What Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain Actually Means

Avoiding 'OMG' Is Just the Beginning

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Growing up in church, I was always taught not to "take the Lord's name in vain." When I was younger, this translated to not saying things like "oh my god!" But the older I've gotten, the sillier that seems. I've heard people invoke God to justify saying all sorts of hurtful things, so just avoiding those few phrases seems like a shallow view of that commandment. I was reading back over the Ten Commandments recently and came across that phrase again, so I was wondering: What does it actually mean to "take the Lord's name in vain?"    

- Emily

Dear Friend,

Having grown up in church, I too have wrestled over this question.

We know better than to take the Lord’s name in vain. Scripture makes it clear: “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).

God obviously cares about our words, and there’s something seriously wrong with taking the Lord’s name in vain. At face value, it makes sense not to say, “oh my god,” or to utter God’s name in other disrespectful ways. I grew up believing that’s all the third command requires, and that’s what we must do to fulfill it.

Words reveal our substance, the truth of who we are. They testify either of our devotion to God or of a spiritual problem.

I later came to see that God lists this command among other serious infractions including idolatry, Sabbath breaking, disrespecting parents, killing, adultery, stealing, lying, coveting a neighbor’s spouse and/or possessions. And I began wondering if God has bigger concerns than occasional slips of the tongue. You are right about digging deeper. There’s a lot more going on in this passage.

I once heard a pastor say the third command is possibly the most neglected because of “the tendency we all have to dismiss its significance.” He meant that it’s easy to let this command slide when there are other more serious-sounding infractions. All the while, the Old and New Testaments show us that what comes out of our mouths is more than a matter of words; it points to the condition of our hearts:

“Each tree is recognized by its own fruit ... A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:44a-45).

Words reveal our substance, the truth of who we are. They testify either of our devotion to God or of a spiritual problem. We know this because the command not to take the Lord’s name in vain follows instructions to love God wholeheartedly and not to worship idols (causing spiritual malaise).

Prior to this, God has cracked down on false prophets for speaking illegitimate words in the name of the Lord. God has also cautioned His people not to listen to false prophets including those who treat the wounds of others lightly by crying, “Peace, peace when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). The third command cautions us from proclaiming, “God told me this or that,” unless we are positive it lines up with Scripture. And words spoken in the name of the Lord never stand in the way of compassionate, practical support of those who suffer injustices.

Leviticus 19:12 says, “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.’” A seminary professor once demonstrated that the third command relates to covenant making within legal and personal situations. God opposes perjury. God wants a civil servant to keep his or her vows. God values keeping ordination vows and marriage vows. It is serious business to commit to a vow made in the name of God.  

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The writer of Hebrews emphasizes the importance of worshipping God with a fully engaged heart: “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22). Such devotion involves meaningful intention when speaking God’s name. 

Turning to James 3:11, we face a challenging question about our behaviors including our words: “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” Reading on, we are reminded that a fig tree does not bear olives, and a grapevine does not bear figs. Wisdom reminds us to draw upon Jesus—God’s living Word—while living and moving and having our being in Him.

It sends powerful messages when we identify with Jesus’ name. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). He lives in us, although—truth be told—we don’t always represent Him well. It’s never easy to hear that even our smallest actions matter. James 1:26 says this with some strong words, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” Whether or not we follow in Jesus’ footsteps has serious ramifications.

Not taking the Lord’s name in vain entails sticking with Jesus, again and again, as the Spirit helps us overcome sin and recreates our lives. Through it all, we realize our truest identity and purposes. May the aroma of Jesus permeate our words and actions drawing others to God (2 Corinthians 2:14).
 
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Top Comments

John

45

John commented…

Christians often say God told me this and that, but there is no evidence of God in the Bible making life decisions for people unless it was to increase His kingdom. Christians too often use His name in vain when they want to justify their own decisions.

