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
This is one of the many areas in which I believe we have not fully grasped the meaning of Scripture. We associate this third commandment with using the name of God as a curse word or as an expression used in place of “oh my gosh.” Though we should certainly avoid the flippant use of the Lord’s name, this is not the meaning of the verse at all.
The word vain in Hebrew is the word shâv’(shawv). It means “to desolate,” “to use for evil,” “to ruin morally,” “false idolatry,” and “to use as deception or for vanity.” If we want to understand this command fully, we could loosely translate it as follows: “Do not take My name and then empty it of its power (desolate) by using it for evil purposes, while living in immorality or practicing false idolatry, for deceptive purposes, or in spiritual pride.” Changes it up a little bit, I would say!
No wonder the enemy wants to reduce this third commandment to merely not using the Lord’s name as a slang word. Friends, God wants those who bear His name to walk worthy of His name. Where we fall short, His mercy and grace bridge the gap.
As I said yesterday, philosophies and empty deceits are all around us, and one of them, in particular, is being perpetrated in the name of the church. That is the idea that each Christian is free to do what is right in his or her own eyes. In this view, there are no moral absolutes, and the Christian life is about living life to its fullest, materially and experientially. But God says, “Don’t take My name there; I will not hold the one guiltless who does.”
I believe that one of the greatest needs of the modern church is the restoration of the fear of the Lord, in the sense of reverent awe. Interestingly, all the giants of Scripture had it, and all those we revere in church history had it. But somehow in the postmodern church era, we think we don’t need it. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. We need to fear the Lord just as much as any people in history has ever needed it.
To claim God’s name but then live immorally or in idolatry is taking the Lord’s name in vain. Instead, we need to have reverent awe of God restored in our lives. Let us have this godly fear in our day once again —the fear of taking the name of the Lord in vain!
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