Jesus explained this in the Sermon on the Mount:
Again, you have heard that the Law of Moses says, “Do not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” But I say, don’t make any vows! Just say a simple, “Yes, I will,” or “No, I won’t.” (Matthew 5:37)
Your word is enough. To strengthen your promise with a vow shows that something is wrong. Here are a few practical applications:
- If you say that you are going to do something, do it! Don’t make commitments you don’t intend to keep. “Oh sure, I’ll meet you for dinner,” but then you cancel at the last minute because someone you liked better called. Then you go out to dinner with them and run into the person you canceled!
- When you are hired to do a job, you should do it. Christians should be the hardest workers, never using their faith as an excuse for laziness. “I can’t sweep the floor now, I need to pray!”
- When two people commit themselves to each other in marriage, they should honor their vows for the rest of their lives. But people today – even Christians – will just “bail out” of a marriage when it gets hard, citing “irreconcilable differences.” But you should honor the commitment you made to your spouse – “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.” You didn’t vow, “Until I lose interest in you,” or “Until a better spouse comes along.” As Jesus said, let your YES be YES and your NO, be NO.
We even have people today in what is called “Christian Retailing” who use the Name of God to further their business transactions. You can purchase a “Christian version” of just about anything out there. Now you can find everything from outstanding Christian books and music to ashtrays and lighters with the name of Jesus emblazoned on them! You can get “Christian” bird feeders, body lotions, luggage, lamps, scones, mud flaps, wallpaper, candy bars, mouse pads … Are these people serious? Do I have to have “Christian mud flaps” to be spiritual? I ask this question – Is this a form of taking the Lord’s name in vain?
As already mentioned, the phrase “in vain” means to do so in an empty, insincere or frivolous way. But when we as followers of Jesus say, “God bless you,” “Praise the Lord,” “I’ll pray for you,” let those be heartfelt, sincere statements, not empty clich?s. Indeed, perhaps the most awful and subtle form in which this law is broken is by hypocrisy! Jesus said, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) The hypocrisy of the church is far worse than the profanity in the street!
To pray and not to practice, to believe and not to obey, to say, “Lord, Lord” and not do what He says – this is to take His Name in vain!
If someone were to call out my name “Greg Laurie,” I would turn and respond: “Yes, can I help you?”
Think about how many times the name of the Lord is invoked and spoken in frivolous way each day.
“Oh God!” “Jesus!”
The Lord would turn and say, “Yes, can I help you?”
So, next time you say the Name of God, pause and think about it.
He is listening.