Chris

12

Chris commented…

Dennis Prager once explained that the Hebrew word has been mistranslated as "take" when it actually means to "carry" the Lord's name in vain. Meaning, to misrepresent the nature of God. Our witness and example as children of God are at the heart of the command. Jesus emphasized this when He said that the world would know we are His disciples by our love. Committing evil in God's name is a false witness to the world of who He is.

14 Comments

Billie Jean Washburn

1

Billie Jean Washburn commented…

In God We Trust printed on money (mammon) is taking the Lord's name in vain. Reciting a pledge that states 'under God, indivisible' when the entire government is divided (and trusts in mammon or in other words, money) is taking the Lord's name in vain. To say God DAMN is NOT taking the Lord's name in vain..it is using God to curse someone, to 'leave it to God'..yea, if you randomly use it you are using it in vain as it's a serious call. To use God's NAME to preach hatred, at all, is taking the Lord's name in vain and to LIE in God's name-all you preachers out there..where's the House that you have built the Lord? Have ANY of you read the bible or just following what the bible colleges 'teach' you to know, what they require you to teach to remain 'holy'? Don't forget that God does NOT change, only man does. Just saying..holy is CLEAN..any lie=not clean so yea, try again on the old stories of using the Lord's name in vain and tell the TRUTH of it.

Estera Lucaci

1

Estera Lucaci commented…

I'm responding to an older comment about Muslims Judaism and Christianity being the three abrahamic religions. That is false. Arabic people have been around since then yes but not the religion of Muslims. Mohammed started the Muslim religion but for those who don't know he came some 600 or 700 years after Jesus. So no Muslims and Christians are not brothers. Muslims worship a moon god not the true God of the Bible. I'm not trying to start anything but look up the history and find out for yourselves. If a Muslim accepts Jesus as Savior then yes we're brothers. God bless.

Annie Anderson Rosenblatt

1

Annie Anderson Rosenblatt commented…

Ok, my issue is that the word God, first is a title like king, president, etc. The Holy Bible says that God's actual name is Jehovah. I didn't read all of the comments, but was surprised that I did not see any comments with the actual name of God as it is written in the Bible, even though the King James version does still have it in one location. I'm not baptized a Jehovah's Witness, & was baptized Catholic. I have; however, been studying the Bible for over 2 yrs, and was just curious if anyone else thought about God's actual NAME?

OEFVET

1

OEFVET replied to Annie Anderson Rosenblatt's comment

There are hundreds who hold the title of president, king, etc. but anytime the title of "GOD" is invoked, for the believer, it can only apply to the ONE divine entity, the GOD of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, creator of heaven and earth and everything in it, taking into consideration that one believes in "THE GOD". Now an atheist/agnostic/idolater who utters the word "god" in a casual way would probably be doing so out of the habit picked up by believers/non-believers who have grown comfortable doing so, just because just about everyone around them is doing it.

Back to the title. For the believer, If we utter the title of "GOD", since there is only one, the true GOD of heaven and earth, the law giver, it identifies him just as well as the many other names attributed to him throughout the scriptures, therefore, we must invoke his title / names with the utmost reverence, whether it's an oath, affirmation, prayer, reflection or anything that will introduce his holy entity/character/attributes/titles, lest we be found guilty and just begging for judgment.

Chris Daly

1

Chris Daly commented…

Mayhaps they mean not such things as an exclamation of "Oh my God!" or "Jesus Christ!"

But the use of the name of the Lord as justification for one's actions, as a means of coercing others to believe, conform, convert, or obey.

Like the Crusades. Those went pretty terribly.

One shall not claim to act on behalf of God, as a God, in God's best interest, at the will of God, or as a messenger, messiah, prophet, or crusader; but only serve Him humbly.

Just a guess.

random mouse

1

random mouse commented…

HaHAHAHAHAHAH!!!

Estera Lucaci commented…>>>>

This person is the typical know it all christian from the what they have been spoon feed. They do not worship the moon! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allah_as_Moon-god

No different then christians worshiping their popes, books and artifacts at the least!

hahahahah!

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