How (Not!) to Take the Lord’s Name in Vain

By Mary DeMuth Published on May 26, 2016

I never quite understood this verse: “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) I always equated “taking the Lord’s name in vain” with using God’s name as an oath or possibly as a swear word.

Now I have a deeper understanding.

In my life, I have encountered people who name Jesus as their Lord with their words, but in their actions act as if God doesn’t see. I have met people who used God’s name to legitimize themselves, to render themselves trustworthy to cover up an untrustworthy heart. I have heard people use Christian words, Christian platitudes, Christian phrases — even though their hearts and minds are far from Jesus.

Worse yet, I have met people who masquerade as Christians while they knowingly defraud others, using God’s incredible name to underwrite incredibly horrible deeds. This takes the sin of taking God’s name in vain to a deeper level. Perhaps the spirit of the commandment has to do with lying about God’s role in your life to others, about using God for your own gain, about hypocrisy.

Jesus had some pretty harsh words for people like this. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like white-washed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)

I’d like to close my eyes and believe that Jesus was only speaking to His generation, but I’m afraid He speaks to us as well. There are people in our churches masquerading, taking God’s name in vain. And if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll see our own whitewashed hearts under the light of God’s holiness.

I pray I don’t take His name in vain, that I don’t name Him and then crucify others with my words. I pray  that I can understand how frail I am, how very close I am to wearing phylacteries, how near I am to standing proud and aloof from Jesus while naming His name.

There is a haunting verse in Psalms 138:6: “For though the Lord is exalted, yet He regards the lowly; but the proud He knows from afar.”

I praise God that He is the God who sees us all: stiff-necked or humble, defrauding or helping. He knows us all.

He does not regard us all. That’s where pride can take us — even if we name His name.

I want to be regarded by God. I don’t want to be known from afar by God. I want to sincerely in all humility bear His brand marks on my body — to bear His name in truth, not in vain.

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