7 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
The third command God gave to Israel has to do with how we represent Him as His people.
Taking God’s name in vain starts in the heart. It is not just about saying curse words alongside Our Father’s Name. It is that, but it is not merely that. Taking God’s name in vain also includes religious hypocrisy, breaking vows or promises to God, and flippancy in regards to His Holy Name.
Firsty, hypocrisy. When we wear the name of God as our identity, titling ourselves, “Christian,” we have a great responsibility to live up to that name. This, because it is His name we bear, not our own. We bear it only because of His grace. By hypocrisy, we grossly misrepresent him, thus taking his good name in vain.
Think of a team. If I wear the jersey and am given the great privilege and benefit that goes with being a professional athlete, but I choose to skip the games because I am busy doing something unrelated, how long will I have the title? What if I help the other team while on the field? Or say I’ll make the next play but do my own play instead and miss the shot entirely because of my own selfishness?
That is what Christians do when we claim the title and hope for the privileges and benefits (blessings and salvation) yet fail to obey the things we claim to believe and preach to others. It is vain worship; vain religion, as Matthew Henry calls it saying, “Those that name the name of Christ, but do not depart from iniquity, as that name binds them to do, name it in vain; their worship is vain, their oblations are vain, their religion is vain.”
Secondly, taking God’s name in vain has to do with breaking vows and promises we have made to him. Think about it. If I tell you, “I promise,” to do thus and so without any intention to follow through or concern when I fail to deliver, it is not only personally injurious to you, but also careless and disrespectful. This is an area where many fall into a works-based mentality and works religion.
Instead of keeping promises in obediences to God and obeying His Holy Word, instead of admitting and confessing their sin and trusting in Him to pardon, humans will try to “make up” for their failure and fault by doing something else. Good works is how we term those things. The problem is that good works are only truly “good” if they are done out of a right motive. Making up for disobedience is not a right motive. That is called manipulation and God will not be manipulated by men. These works are vain and they take God’s name in vain.
This is what the term “penance” refers to. Paying penance can be paying actual money in an effort to be absolved or forgiven for a sin or it can be a myriad of other good works down IN PLACE OF true repentance, asking forgiveness, and honest reconciliation after a fault.
Matthew Henry notes, “By covenant-breaking – if we make promises to God, binding our souls with those bonds to that which is good, and yet perform not to the Lord our vows, we take his name in vain, it is folly, and God has no pleasure in fools, nor will he be mocked.”
Thirdly, taking God’s name in vain is that which we all commonly know it to be. Using God’s name as a cuss work, or swearing by it, or in any way that dishonors him. This is something many who label themselves by His name consider acceptable. Even a simple man can see that by doing so we not only dishonor Him, but also ourselves. How foolish.
Lastly, we can take God’s name in vain by using it flippantly and without regard for His honor. Terms like, “Oh my God,” “Sweet baby Jesus” “OMG” or any use of God’s name that lacks the authority and honor due Him is a sin as forbidden in this third commandment.
The second part of the verse is just as noteworthy as the first. Not only are we forbidden to take God’s name in vain, we are warned of punishment if we disobey in this area.
While we are busy justifying and excusing this sin because it is so prevalent in our world today and we are so dull to the scripture’s command and warning, God is promising a severe penalty for it. He says this, “…the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”
God cannot lie. He said he will not hold us guiltless for this act of disrespect. God will avenge those who take his name in vain. He is not a passive father who does not mean the things he says. If a warning is present in the scripture and it is directed at His people and not the world – His people would do well to pay attention and reconsider what we accept and excuse on a daily basis.