Bible

What It Really Means to Take the Lord’s Name In Vain

As a kid I often heard that taking the Lords Name in Vain meant to not use God's name as a curse word like "Oh my God". But as I got older it's seems kind of silly the seriousness people placed on not saying these. It's almost as if it's the unforgivable sin if I say OMG. There's got to be something more that's going on here. I'm not arguing that we should start using this language, however I think we are missing something in this commandment.

As a kid I often heard that taking the Lord’s Name in Vain meant to not use God’s name as a curse word like “Oh my God.” But as I’ve gotten older it seems kind of silly the seriousness people have placed on not saying these. It’s almost as if it’s the unforgivable sin if I say OMG. There’s got to be something more that’s going on here. I’m not arguing that we should start using this language; however, I think we are missing something in this commandment.

You could make an argument for not saying those phrases above because they show disrespect. However we’ve softened what taking the Lord’s Name in vain really means. We often dismiss the true seriousness of what this passage means with the simple answer of not using God’s name as a curse word. There’s a much more serious warning in this verse.

First, let’s look at the actual verse found in the 10 Commandments in a few different translations:

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. Exodus 20:7 (NIV) 

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 (ESV)

You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name. Exodus 20:7 (NLT) 

When we call ourselves a Christian we are representing Christ. Our actions now tell those around us something about Jesus. Think about it this way, when you go into a store and encounter an employee that ignores you and is rude when you ask a question, that store gets a bad rep in your mind. If you were to go in again and have a similar encounter with a different employee, you would probably start thinking differently about that company.

In the same way, what you say and do as a Christian represents God. For better or for worse, our words and actions tell those around us something about God. That’s why Paul says this: So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 2 Corinthians 5:20

The 3rd Commandment is not talking about using God’s name as a curse word. This Commandment is warning us about misusing God’s name, which is often done for our own glory and not His.

Let’s look at what this looks like.

1. Justifying Your Actions 

Often I see relationships end with one party stating, “God doesn’t want us to be together.” More often than not, that is just a copout saying to get what we want, the relationship to end. However this misuse doesn’t end there. I’ve heard people justifying affairs by stating that the other person was brought into their life by God. Time and time again I have heard the phrase “God wants me to be happy” used to justify a sin they were unwilling to stop.

Let me make one thing clear. If what God is “telling you” doesn’t line up with what is found in the Bible, it’s not God speaking, it’s you justifying.

We take the Lord’s name in vain when we use it to justify our actions for selfish reasons. Essentially we are attempting to justify a sin so that we can still sleep at night and not feel guilty. Ironically that thing we are trying to hide from and justify is the thing God wants from us so that he can heal us. But instead we hide and attempt to justify our actions with God’s name.

2. Personal Gain

Sadly there are Christians out there that use God to get money out of people. The first image that probably comes to mind is TV Evangelists. Not every single TV Evangelist is bad, but there are several that give the rest a bad rap. There are pastors that will use their power and influence to convince people to give their money for some kind of blessing from God. The problem is they only want to use the money on themselves, and they aren’t speaking on behalf of God. Not to mention a lot of what you do see is staged.

We take the Lord’s name in vain when we use to take advantage of others for our own gain. While we can certainly point to others doing this, we should also examine ourselves. Ask yourself, “Am I taking advantage of anyone in God’s name?” Maybe not for money, but manipulating someone at work or a family member or neighbor. We ought to be careful to not use God’s name for our own personal gain.

3. False Prophecy

This is probably the most obvious one, however very hard to spot. A false prophet is anyone that claims to be following God but is leading people astray. The Bible warns against false prophets over and over again. Jesus says this: Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. Matthew 7:15 The reason they are hard to spot is from the outside they look good. But Jesus goes out to tell us we can spot false prophets by the fruit they produce.

Anyone who claims to be from God but isn’t really following him is using the Lord’s name in vain. We ought to avoid those people, and make sure we don’t wander from God and take people with us. I doubt at the end of the earth that God will be very patient with people that have led others astray.

Taking God’s name in vain is more than just not saying “OMG” or using it as a curse word. Again I’m not advocating that we should start running around with a potty mouth. That’s another article for another time. But I’m convinced that when the Bible says do not take the Lord’s Name in Vain it means much more than not cussing someone out with God’s name attached. We should each examine our own life to see if we are taking God’s name in vain. And then look at the fruit of leaders you are following.

7 comments on “What It Really Means to Take the Lord’s Name In Vain

  1. The command was followed with such reverence and care by Israel that the teachers taught to avoid ANY possible infraction. I’m sweary, but I don’t use Jesus’ name or any reference to the real God, and I don’t even use the shortened form. I twist it to OMFSM, as I have an imaginary flying spaghetti monster in my head. It’s not a real god to me, but I’ve read it is an idol “recognized” in New Zealand. There’s a reverential respect with which one can worship God, and with which one can treat his name, and then there’s taking it to the ridiculous extreme:

    However, I do wish people treated Jesus’ name with a bit more respect. Including Christ followers.

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  2. Brilliant! As ambassadors of Christ we need to be constantly examining ourselves and filling up with more of Him. This is the only way we can truly represent God.

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  3. I would add a fourth – when God is used to condemn another person, or, in the old vernacular, to curse them. God wants us to use His name to show others His love, not to condemn them because of some silly humane infraction.

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  4. Interesting points made here, thank you for sharing.

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  5. Great post!! So tempting to justify our own desires as God’s.

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  6. Excellent article! Thank you for helping me think about this topic in a new way. This has been very helpful.

    Interestingly, I’ve been studying frustration lately, and the English word “frustrated” comes from the French “frustra” which means “in vain.” The Biblical words often translated “in vain” in the Hebrew and Greek are “‘shav” and “kenos” respectively, and they both carry the meaning of “emptiness” or “to be empty.”

    So when we take the Lord’s name in vain, we are actually frustrating His plans and blessings, for ourselves and others. No wonder He takes it seriously!

    Lord may I take your name as seriously as you do, always keeping it holy and never frustrating your purpose!!

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  7. Pingback: Is Jesus Really That Concerned with Cussing? – Rethink

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