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QUESTION: What does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain?
ANSWER: Exodus 20:7 states, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” This command makes it essential we understand what it means to take the Lord’s name in vain.
Noah Webster uses the following synonyms for vain: empty, fruitless, light, worthless, and not genuine. So to take the Lord’s name in vain is to use it worthlessly or lightly. It means to use it for something outside of its intended purpose.
There are easily over a hundred and fifty names or titles for God in the Bible. The most common ones we hear taken in vain on a regular basis include God (when preceded by “oh” or followed by “damn”), Jesus, and Christ.
Jesus Himself tells us in Matthew 12:36, “…That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” Idle words certainly include more than just taking the Lord’s name in vain but we see our definition now more clearly. To speak God’s name idly is to use it without meaning or power, to use it as filler. I’ve had people tell me, “It’s just an expression.” God will not hold them guiltless. Some tell me that they are serious when they respond to a situation by saying “oh god” but when they can turn around and use “s--t” in exactly the same way under exactly the same circumstances – that’s blasphemy and God will not hold him guiltless.
Ever hear of Christian cussing? Christians can be equally or should I say especially guilty because they should know better. “Gosh darn” is just an alteration of God and damn. Look it up in any dictionary. A euphemism is the substitution of an inoffensive word for an offensive one – but it means the same thing. When a person uses darn under the same circumstances that another would use damn we can be sure that they are not talking about socks and God will not hold him guiltless. The association that exists between similar words is called a metonymy and if you wonder whether or not God cares about that association then read the account of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:19-23. If you swear by the altar, you swear by the sacrifice and you swear by God, so what’s the difference?
Did you know that you don’t have to say a word to take God’s name in vain? You can curse God by your actions. Read Proverbs 30:8-9 (KJV), David is saying that the thief or the get-rich-quick mentality is taking God’s name in vain (David asked God not to give him riches!). To not trust God for everything is to take His name in vain.
God’s name is a Holy name (Matthew 6:9). It is “a name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). If you are planning to go to Heaven, you will have to go through the precious name of Jesus (Acts 4:12). It is my own opinion that every time God hears someone speak His name He responds with an expectation to intervene… If you aren’t serious, it would be far better not to use His name.
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