“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”
Exodus 20:7 (NASB)
What’s in a name? Everything. Your name represents all that you are – your character, your reputation. You’re only as good as your name. In the Third Commandment we are instructed to honor God’s name and never take His name in vain. This command came with a warning, “… for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His Name in vain.” Most assume that this is the command against cursing, but there is so much more to taking God’s Name in vain than using it as a curse word.
“Vain” means useless or empty. When we speak in His name or represent Him with the name “Christian” and act in an unChristlike way we are using His name in vain. To those who claimed to be called the people of God in Rome who were doing this, the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 2:24, “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.”
When we take the name of Christ as a Christ follower, others have every right to expect from us a change of character, attitude and lifestyle. We are no longer our own. We are bought with a price, the precious blood of Jesus and we now bear His name, Christian. Imagine for a moment a woman who marries a man. Her last name changes to his as she takes on a whole new lifestyle, no longer a single woman but a married one. Wouldn’t we expect her now to act like a married woman? She would no longer date other men. She made a vow to be committed to her husband. In other words, if she had taken on the name of her husband but not changed her lifestyle, she would have taken his name “in vain.” She would have had a wedding ceremony but not a new life.
There is a positive principle behind this negative command “not to take God’s Name in vain.” Rather than treating God’s Name in an empty way, consider the weight and glory of His name. Much is known about God from the names given in Scripture for God. It’s a fascinating study. Here are just a few of the many names for God that help us understand who He is and what He does.
- Jehovah Jireh: The Lord is my provider!
- Jehovah Rapha: The Lord is my healer!
- Jehovah Shalom: The Lord is my peace!
Of all the many names of God given in Scripture, though, my favorite is the response He gave Moses when Moses was faced with a crisis of belief. God told him to go back to Egypt and deliver His people from Pharaoh. Considering the risk of this call and his own limitations and failures in the past, Moses asked God a great question: “Who do I tell them has sent me? What is your name?”
In Exodus 3:14-15, “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ God also said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, The Lord, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you. This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.’”