“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
If I were to read the above verse to folks who’ve grown up or spent much time in church, they would probably recognize it as one of the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God. If I were to ask what it means, likely I would get responses about swearing by God, saying “Oh my God,” and other ways in which verbal disregard is demonstrated.
What if it meant so much more than that?
Surely, we are only to refer to God in a manner of high regard. We are definitely not to profane the image of God by equating His invocation to that of a curse or verbalization of anger.
We are (believers/the church) referred analogously as the bride of Jesus. Illustrations are used in scripture to draw parallels between marriage relationship and ours with Christ.
Typically, when a man and woman get married, the woman changes (or takes) the family name of her husband. She is now identified with him. If she continues to act as if she were single, disregarding the vows she took upon marriage, then she has taken her husband’s name in vain. Yes, she has the legal appearance of someone who is married, but her lifestyle says otherwise.
In the same way, when we say we follow Jesus (or “Christian” if you prefer), but remain the same as when we did not follow Jesus, we are also taking the name of God in vain. Another term for this could be “hypocrisy.”
Often I ask myself, “Am I taking the name of God in vain?” I think it is a healthy question to ask, and undoubtedly will result in much soul-searching. Taking a regular inventory of our lifestyle is good for our health. Gauging where our priorities were a year ago versus now shows our spiritual growth (or lack thereof).
I’m not saying that works leads to salvation, but works are a symptom of salvation. How can you tell if you have the flu? You have flu symptoms.
How can you tell if you follow Jesus? You live according to his teachings.
When you first get sick the symptoms might be only minor irritants; but, eventually, as the sickness spreads the symptoms become more obvious. The same goes for being a Christian. If you are really living as if Jesus is ruler of your life, then you will begin to show more and more symptoms of becoming like him.
If you are only taking his name in vain, you will not show those symptoms. You will act, think, spend, and behave just like everyone else, except with a little religious twist.
Standing before God guiltless is the result of living for Jesus, by making him Lord. Whenever God gives a command he always gives a promise to go along with it. If you take the name of God in vain, the promise is that you will not be found faultless before God. However, the promise of truly following God’s will and becoming more and more like Jesus is reiterated in Colossians (don’t miss the big “if”).
“he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard…” -Colossians 1:22-23 (emphasis mine)