One of the 10 great points of God’s eternal, spiritual law is devoted to His name: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). This commandment deals with God’s name, His office as the omnipotent Creator and sovereign Ruler of the universe, and it reveals His holy, righteous character.
Christ instructed us to “hallow” God’s name. And the Third Commandment deals with showing proper respect for the name of God. Obeying this commandment keeps you “guiltless.” The Hebrew word for “guiltless” may also be translated “clean.” The test of spiritual cleanliness lies in keeping this commandment. A man is clean or unclean according to how he uses God’s name—whether in truth or for vanity.
“Vain” means having no value or without effect. Some assume this to mean that it is only talking about swearing and cursing. It’s true that when a person curses and uses God’s name with profanity, it definitely breaks this commandment. God says that He will not hold one guiltless who does such a thing. Elsewhere the Bible does prohibit the use of “corrupt communication” (Ephesians 4:29). The book of Proverbs—largely a collection of wisdom directed at young people—says to “[p]ut away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee” (Proverbs 4:24). This would include speaking, writing, typing or even retweeting or reposting such words.
But is it possible to use God’s name in vain and not realize it? Could you be disobeying this commandment and not even realize it?
If we knew we were taking God’s name in vain, we would quit, right? Let’s expose this subtle sin so we can learn to root it out and become guiltless and clean.
Notice what Christ said: “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). Every idle word spoken must be given account of! And one who takes God’s name in vain will not be held guiltless. We, as Christians, only want to use the name of God properly. It is not wrong to use God’s name when we pray; it certainly isn’t wrong when we discuss God’s Kingdom or plan. We use it when we sing, and I’ve used it even in this article.
How can we know then if we ever use God’s name in vain?
The most widely used method of taking God’s name in vain is through the use of “euphemisms.”
The definition of a euphemism is: “a mild or vague expression used in place of a blunt one.” In other words, it is a substitute term that is being used in place of a more accurate term. Some in God’s Church take His name in vain, usually unknowingly, by using a euphemism for God’s name.
A commonly used euphemism is the expression, “for goodness sake.” Christ said there is none good but God (Luke 18:19). Good is God’s character, His name. So when a person uses the expression, “for goodness sake,” this in reality is saying, “for God’s sake.” Now that is using God’s name in vain if it isn’t spoken in a manner of reverence toward God.
How many times have we heard a person exclaim “gee”? The word “gee” is just a euphemistic term for “Jesus.” Used as an exclamation or as an oath, this would be taking His name in vain.
Other euphemistic statements are: “Oh my gosh,” “Golly,” “Gee whiz,” and “Jeepers creepers.” You could probably add a few euphemistic statements of your own that I have omitted here. These statements are bad enough, but there have been some who have actually used the terms, “Oh my God,” “For God’s sake,” and “For Lord’s sake.” If these statements aren’t made in reverence toward God, or if they are used as mild oaths, then those who utter these statements would be guilty of taking God’s name in vain and be disobeying the Third Commandment.
Most actors and actresses use God’s name in vain when they perform on tv or in the movies. In fact, it appears to be cute to use God’s name this way on television or in public. It is often the punchline of jokes: a crazy situation occurs, and the character takes God’s name in vain, and the studio audience breaks out in uproarious laughter. This problem can very easily spread into the Church because we see and hear it so often that we get accustomed to it, and after a while, it doesn’t seem as offensive to us as it once did.
Christ said in Matthew 5:34-35 not to swear by heaven or by Earth. Yet we hear such expressions as: “for heaven’s sake,” or “for land’s sake.” Another expression we use which we may not be aware of is, “Hallelujah.” The word “hallelujah” means “praise the Lord.” How many of us have used that expression from time to time?
Finally, certain aspects of modern technology have us abbreviating so much these days—even expressions that profane God’s name. Remember, saying “Oh my God,” or “Oh my gosh” or abbreviating it (omg) are all violations of the Third Commandment. You should also avoid saying, typing or posting abbreviations or acronyms that are short for actual curse words.
Many who have used these euphemistic statements have used them in ignorance. Those of you who have read this article can no longer claim ignorance. Now we all know! God will not hold him guiltless who uses His name in vain. Psalm 111:9 tells us, “[H]oly and reverend is his name.” So keep in mind how holy God is, how great God is, and how holy is His name. He commands us not to use His name in vain.
Even When We Pray?
Is it possible to use God’s name in vain when we pray? Yes—if we pray and know we are not going to obey God. Prayer without obedience is hypocrisy. “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).
Christ gave the example for prayer in what is commonly called “the Lord’s prayer.” He showed the right way to approach God—in an attitude of reverence for His office and His name. In the booklet The Ten Commandments, we’re told that the correct rendering of these verses is as follows: “Our Father which art in heaven, thy name be hallowed ….” Remember, God will not hold him guiltless who uses His name in vain. And “a man hallows God’s name by submission to His kingdom and government, and by doing His will and obeying His laws” (ibid).
Let’s keep in mind how great and holy God is. As it is recorded in Psalm 111:9, “[H]oly and reverend is his name.” Keeping this in mind will help you always use God’s name properly.