God's Holy Name
Topic: God's Name Scripture: Exodus 20:7
This morning we resume our series on the 10 commandments. A few weeks ago, we considered the first commandment which instructs us to worship only the one true God and then the second commandment which instructs us to worship the one God truly. Today, we come to the third commandment which instructs us to revere God in every way. The name of God represents his person and essence so a command regarding how we use the name of God is a command about how we relate to him. The third commandment is about reverence for God.
There is a lot here but the main point I want you to understand this morning is that Our Reverence for God is Perfected in Christ. Let me say that again, Our Reverence for God is Perfected in Christ.
Both now and in ancient times a name is a symbol for a person. Names are important. Even in the 21st century, when we want to express our personal commitment to something, we sign our name. If we want people to know something belongs to us, we put our name on it. A name is an extension of the person. We still talk about having a good or bad name in connection with our character or reputation.
In ancient times names were taken very seriously. To speak or act in the name of another was to bring to bear the authority and integrity of that person. To speak the name of God was to invoke his glory, majesty, and power and to essentially bring him into the situation where the name was used.
So it isn’t surprising that God considers the proper use and reverence of his name of massive importance. Just how important can be seen in that it is one of the top 10 things God commands. Exodus 20:7 says,
7 “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.
To take the name means to claim it or use it and the word translated vain means empty or useless. The command is against using God’s name in a useless and empty way. The name was to be used reverently and worshipfully, not carelessly. Faithful jews were so careful not to dishonor this name that they refused even to speak or write it. That is why in our bibles today, Yahweh, which is the covenant name of God, is still not written and is instead translated as capital L-O-R-D.
The direct application of this command in the original context of Exodus 20 is primarily a command against perjury or taking oaths untruthfully. God’s people were not to invoke his name carelessly. It is a very serious matter to call upon God as a witness to our oaths and promises. That is why Jesus warns us about making oaths. In Matthew 5:33-37 Jesus says,
33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
Our character should be such that we do not need to call God as a witness because we are already considered trustworthy. Have you ever been talking with someone and then they say “to tell you the truth”, or “to be honest with you”? Aren’t you like, wait, do you usually lie to me? Has everything else you said been dishonest? We shouldn’t need to swear on our honesty because telling the truth should be a given.
In cases where an oath is required by an authority, we must recognize the seriousness of appealing to God to confirm what we say. That is why it is customary to say “so help me God” after taking an oath in court. It is a request for protection to keep us from violating this command.
Probably in our day, the first thing most people think about when they hear this command isn’t oaths, but is using God’s name as a cuss word like saying “G-D” or or “Jesus Christ” in a flippant way. That kind of blasphemous speech is also prohibited by this commandment.
As evangelist Ray Comfort points out, most of us would never use our mother’s name as a cuss word because we know it is profoundly disrespectful and yet many do this with the name of the Lord without giving it so much as a thought. To use the most holy name as a curse or in frustration is a profound act of disrespect and is a form of blasphemy.
Imagine a guilty prisoner standing before a judge awaiting his sentencing who was disrespecting the judge by name. Well that is even less foolish than using the name of a holy God disrespectfully as one who must stand before him with eternity in the balance. That such speech comes so easily to so many of us is evidence of how dulled our minds have become because of sin.
The letter of the law requires we not take vain oaths or use God’s name carelessly but remember, righteousness requires not only that we keep the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law as well. This command involves much more than just oaths and curses. To keep this command in Spirit we must keep God’s name holy in our speech, in our lives, and in our hearts. For believers, that means we are to think, speak, and act to the glory of God, whose name is upon us.
Like the first two, this command encompasses all of life. If we were righteous this law would not be difficult to keep but we have all failed to keep it. If you are not yet trusting in the work of Jesus for your salvation, then understand you will be judged according to this law, as well as the others and the judgment will be that you are guilty of violating the law and are not righteous.
If, however, you have put your faith in Jesus as your substitute, then he has fulfilled the requirements of the law in your place. Your feeble works need not speak for you, because your testimony is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ himself. If you have trusted in Jesus, you are free from the condemnation of this command. Our relationship to it has changed. Rather than condemn us it now reminds us of our great dependence on God’s grace. Rather than discourage us, it fuels our worship by showing us the great love of God in how much we have been forgiven. Rather than separating us from God it serves as a guide, showing us what it looks like to love God and be like him.
