“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.
In the understanding of this text, the modern Christian often takes the words amiss. The command is commonly regarded as a simple prohibition regarding the misuse of God’s name. It is generally applied to the usage of the name of God and Christ in reprehensible or undesirable situations. Modern translations render the commandment as :
“You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God” —NIV
“Never use the name of the LORD your God carelessly.” —GOD’S WORD®
“No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter” —MSG
Some paraphrase the command as simplistically as “No Bad Words”.
However, while there is truth in understanding that certain usages of God’s name are forbidden, at least three broader and more comprehensive conclusions are imperative to recognize. First, it must be asserted that the reference to God’s “name” does not merely refer to the formal titles of God, but it is inclusive of the various titles, attributes, ordinances, word and works. Second, the inverse of what is forbidden is thereby required. Namely that man must revere the name of the Lord. Third, this command does not only restrict cursing and vulgar language, but requires that the man of God swear by God’s name in faith.
In understanding and defining “name” the Christian must look to scripture. In Psalm 29 and Matthew 6, man is called to ascribe glory to the name of the Lord.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.
Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
The Christian specifically is required to ascribe this glory as an act of worshiping the Lord. Nothing less than full credit, complete recognition and total praise are fitting for the glory that is due to God’s name. He is the great “I AM.” Because of this man must humble himself and hallow the very name of God.
The common titles and attributes of God throughout the Scriptures are those pertaining to his authority and sovereignty.
And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
The very title of Lord is one that affirms that God is the highest authority, absolute ruler and ultimate potentate. Yet while his character is continually compared to weapons of warfare and dominion, God does not domineer over his creation as the common and base human despot or a tyrant. God is characterized by titles and attributes pertaining to salvation and redemption. Christ indeed is the Lamb of Glory, a title of humility that has been conferred upon Christ the King of Kings. Herein we witness the nature of God’s character, at once humanly incomprehensible and comprehensively simple.
In Malachi the law of God is set forth authoritatively and viewed in relation to the Great King and Lord of hosts.
Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.
As the manifest declaration of his nature, the statutes, rules and ordinances of God that must be spoken of with respect and kept in fear with reverence and holiness. The law of God ought always to be exalted just as David lauded it, proclaiming in Psalm 119:97 “Oh how I love your law!” The law of God should never be denigrated as though it were backward, barbaric or contemptible by the lawless, let alone the Christian. James calls this law the “perfect law, the law of liberty.” The Law, which is one of God’s manifold demonstrations of grace to redeemed man, should be considered in no less manner than any of his other works.
The Word of God is the very expression of God’s character and will. It relates to man who God is, and it teaches man what is pleasing to God.
I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.
The Word of God is the all sufficient rule of faith and practice. It sets forth what man is to believe about God, and it sets forth how man must act in terms of that belief. Hence man must approach the Word of God with reverence and humility. He must recognize that without the work of redemption and the power of the Spirit of God, he is incapable of true knowledge.
God has commanded that his works are to be made known to all men. Psalm 107 reflects this well:
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!
This presupposes that all of God’s works are holy and wonderous. Thus it is the duty of all men to recount these deeds and works of God to future generations. These works must be proclaimed with thanksgiving and in songs of joy to all men and all nations at all times.
A proper understanding of the prohibition of the third commandment will yield a recognition of its implied requirements. In this knowledge, the Christian will embrace and observe all the right uses of God’s name, and consequently the comprehensive facets of his character. This observance is of necessity rendered in a true spirit of humility with an attitude of holiness and reverence that works itself out in the faith and life of the believer. Holiness and reverence both define and emphasize the importance of righteous character that results in righteous action.
Holiness is the attitude that recognizes the exalted nature of God, rightly viewing God as distinct from his creation, not a part of it. Holiness also affirms God’s perfect standard of justice. Holiness in the saint causes him to recognize that justice proceeds from God’s decrees and he consequently see God as the source of law. Holiness, which also has an aesthetic character, produces in the righteous a delight in, and affection for that law and justice, perceiving its beauty as it manifests the character of its Author.
