The 3rd: “Do Not Take the Name of God in Vain”


Sermon Text: Exodus 20:7
Sermon Series: “The Ten Commandments” (#4)

Watch Sermon Video:

Main Points:
I. God’s name
II. Taking God’s name in vain
III. God’s punishment announced

We’re continuing with the Ten Commandments and, today, we’ll humbly listen to the message of God through the third one, that is, ‘Do not take the name of God in vain.’

Some people explain this Commandment as one of the important principles of our worship to God, emphasising God’s holiness and our need to face Him with reverence. Some others focus on its demand for being careful in our life with the name and character of God.

In whichever way this commandment is expounded, the main concern of this Third Commandment is the heart and life of a believer before God. In other words, what a person embraces inwardly emerges outwardly in words and deeds. So, this command, ‘Do not take My name in vain,’ is God’s warning, advice as well as urge for us Christians to be faithful to God in both inwardly and outwardly because what is revealed outwardly is the manifestation of inward commitment to Him who alone is living and true God.

Acknowledging the congruency between heart and life as the main concern of the Third Commandment is not difficult. This is, after all, one of the universally commended characteristics of a good person. People need to be consistent inwardly and outwardly, and anyone who isn’t is unreliable, if not deceitful.

The key to this congruency is the inward commitment of a believing heart. What a believer knows and understands in his heart and trusts in his soul is manifested outwardly. So, ‘Do not take My name in vain’ is a command for you and me and all true Christians to know who God is and trust Him wholeheartedly and live accordingly.

Having this as the big picture of the Third Commandment, I’d like to think about what ‘taking God’s name in vain’ means and why we cannot and must not take His name in vain.


And we start with the meaning of ‘God’s name.’ What is God’s name? And why does the Third Commandment focus on God’s name? Why not anything of God other than His name?

That’s because His name identifies everything of Him. That’s the function of any name – it identifies the totality of a person or a thing. Not as a convenient label for easy identification, but as a full description of someone or something in an extremely simplified and condensed form. For example, the five lettered name ‘David’ of the OT describes, construes the person and his life as well as the implication of his place in God’s redemption history. Other names like John Calvin of the 16th century or R. C. Sproul specify individual’s life, works, legacies and all.

The same is true for the names of the things of the world. The earth, the moon, lions, penguins, Perth, the Swan River, etc and etc are the names that illustrate specific beings and regions. A name is the person himself or the being itself. No wonder why Adam’s very first work in God’s created world was naming all created beings. In naming all things, Adam observed and comprehended the purpose of God’s creation.

Likewise, the name and person of God are inseparable. ‘Yahweh’ was the name of God Moses heard in Ex. 3:14 and it means ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ This name contains all attributes and characteristics of God as well as His zealous heart for His own people.

To help you see the implication of this name Yahweh, let me recall the story of Moses at Mt Horeb. He heard God’s call for the Israelites in Egypt, but he didn’t like that idea. So he said, in this sense, ‘I’m not suitable for this mission. Who would believe that You sent me to save them?’ Then, God said to him in Ex. 3:14 and 15, “I AM WHO I AM [literally, ‘Yahweh’]. Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” This name of God was for all Israel God Himself who had appeared to their forefathers and given a sure promise to them.

God and His name are inseparably connected. So, we can say that God’s name is God Himself. This is the main concern of the Third Commandment.

Once you understand the meaning of God’s name and the weight it carries, you can see how impossible and inconceivable is to take God’s name lightly. In fact, that’s what ‘taking God’s name in vain’ means. Literally, taking in vain is to mention or deal the name of God ‘pointlessly’ or ‘misleadingly’ or even ‘falsely.’ Injustice, deception, triviality and lying are ‘taking in vain.’

Think about God’s true nature. Think about the width and depth and height and length of His wisdom and power. I’m not the only one who thinks that God purposefully created the universe in a size so that no human being could ever measure it even in their wildest imagination. Stars are distanced in millions and billions of light years. The farthest star ever discovered so far is, according to NASA, 9 billion light years away from the earth. A light year is the distance a beam of light travels in a single earth year, that is, 9.7 trillion kilometres. So, 9 billion light-years times 9.7 trillion kms is the actual distance from the earth to the farthest star discovered so far by NASA’s best space telescope. But there’s no sign of that star being the last star at the edge of the universe; most likely, there would be more stars and galaxies beyond that star.

That’s not all. God’s creation is not just in a double, triple, quadruple XL size, but also in an incredibly micro size. The smallest particle of matter known to us is atom. But atom is consisted of things smaller than atom, that is, nucleus and electron. According to scientists’ calculation, roughly 78 sextrillion atoms are in a small grain of sand. The unit I said, ‘sextrillion,’ is a trillion times of trillion.