Teacher and counselor David Powlison captured this perfectly when he says,
“The moral law is not only a standard against which sinners fail, driving us to need our Savior. God is love, and his law reveals both the image in which he created us and the image in which he is recreating us. Law describes loving well. It is not cold, legalistic, threatening, and impersonal. It is warm, humane, desirable, [and] personal. God’s law describes how full humanness operates when walking free. It pictures how wisdom perceives and acts. It casts a vision for what we are becoming under the gentle, firm hand of our Savior’s grace.”
If you are a believer, this law is not given to you as a set of external rules. When you are born again, God removes your heart of stone, governed by laws written in stone, and gives you a heart that is alive and has his holy law written on it. The Spirit works with the word to transform our minds, changing our affections so our love and joy are fulfilled in the pursuit of this very command that once stood to condemn us.
We have all fallen short of this command and deserve judgment, but in Jesus we have received mercy and grace. Not just mercy and grace in the past, but grace for every day until we are perfected in Christ. The only way to keep this command is in the power of Jesus living in us. That will be clear once we consider what this law truly requires.
Not only are we to avoid empty oaths and disrespectful use of God’s name but we also take the Lord’s name in vain when we pray empty, faithless prayers. Children of God are called to come boldly before God. In Christ, we have access to the Father and the Spirit even helps us as we pray. We have nothing to fear when we pray in faith by the Spirit, but we take God’s name in vain if we pray in the flesh because every prayer invokes the name of God.
Jesus told us not to “heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do” and James says that a double minded man should not expect to receive anything from God. Acknowledging God as God is essential to healthy prayer. We take the name of the Lord in vain every time we pray faithless, fleshly prayers. Every time we pray for our own glory at the expense of God’s glory.
Have you ever noticed that when Jesus teaches his followers to pray he begins by mirroring the first three commandments? In Matthew 6, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray he says,
9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
“Our Father, the one true God. “In heaven”, not a physical idol or creature. “Hallowed be your name.” Jesus teaches us to pray with a recognition that God’s name is holy, set apart, unlike any other name. It is not empty or useless, but is sacred, revered, and honored. The model prayer shows us that it should be not only our practice, but our prayerful desire that God’s name be honored on earth as it is in heaven.
There is probably nothing in our life that points us more accurately to the condition of our heart than the way we pray, especially when nobody sees us. Our prayer reflects our confidence in and reverence for God. To call upon his holy name with empty faithless prayers or to satisfy our fleshly passions is to take his name in vain.
We also take the Lord’s name in vain when we abuse or are careless with his word. When we appeal to God’s word, we are calling upon the name, the reputation of God. To do this in a way that is empty or false is to bring disrepute to his holy name.
That is why Jude 12 calls false teachers waterless clouds and fruitless trees. God’s word promises life to those who hear, but those who teach falsely in the name of God have the appearance of bringing satisfaction but they bring only emptiness.
While we may not be false teachers, we also must be careful not to misuse the word of God. Be careful to understand the context and purpose of the scripture so you can apply it properly. 2 Timothy 2:15 says,
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
It dishonors God to claim promises on his behalf to people that he never made. It is likewise dishonoring to God’s reputation to use his word to justify our own fleshly passions. How often I have heard believers say “I can do all things through Christ” as justification to pursue selfish desires, or say “God has promised to bless me” to justify their greed and covetousness.
If we presume upon God’s grace to justify our sin we are taking God’s name in vain. It is the spiritual equivalent of asking for a police escort to rob a bank. When we profess God’s name, but do not live answerably to it, we take it in vain.
There is a reason nearly every company has some sort of quality control process. They do not want products or services that do not live up to their standards to have their name on them because that will damage their reputation. Anything bearing their name and image reflects who they are so companies are very protective about their names. Many of the baby boomers here will remember the slogan Zenith Television had for many years, “Quality goes in before the name goes on”. If companies are concerned that the things they make bring honor to their name, how much more do you think our Heavenly Father is?
When we are baptized, we proclaim that we have died with Jesus and have been raised with him to newness of life. Our lives are hidden in Christ and we take his name upon our lives. Therefore, when we take his name but live in a way that denies him, we are literally taking his name in emptiness. It is a form of denying the power of the gospel. A life of persistent disobedience is evidence that the power of God is not at work in us.
In Luke 6:46 Jesus asks those who call on his name but are disobedient, Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you?
In Matthew 15:8-9 Jesus says of those who praise him only in words, 8 “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me…”
Titus 1:16 says of those who claim to be his but are not, 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works…
To profess Christ is to make a claim. It is to claim that we have been born again by the power of God. It is to claim that we have been translated from death to life, that we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit and that Christ is living in us.
2 Timothy 3:5 describes false believers as
5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.
