Using God’s Name in Vain

Growing up I swore quite a bit, and using in “God” or “Jesus” as cuss words were not uncommon. I didn’t think about it much, but I recall a teenage friend—not someone of particularly strong faith at all—explaining how he was offended by my flippant use of God’s name.

Snowy Day

Not that my faith was all that strong at the time, but I still remember thinking, “You know, that’s a good point,” and I resolved to stop using God’s name so casually. If anything, it offended others. But I have come to discover much deeper thoughts about God’s 3rd Commandment:

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 34:18

Deep Thought #1: God Used As Excuse.

I’m a Christian and a debater, but you’ll rarely find me using God’s name in an argument. While I may be a spiritual guy, I will only pull God’s name into the debate if I know full well He wants me doing so. But I’m afraid many people err in using God to promote their own arguments.

In fact, the most convicting reality is this: many of us use God’s name in vain to justify behaviors that God wouldn’t be very proud of at all. Consider:

  • “I’ll pray about it” is said to avoid a difficult decision.
  • “I don’t believe God wants me to do that” is said to avoid doing something difficult but right.
  • “That must not be God’s will” is said to surrender a fight worth fighting.

It’s almost as if we use God to talk ourselves out of what God is calling us to do. How weird is that? This is why I hesitate before making these claims. It’s like God is saying, “Don’t you take my name in vain like that.” That’s how I read the 3rd Commandment.

Deep Thought #2: God Used to Judge Others.

Probably the worst example of using God’s name in vain is when we judge others. My understanding is that this is what angered Jesus so much. Little else boiled his blood than this: When religiously pious folks used God to condemn others.

I recall a mail letter I received from an associate some time ago. I knew this person as emotional unstable and very troubled. We had some unfortunate conflicts leading up to the letter, and this person chose to mail me (like, through the Post Office) a long letter. It began with two paragraphs quoting Bible verses about brotherhood and responsibility and integrity.

“Oh boy,” I thought, “here it comes.” And it did. Six pages tearing me to shreds. Ad hominem and insults ensued. And yes, this person ended with some more Bible verses and a WWJD appeal to a very twisted recollection of events.

What comes around goes around, and I have to admit I’ve been guilty of doing the same thing. My wife and I write about one instance in our book Love Another Child. After reading an article from a religious leader about how children were blessings from God, we fired off a letter of rebuke that caused a big stir to a good organization. We used God’s name in vain, I’m sure. Funny, we came around to viewing children like the original author did, but we sure thought highly of ourselves in our indignant mindset.

I think a lot of Christians have a tough time with this, or at least misunderstand the whole idea of using God’s name in vain. We build our relationship with God, get to know Him and how He thinks, then use that knowledge to condemn others who haven’t quite “arrived.”

I can hear God saying to me, “Don’t you use my name to nail someone to a tree.” That’s how I read the 3rd Commandment.

Deep Thought #3: God Used…Period.

I’ve been used before, haven’t you? You’re taken advantage of. Someone who you thought was a friend ends up being found out to be only your friend for a selfish reason. They were fake, not genuine. I suspect God wants us to be genuine with Him, and that’s what the 3rd Commandment is about. I read it and hear God saying, “Don’t be fake with me…let’s be real.”

Compare this with someone who stubs his toe in the middle of the night and exclaims, “Jeeezuss Kerrrrist!” Which is honestly breaking the 3rd Commandment?

I still don’t say God’s name flippantly. But I suspect the “don’t use my name in vain” Commandment meant something much more serious.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Jennifer Torres

    Very good points. A couple I haven’t thought of before. Also how about this one; using your Christianity to promote a business or whatever. Someone saying “you should shop here because we’re Christians”. Here in the South it seems that Christianity is a tradition, not a conviction. Many stores have verses posted and sell Christian products that appeal to the religious crowd. While some may be genuine Christians there are others that are not and that are using God to promote their business. How many politicians say they are Christian and are voting for obvious non-Christian issues? Are they using Christianity to get the Christian vote? Just another example of how I think people use God’s name in vain.

    • Hadn’t thought of that, but very true. Thanks Jennifer!

  • I’d honestly not thought of things as deeply as this. Using it flippantly is probably the way that i was grown up hearing about it but these make a lot of sense. Adding some of these to my mental index.

    • Thanks Robert! I appreciate the feedback.

  • I agree.I don’t think when God gave the commandment all those years ago,that He did it because He knew that people would be saying ‘God this or that..$%^# ‘! The meaning goes much further.

  • “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ You leave the Commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:6-8 RSV)

    Chris. Your 1st and 2nd points provide excellent definition to the 3rd commandment, and they are extremely relevant and valuable. Thanks. Violations of the 3rd commandment can manifest any many small and enormous ways. A small lie is significant. Even if apparently insignificant, It is also significant to disregard God’s holiness by spinning the God card and or diminishing his majesty .