Dan Popp
Written in stone: Thoughts on the Ten Commandments
By Dan Popp
September 25, 2012

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, NASB)

We don't think much about the Third Commandment. It just doesn't seem that relevant to our busy, postmodern lives. I want to show that this command touches our very identity, our selves.

What does it mean to take the name of YHWH your God in vain? Let me borrow the words of John Wesley for a comprehensive view:
    We take God's name in vain, First, By hypocrisy, making profession of God's name, but not living up to that profession. Secondly, By covenant breaking. If we make promises to God, and perform not to the Lord our vows, we take his name in vain. Thirdly, By rash swearing, mentioning the name of God, or any of his attributes, in the form of an oath, without any just occasion for it, but to no purpose, or to no good purpose. Fourthly, By false-swearing, which some think is chiefly intended in the letter of the commandment. Fifthly, By using the name of God lightly and carelessly. The profanation of the form of devotion is forbidden, as well as the profanation of the forms of swearing; as also, the profanation of any of those things whereby God makes himself known.
The Hebrew word translated vain is also rendered emptiness and deception. As we saw last time, the Second Commandment forbids images, often called "vain idols." It's followed by this rule protecting the sanctity of God's revelation of Himself, wrapped up in His name. Surely there's an intentional contrast here. You won't be able to treat the Creator of Heaven and Earth like one of your worthless totems, manipulating Him to do your bidding.

With due respect for the many who believe that this Commandment deals primarily with oaths sworn in the name of YHWH, I'm with Reverend Wesley: I think the highest meaning is that we must not bring dishonor to God by falsely associating ourselves with Him. He speaks of "My people who are called by My name." (2 Chron. 7:14 and Dan 9:19) To bind my identity with His is a very sobering thing. Let it not be said that "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." (Romans 2:24)

What we're talking about is identity theft on the grandest and most audacious scale. There are weeds among the wheat; there are false brethren about. The existence of the Third Commandment means that we can't just take your word for it that you're a Christian. Not everything dressed in a wool suit is a sheep. We'll have to see some evidence supporting your claim that you are a son or daughter of the King.

So what sorts of things are acceptable as evidence? I won't have space here for an in-depth answer, but let's look at a few points from the letter of 1 John.

A Christian:

Walks in the light, acts righteously, obeys God's commandments. (See, for example, 1 John 1:3-6; 2:3-10)

Loves other Christians. (1 John 2:9-11; 4:7-12)

Holds to the doctrines delivered by the Apostles, especially those concerning the person of Christ. (1 John 2:22-23; 4:1-3; 5:5-13)

My view is that, while saying "God damn America" is a crass violation of the Third Commandment, it pales in comparison to saying, "I believe in Jesus; I just don't believe He's both human and divine," or "I'm a Christian, but I'm not like those bitter people who cling to their Bibles," or "I've been forgiven, so I can sin all I want." A person saying such anti-Christian things has taken not just the name of YHWH, but the name of His Son without cause, for nothing, fraudulently — in vain. And God takes that personally.

Previous articles in this series are: God, on the First Commandment, and Images on the Second.

Please follow me on Twitter! @FoundationsRad.

© Dan Popp


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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