To take the name of Jesus and yet remain unrepentantly in sin is to suggest that he is an insufficient savior. It is to say that he is unable to perform what he has promised to those who come to him. It is to deny his power. 2 Peter 1:3 says of believers,
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…
This is why the New Testament constantly encourages believers to live according to who we are in Christ. We are no longer to live like those who have no spiritual life, no spiritual power, because we have been raised with Christ and have received every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm in Christ. When we who carry the name of Jesus live as though we are still in the flesh we are taking God’s name in vain.
So, the requirement of this command is that we keep God’s name holy in our speech, in our lives, and in our hearts. For those who bear the name of Christ, that means we are to think, speak, and act to the glory of God in all things.
Have you kept this commandment? Have there ever been times where your speech, your prayers, and your walk have failed to attribute to God the reverence and glory he deserves? I know I fail in this daily. What about you?
Well, if this is you as well, then we have a big problem because do you remember the second part of this commandment?
the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
He will judge the guilty. He is a righteous judge and will render his verdict with perfect truth. If you have understood what I have said so far, you will know that should you stand before this law on the basis of your own performance you will not be guiltless. Do not think you will be accepted because you are good in other ways. He says he will not hold you guiltless who takes his name in vain. Apart from grace, we all fall under this condemnation and it is a frightful thing to face an almighty holy God knowing that we are guilty of profaning his reputation.
But not only is God perfect in holiness and righteousness, he is also perfect in love and mercy. In an act of unbelievable love, he sent his Son, Jesus to suffer and die for those who were his enemies, who had profaned his holy name, and rejected him. He made a way for those who could not be held guiltless to be forgiven. Since God is perfectly holy and righteous, he does not overlook this sin. Every single act of taking his name in vain receives a just punishment.
The amazing thing is that Jesus satisfied that justice and took that punishment in the place of every sinner who would ever put their faith in him as their savior. Here is the choice that is offered. God will punish every act of irreverence. The question is, will you pay the price for your irreverence or will you trust in the payment made by Jesus Christ?
Jesus lived a perfect life. He honored and revered the name of God every moment perfectly. He was tortured and crucified not for his own sin, but for the sin of all those who will believe in him. He died for our sin and three days later was raised to give us new life. Now, he is seated at the right hand of the Father advocating for all who are his.
Friends, God invites you to come to him but you must come through Jesus Christ alone. The Bible says there is no other name under heaven whereby we can be saved. The choice is clear, Christ or condemnation. John 3:18–19 says,
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
Whoever trusts in his name will not be condemned but have eternal life. Those who cling to Christ through faith will not do so in vain. He promises that he will not cast out any who come in faith. But we must come by faith in Jesus. He will not hold us guiltless if we come on our own. Even our greatest deeds will not be enough to justify us before God. In Matthew 7:22–23 Jesus says,
22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Do you remember our main point? Our Reverence for God is Perfected in Christ.
Jesus has fulfilled the requirements of this law in our place and so we are no longer under its condemnation. Jesus is the ultimate vindication of God’s name and our salvation comes in Christ from God ensuring his name is not taken in vain by keeping his promises. Psalm 25:11 says,
11 For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Psalm 79:9 says,
9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!
Jesus glorifies the name of God in our forgiveness but he does even more than that. Having satisfied the demands of the law, he shows the immeasurable riches of his grace by making us heirs with Christ.
Ephesians 1:19–21 says believers are partakers of
19 … the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
And then astonishingly, a few verses later Ephesians 2:5–7 says,
5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Jesus is exalted above every name and we are forever united to him through faith. We, who were enemies of God, have been seated in the heavenly places with our savior. We have received grace upon grace. We who slandered the name of the most holy God are now named with the name that is above all names. Our reverence for God is perfected in our union with Jesus. Listen to the words of our Lord praying for us in John 17:24–26,
24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Our words and actions most fully demonstrate reverence for God’s holy name when we use them in the worship of Jesus Christ. Now, having this desire for the glory of God written upon our hearts, and knowing that as believers we are saved, our desire should be for him to receive the glory he deserves from every tribe and tongue and nation.
Jesus says in Luke 24:47 that 47 …repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations…” and this is the commission he gave us in Matthew 28:19–20,
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
It is the plan of God that his name will be most greatly exalted through the salvation of sinners by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ. If it is our desire this morning to honor the name of God in our lives, we will seek, by the power of Jesus, to be disciples who make disciples. We will seek, by the Spirit, to take every thought captive to Christ, and to carry his name with reverence because it is the greatest of all names.
I would like to finish this morning with the words of the Apostle Paul in Colossians 3:12–17
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.