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Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain

What does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain? In common understanding, the Commandment forbids using the word God as a profanity. And ultimately, this ends up being a legitimate concern, although I have come to believe that it misses the central point of the prohibition.

The challenge we have here is that the Bible doesn’t define taking the Lord’s name in vain. And there are several very reasonable alternatives as to what it might mean.

Here, I want to offer my understanding of this Commandment, with the biblical reasons for it.

The Ten Commandments (both in Exodus and Deuteronomy) form the core of God’s covenant with his chosen people. As his covenant people, they were to swear their loyalty to God and God alone: “It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear” (Deuteronomy 6:13).

By swearing their covenant allegiance to God, they became identified as the people of the Lord. The prophet Micah says it this way: “For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever” (Micah 4:5).

This means that the people of God bear his name. They have taken the name of their God. In this sense, “taking the name of the Lord” is not primarily about saying the name itself. It is rather a statement of identification.

The New Testament people of God also bear the name of the Lord. Just before his ascension, Jesus commanded his disciples to go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded them. In true Christian baptism, as we publicly swear our allegiance to the one true God, we take upon ourselves the Triune name. We bear the Lord’s name.

The question, then, is whether we bear the name in vain. We take the Lord’s name in vain, I believe, not simply by saying it lightly. We take the Lord’s name in vain when we, who claim to be his people, live in a way indistinguishable from those who do not bear the Lord’s name.

When we do this, we make God trivial in our churches and in our culture at large. When those who bear the name of the Lord seem essentially the same as those who don’t, who could blame people for coming to the conclusion that God himself is inconsequential?

Yes, there are other ways of making light of God, and using the Lord’s name as profanity is one of them. It is right, I believe, to consider such talk a violation of this Commandment.

But Christian, while you might be bothered by the flippant use of the Lord’s name by an unbeliever, the more pressing question is this: how are you bearing the Lord’s name? You, not the unbeliever, bear the name of the Father and Son and Spirit. Are you bearing that name in vain?

Michael Riley

About Michael Riley

Student of theology, apologetics, and Christian affections. Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Wakefield, Michigan.

3 Responses to Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain

  1. Some good points, but I see you are using a fake bible version that not even you believe is the inerrant words of God. Your quote is wrong from Matthew 28. It says “making disciples”, instead of the correct “teaching them” Only God can make a disciple. All we can do is teach. It is God who gives the increase.

    Matthew 28:19  “TEACH all nations” or “MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations”?

  2. Taking the Lord’s name in vain means using His name in your own personal quest for power, money or influence. Consider Falwell invoking God’s name in preaching hatred and blame, in spreading lies and smearing God’s good name.

    Its not surprising that using the Lord’s name in vain is frequently combined with bearing false witness, like the Birther lie, pretended to be true by a majority of Conservative Christians, millions of them. Those two sins combined are what create terrorists. Its how Al Qaeda recruits terrorists, and how the KKK recruits Christian terrorists, and its what created the Pizzagate terrorist, a mentally ill lost soul who believed the Christian Right’s decades of bearing false witness. The Christian Right has been doing this so long, that they are defending their “right” to bear false witness as a case of “all’s fair in war”, exactly the same stance ISIS takes when murdering innocent civilians or raping children, all is fair in war.

    Just one more example, an example that only God could maybe forgive the evil doer who did it. Ted Cruz is the first one use the Lord’s name in vain, and a while ago he was told by Obama months in advance that the US military would be doing some exercises in the area. Just before the exercises commenced, Ted Cruz issued seditious public statements that Obama was sending in the US Military to take over West Texas. Cruz told that seditious lie to gain power and influence. Cruz incited hatred against our troops, and he emboldened terrorist attacks against our soldiers for doing their job! So what happened to Cruz? Did Falwell rebuke him? Did any Christian Conservative in congress or elsewhere rebuke Cruz for that trying to get American troops murdered by mentally ill Birther types? Why aren’t Conservative Christain leaders standing up and rebuking the false witness bearing seditious traitors and terrorist emboldening liars? The parents of Sandyhook victims have recieved thousands of death threats from Christian Conservatives and not even three Conseravtive Christian leaders rebuked the Sandyhook conspiracy liars. At what point will a majority of Americans consider the Chrsitian Right as a terrorist organization? When over 50% of them tell seditious lies that Obama was a foreign born Muslim Communist gay man and ineligble to be POTUS? What about 75%? How many terrorist attacks and threats of mass terrorism do we need to hear before we believe the Christian Right means it when they say they are “coming for liberals”, when they are threatening “second amendment remedies” on Americans for not becoming obedient Birther party sycophants? Hubris and bearing false witness combined lead to a very dangerous situation, and if it doesnt change, once again Christianity will become the religion of terrorism, all the good things Christ did and taught will be ignored by the actions of the evil doers who actively take the Lord’s name in vain and spread lies and scapegoat the meek.

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