God created all things and beings. Everything came to be when He the Creator spoke and commanded. So wise and powerful, so great yet precise is our God. He is just and upright, yet, He is immeasurably merciful and loving. So, He cannot be confused with anyone or anything of the created world. He alone is living and true God, and the name He revealed to us is ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ No wonder why His name has to be ‘I AM WHO I AM’ because nothing other than God Himself can describe or explain who He truly is!

All of God – I mean, His identity and attributes, His power, wisdom, glory, righteousness and grace, just to list a few – are enclosed in His name. The OT Israel grasped the weight of His name. So they did not and could not directly address God’s name, ‘Yahweh,’ but pronounced that four-lettered name in Hebrew ‘Adonai,’ meaning, ‘My Lord or Master.’

Truly, therefore, taking this name of God – I mean, all names of God, like ‘Lord,’ ‘Saviour,’ ‘Master,’ etc – pointlessly or misleadingly or falsely is inconceivable! That is to defame or disgrace, if not deny, God Himself.

People show their respect to others who are in important offices, such as the Prime Minister of our nation or the president of another or the Queen of England. We don’t address them in a way we do to our friends. That’s not because they’re better people, but because the office they hold requires suitable and corresponding respect. If such is how we treat fellow human beings, how much more reverence and awe should all people give to the Lord and King of the whole universe, the Creator of every being?

In a word, ‘taking God’s name in vain’ is anything and everything done in words and deeds that does not appreciate the glory of God, that does not reflect the honour God deserves to receive from us, His creatures.

Joking about God is, therefore, a serious sin of taking His name in vain. Laughing at Him is the same offence. Using the name of God and Christ as a curse is an unthinkable transgression. Anyone who blasphemes and directs his hatred at God should tremble because of the weight of sin of taking the Lord’s name in vain.

While these things are obvious examples of taking God’s name in vain, there are some subtle and sly equivalents. The first I’d like to mention is ‘trivialising God.’ God is, to some Christians, no longer ‘holy’ – that is, ‘apart’ or ‘sanctified.’ Thus, they treat God and Jesus like the way they treat other human beings. Intimacy is all they seek and no longer is there reverence or awe in their approach to God and Jesus, no prostration before God inwardly or outwardly.

Another form of taking God’s name in vain is to not consider their vows made in God’s name serious. One of the baptismal vows is this: ‘Do you promise to be faithful in reading the Bible, and in prayer?’ People in marriage have made this vow, ‘Will you have such and such to be your wife/husband, to live together in marriage? Will you love, comfort, honour and support her/him, in sickness and in health, as long as you both live?’ Some do not take vows like these serious, and by taking their vows light, they take God’s name in vain because they consider that God would not know or remember their vows, or that God would not be able to do anything about it. That’s a serious misunderstanding of God’s nature, a serious insult to a God whose power and wisdom are limitless!

In addition, ‘repeating Christian words or deeds without meaning’ is the same offence of taking God’s name in vain. Concluding prayer in the name of Jesus, one immediately doubts and worries about what he has just asked in prayer. Isn’t Jesus the One who said not once but many times in Jn. 14, 15 and 16, “Whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you”?

Anyone attends worship service and sings hymns to God and prays together with fellow members of the Lord’s church, yet his heart is not there but far from the presence of God, far from deepening union with Christ and fellow believers, that person also takes God’s name in vain.

The Third Commandment ends with the announcement of God’s unspecified punishment for all who break this command. Some people wonder what this punishment might be but, other than a solemn penalty stated, not much is explained.

But, I believe there’s no need to describe it in details. Why? Because the penalty has already been applied and all human beings are under the retribution – that is, sin and its dominion. Together with Adam and Eve, all in humanity have broken this command, and received the due punishment. The retribution is groaning under sin and fearing death.

Only one exception, and that is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He alone is free from the condemnation of sin. But, no longer is Jesus the only one free of conviction and judgment, everyone who has come to Jesus in repentance and faith is now counted guiltless alongside Him because they now share Jesus’ righteousness. The penalty of taking God’s name in vain is taken away by Jesus. He has paid our penalty for taking the living true God’s name in vain!

This means that if any of us believers again commits the sin of taking the Lord’s name in vain, that person is not going back under the heavy burden of the punishment, but faces a kind invitation of the Lord to repentance and renewal of his mind, recommitment of heart and soul to full fellowship with Jesus Christ!

In this sense, this Third Commandment is a kind reminder to you and me of our blessed status in Jesus. It reminds us of our absolute and constant need of Jesus. Without Him, apart from Him, we’ll immediately go back to the sin of taking the name of our eternal Father in vain! But with Him, our Lord Jesus, we’re pardoned and invited to come to Him ever closer!

My fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus, let us leave from the sin of taking the name of God Almighty in vain; let us never trivialise His name nor ignore His existence nor laugh at His faithfulness. Know that He alone is the living true God.

In fact, honouring His name, keeping His name high is the greatest blessing we’ve received and deepest joy we have through Jesus Christ now and eternity! ***

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