The Third Commandment


“You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain, for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)

It’s common to think that this simply means one should never exclaim using the words “God,” “Jesus,” or “Christ.” (In fact, God tells us to prayerfully exclaim in such a way when he gives us Psalm 22—”My God, my God!”—which Jesus himself shouted from the cross.) It is perhaps glaringly obvious that one should not use the divine name profanely. But the commandment is about something much more significant than being a little more careful with your language.

The very purpose of a name is to communicate, to relate, to be identified and known by others. When you introduce yourself and disclose your name to others, you are opening yourself up to them for a relationship. This is why God has disclosed his personal name to us. Yahweh wants to be known as he truly is. Remarkably, it is given to sinners to relate to Yahweh with such intimacy, such familiarity, as to use his actual name and not just a title. Even more wondrously, he has made himself known by a human name. Jesus is the personal name of God in the flesh, God introducing himself to the whole world for relationship.

The Triune (relational!) God places his name upon us in our baptism (Matthew 28:19). Now we bear or carry his name, his identity, with us wherever we go as his representatives, making him known in the world. (That’s what it means to “take the name of Yahweh…”) So we should make him known as he truly is. This is a commandment about the mission of God’s people. We should call upon his name for salvation, praise his name with thanksgiving, pray that his name would be known and loved, and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others as God has sent us forth to do. We should “go out for the sake of the name” (3 John 7). We should honestly and accurately represent what it looks like for sinners to have relationships with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

But it’s easy to misrepresent God, to commit great sins “in his name,” and lead others away from the true knowledge of God. False teachers abound. Even Christians who really do know Yahweh can easily portray him to others wrongly in their assertions and actions. Even then, in his gracious love, Jesus is not ashamed to be associated with us. He has borne the bad rap we have given him, and through association with himself he has granted us to bear an identity in God’s sight that we never deserved. He may be the Misunderstood One, but he is still able to make himself known in his great love, even to and through sinners like us!

Are you interested in making God known to others, in honestly and accurately representing what it looks like for a sinner to have a relationship with him through faith in Jesus? In what ways might you unknowingly have misrepresented God’s revelation of himself? Have you ever used God’s name (or your association with him or his church) for your own selfish advantage? What might that look like? Do you suppose that if people know you are a Christian they ought to respect you more? Do you think that condemning people for saying “Oh my God!” truly communicates the Gospel, truly represents Jesus? Can you think of a time when you’ve spoken flippantly or contemptuously of God or his church? Can you think of a time when you’ve spoken as well of God as he actually deserves?

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