R. J. Rushdoony aptly describes holiness in the following excerpt from a recorded lecture:
Holiness has to do with our everyday life. Leviticus, which most stresses holiness, gives us laws concerning sexuality and marriage, debt, diet, weights and measures and much, much, more. Too many protestants have a medieval view of holiness as a withdrawal from the world into a convent or a monastic establishment. And they really have turned the churches into monasteries and convents. And they separate themselves from the world and don’t want to be involved in bringing everything into captivity to Christ. … Holiness is not retreat but the application of God’s law word of every area of life and thought. … Holiness is a very wonderful and very practical thing. It is life in faithfulness to the lord Jesus Christ. And to the law word of God.
Thus holiness is not an abstract existential spirituality detached from the physical world. God created a complete world, comprised of both spiritual and physical elements. It is a heretical, gnostic, and Platonistic view of the world that sees a dichotomy between spiritual and physical. Instead holiness is the very spiritually practical act of obedience to God’s law. Holiness is the heart of obedience in man made evident by real works of righteousness prepared for him to walk in by faith.
In reverence, as with holiness, man is seen as the inferior to God, so by an attitude of reverence man willingly submits himself to God’s rule and standard of justice. Man sees God for the true Almighty Lord and King. Because the Christian has been redeemed from sin he stands before the Lord with “joyous song.” It is improper to view reverence as simply a stern faced sobriety. While sobriety is one aspect of the virtue, it is tempered with the oil of gladness by the command of God. The people of God, because of the work of God’s grace, act reverentially in thanksgiving with joy and exuberant praise.
Man must apply these attitudes of holiness and reverence in every area of life and thought. He cannot relegate the reverence and holiness of God to the narrow confines of his own dim imaginings or his rituals or ceremonies which in themselves are lifeless. Instead, man is required to demonstrate practical humility and a reverential attitude toward all of God’s names, and all they represent through the daily conforming of every thought and action into the image of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The third commandment is stated as a prohibitive command. It has set a limiting factor that restricts how man must regard the name of the LORD. The full implication of this commandment has been established by recognizing that the inverse of what is forbidden is thereby required. Namely that the third commandment sets forth a solemn injunction as to how man must regard God’s name with holiness and reverence.
Even further than this, the Christian man is required to take god’s name without vanity. That is, he must take upon himself and bear the name of God in faith. He must take or swear by God’s name. Deuteronomy 6:13 declares the right manner of swearing by God’s name:
It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.
This is an injunction from the Lord himself to swear by his name. This is because the very foundation of society and every aspect of life is fundamentally religious. Dr. Joel McDurmon writes:
“ … at the bottom of every way of life, of every religion and every society, stands an ultimate oath. You have to serve somebody. Somebody is your god and you have sworn allegiance to him (or her) already whether you know it or not. You cannot escape worship, authority, or oaths. If you zip-your-lips, and lock the door and swallow the key, and refuse to take any oath whatsoever, you just took one. The question is not “oath or no oath.” The question is Whose name did you take it under? Here we must follow the example of God Himself, “For when God made the promise to Abraham, since he could swear by no one greater, He swore by himself” (Heb. 6:13). No wonder He commands us to swear by that name, too.”
It is clearly evident that the third commandment requires that man comprehensively live in terms of his faith. The apostle Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 when he says “the righteous shall live by faith” (Rom 1:17). Our Lord Jesus Christ echoed the words of Moses from Deuteronomy 8:3 when he declared that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” As the very Word of God, the expression of his Father’s name, Christ perfectly demonstrated for us the keeping of this commandment. Ephesians clearly sets forth the manner of life that identifies Christ, and those who are taught in him:
But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
The implications of the third commandment are far reaching—far more than the sunday school bible told us when it said “No Bad Words.” God’s Word, being one with his nature, never returns to him void. It effectually conquers and commands dominion over every element of his created universe, including the territory of the mind and heart of man. The Christian man, called out of his own darkness into the light of God by the wonderful grace of this law, must live antithetically to his former self, i.e. fallen man. Being a new creation, he thus takes upon himself the creed of Christ and is re-created after the likeness of God. This likeness is one of righteousness and holiness. It is a moral imperative that the Christian man swears by God and is thereby bound to fulfill what he swears. As God’s nature is constancy itself, so the Christian life must be a life of constancy in faith wherein redeemed man is held to the standard of God’s righteousness by the Spirit and so lives faithfully in thought and deed. As the true standard of obedience to the third commandment, this kind of universal holiness and reverence for the name of God is paramount to the advance of Christendom.