The Third Command: Using His Name Rightly

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.” (Exodus 20:7 ESV)

There is a part of this verse we are very familiar with. Names. Everyone has a name. That name was given to you by your parents. They picked that name for any number of reasons. It may have been a family name, a favorite Bible name, a hero to them, or they liked how it sounds.

Some people pick a name because of what it means. This was very true in the Old Testament. Jesus was the best example when the angel told Mary and Joseph to name him Jesus, which means “Savior.” The reason given was that “he shall save his people from their sins.” The meaning of the name was important. Some of us maybe don’t know what our names mean but that’s just a different culture.

There is one person for whom the meaning of their name is of utmost importance—God. Our parents name us, but who names God? God names himself. Every name he gives himself is intended to tell us what he is like. “God is that which he calls himself, and he calls himself that which he is.” (Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, p. 85.)

God’s name represents his nature and infinite worth. To misuse his name is to profane his character which is infinitely glorious and holy.

God’s self-chosen names are intrinsically connected to his personhood. He is what he names himself. So his covenantal name, Yahweh, is holy because it is a self-chosen revelation of who he is. Jesus’ name is a God-chosen name and revelation of God, therefore it is holy. By the way, it is not the letters arranged in the name or the name in isolation. It all has to do with who it is tied to. I remember years ago the Cubs had an infielder named Jesus. Was it breaking the 3rd commandment to say something bad about him, or worse, to give him an error for some play? “Fielding error by Jesus.” That sounds blasphemous. No. That name was not connected to God; it was connected to the Cubs.

The names of God are holy to God and therefore must be holy to us. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” The “in vain” then is the issue. We can certainly use the name of God; that’s why he gave it to us. We must not misuse it. In vain literally means “for unreality; for what is not true.” This is to use his name inconsistent with the glory that is God’s; to not give it reverence; to not give it weight. One translator says, “You shall not lift up the name of the Lord your God for nothingness.” (Larsson, as quoted by Philip Graham Ryken, Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis, p. 87.)

When we lift up God’s name for nothingness, with lightness, or irreverence, we are not treating his name as holy. Since he is what he calls himself, to treat his name irreverently is to treat God irreverently. Do we see the why? God is holy. Therefore, his name is holy. What we do with his name, in God’s eyes, we do to him.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address ( on the copied resource.

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