“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).
God is deadly serious about blasphemy. In Exodus 20:7, He issued commandment #3: “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.” He’s not going to pass on this. He won’t say, “It’s cool.” It isn’t.
Which naturally leads us to wonder, What exactly does this mean? Most of us have heard this as a prohibition against swearing. In other spots, the Bible roundly forbids vulgar speech: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths” (Ephesians 4:29a). That encompasses cuss words, four-letter words, base words—enough said.
The emphasis of commandment #3 is God’s name. In our culture, most parents choose a name because they like the way it sounds or because it’s a family name, but in biblical times, the name stood for the person. When God told us His personal name, He wasn’t just revealing His characteristics (that He’s holy, loving, good, true, etc.). He was revealing Himself: His personhood, who He actually is.
“You bear the name of Jesus Christ to one another. Carry it well.”
So when we read this commandment, we need to understand, “You shall not take the name [which stands for the person] of the Lord your God in vain.”
The word vain means empty, purposeless, false, or futile. Most of us interpret this as “don’t say God’s name flippantly.” But when did we decide that taking the name of the Lord in vain was verbal? Actually, the concept of speech isn’t even in the text. Though we can certainly blaspheme the Lord by our talking, to take God’s name means to lift, carry, or bear, just as the high priest, Aaron, would bear the names of the twelve tribes before God in the Holy Place (see Exodus 28:9–12). The concept is representation.
If you’ve embraced Jesus Christ by faith for your forgiveness, then you bear a name. You represent Him. To take the name of the Lord in vain is to misrepresent Him. If you call yourself a Christian, then you must represent Christ accurately and respect Him totally.
“You shall not take [carry, represent] the name [the reputation] of the Lord your God in vain [without purpose, inaccurately, in an empty way].” God’s not good with that. He won’t ever be.
Let’s get practical. This begins in your closest, most important human relationships. If you want to represent Christ and bear His name accurately and purposefully, then you must do that in your marriage, in your home, with your family, with your children, with those closest to you.
You represent Jesus Christ to your spouse, children, family, and friends. As author and theologian Elton Trueblood noted, “The worst blasphemy is not profanity, but lip service.” Jesus critiqued, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). Moving lips don’t equal a Christ-honoring life.
The worst profanity is not a non-Christian who doesn’t know any better saying, “Oh my God!” That person doesn’t claim Jesus, and those words mean nothing to him.
The greater failure is the Christian who doesn’t represent Jesus well. If a Christian legalistically judges a non-Christian for thoughtlessly saying Jesus’ name, then who’s really taking the Lord’s name in vain?
Are we representing the Lord well? Are we getting this right in the relationships that matter most? In your marriage, you bear the name of Jesus Christ to one another. Don’t bear His name in vain. In your home, you bear the name of Jesus to your children. Do they love Jesus more for having watched you? If not, are you bearing His name in vain? Your life shouts a message to the world about “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9b).
People who shudder at the thought of a single word of blasphemy escaping their lips don’t understand that we break the third commandment every time we fail to represent Christ accurately. We’re carrying a name. Let’s carry it well.
Lord God, I want to hold Your name in the highest regard. I want to represent Your reputation with purpose. Help me to enlarge my understanding of what it means to bear Your name—not a narrow, legalistic rule about my words but a big, all-encompassing command to bear Your name well, as the apostles did (Acts 5:41). Please forgive me for bearing Your name in vain, and teach me to live this command, for the sake of Jesus, whose name is highest and through whom I pray, amen.