God Wants More For You. So Do We.

What Does it Mean to Take God’s Name in Vain?

Ask Pastor Alex, Ep. 37

This is the Ask Pastor Alex podcast with your host, Pastor Alex. All right, welcome back, everybody. We’re here with another episode and another question. And the question for this episode is, what does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain? And that’s a good question. And here’s what I’m going to ask of you as we start this episode. Don’t tune it out and don’t turn it off, because I know that many people think that they don’t need to listen to this one because almost everybody thinks they know what this means. But I’m going to challenge that idea because I think probably 90 plus percent of Christians don’t actually know what it means to take the Lord’s name in vain. In fact, I’ll go one step further. I believe most Christians probably believe they do a really good job of never breaking this command, but in reality, most Christians probably break this command more than anynother command in the Bible. So if I have your attention and you’re still with me and you’re thinking, how is that possible? Let’s dive into Scripture and see what the Bible has to say about this. And we have to go to Exodus chapter 20 because that’s where we find this phrase. It’s part of the Ten Commandments. It’s actually number three. We read in Exodus 20 verse seven, 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. Now, the way most people understand this verse is to say that to take the Lord’s name in vain means don’t say GD or something like OMG. Basically, never use the name of the Lord casually or in a derogatory way. Never use God’s name. Never use Jesus’s name as a cuss word or anything like that. And listen, that is a good application of the principle that’s being established here. That’s not the actual principle of this verse. It’s what I like to call a true principle from the wrong text. And what I mean by that is that it’s true that we should never say things like GD or OMG or use the name of the Lord casually or in a derogatory manner. That is true, but that’s not actually what this verse says. That’s a true principle, but it doesn’t actually come from this verse. ou would have to go to another verse in order to establish that principle. In fact, believe it or not, this verse doesn’t actually say anything at all about speaking or talking. The important word in this verse is the word that’s often translated take. The Hebrew word for take is actually the word nasa, which means to lift up or bear or carry. So if this verse doesn’t actually have to do with speaking or saying something and instead. it has to do with bearing the name, then what does that mean? Well, we get some help understanding that just a little later in Scripture. Actually, just eight chapters later in the book of Exodus. When we come to Exodus chapter 28, we read about the priestly garments of Aaron, the high priest. And let’s be honest, when most people come to a section of Scripture that starts describing things like priestly garments, they read over it, don’t they? Now, now, listen, I know you would never do something like that, but there are people who would do something like that. But we should never skip over any word of Scripture because every word of Scripture is inspired, which means that every word of Scripture is important, especially this section in Exodus 28. So starting in verse nine, the Lord begins to give instructions for what Aaron, the priest,will wear when he comes before the Lord. And this is what we read in verses nine through 12. You shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, six of their names on the one stone and the names of the remaining six on the other stone in the order of their birth. As a jeweler engraves signets, so you shall engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel.  You shall enclose them in settings of gold filigree, and you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephed as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for remembrance. Then later in verse 29, we read, so Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastplate of judgment on his heart when he goes into the holy place to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord. And then finally, in verse 30, we read, thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the peopleof Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly. Now here’s why all of those verses are incredibly important for this conversation. It’s because each time the word bear is used, it’s the exact same word that was used in Exodus chapter 20 verse 7. It’s the word nassau, the same word that was used for take in that verse. You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain. So since the same word is used so closely together in scripture, and since both instances are connected with names, remember the people of Israel bearing the name of God and the high priest bearing Israel’s names, then the meaning of nassau will be the same as well. So let’s not overlook what’s going on with Aaron in the priestly garments. By bearing the names of the tribes of Israel on his chest, he was representing the people before God. He was making intercession for them. He was bringing them to remembrance before the Lord. He was offering up sacrifices for them. And crucially, by bearing the names of Israel upon his chest, Aaron was also bearing the judgment of the people of Israel in his heart. Put simply, while Aaron was bearing the names of the people of Israel on his chest, he was representing the people to the Lord. That’s what it meant to bear their names. So with this understanding in mind, we go back to Exodus 20 now and the name command and we ask, what then does it mean for us to bear God’s name? Well, it means that like Aaron did for the people of Israel, by bearing God’s name, we are representing God to the world around us. That’s what Israel was supposed to do when they received this command. They were going to bear God’s name and represent him to the world around them, especially to the nations surrounding the promised land. It was not something that they should take lightly or in vain. Rather, they were to be holy as God was holy. They were to strive to imitate him as closely as they could to the world around them. And that’s also what we are called to do as Christians today. In James chapter two, the Bible talks about Christians being called by an honorable name. That name is Christians, which means little Christ. Today we have the responsibility to be holy as God is holy. I mean, Peter emphasizes this in 1 Peter 1, 15 where he says, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct. You see, the name command has less to do with saying things like OMG or using Jesus’s name as a cuss word, which again, you shouldn’t do that. And it has much more to do with one’s conduct in life. So for instance, a Christian who is acting in an un-Christ like way is actually breaking the name command because he is bearing God’s name in vain. A Christian who is neglecting the spiritual disciplines and neglecting the gathering of the church is breaking the name command because he is bearing God’s name in vain. A Christian who lives just like the rest of the world and is swayed by the winds of the culture is breaking the name command, because he is bearing God’s name in vain. A Christian who supports beliefs and practices that are condemned by Scripture is breaking the name command because he is bearing God’s name in vain. A Christian who refuses to condemn sin and refuses to share the gospel with the lost is failing to imitate God and thus breaking the name command. Basically, any time we neglect holiness, fail to imitate God, fail to represent Him well, and just casually and flippantly live out the Christian life, we are breaking the name command because we are bearing God’s name in vain. This is why I began the episode by saying Christians probably break this command more than any other command in Scripture. Something else I want you to think about in this discussion is the weight of bearing God’s name. You see, when Aaron wore that breastplate and the two shoulder pieces that were put on there that were made of two onyx stones, he felt the weight of that because it was heavy. And by feeling the weight of it, he was constantly reminded of the metaphorical weight of his responsibility to bear those names before the Lord. Well, my question to you is, do you feel the weight of bearing God’s name? Are you constantly aware of your responsibility to bear God’s name rightly, to represent Him well and accurately to the world with your speech, your actions, and your attitude? If you never feel the weight and if you’re never aware of that responsibility, then you are bearing His name lightly, casually, or as the Bible says here, in vain. So that’s what it actually means to bear God’s name in vain. It doesn’t specifically mean using God’s name as a cuss word, although that is certainly an application of the principle established here. But rather, it means to not take seriously our responsibility to represent God well and accurately to the world around us. It means to act in ways that are contrary to God, to have a character that is contrary to His character, and to never feel the weight of the responsibility we have to image Him well in the world. So I hope that this answer has been helpful and brought some clarity. I appreciate the question and I look forward to answering more in the future.