God’s Name in Vain

In Apologetics by Anthony Knight

Written by Anthony Knight

As a follower of Christ, you may cringe at the sound of others cursing and using foul language while at the same time attaching God’s name to it. Being out in a public area while hearing this may cause you to want to scream, “stop using the Lord’s name in vain.” Honoring the Lord is first priority to followers of Christ which creates this uneasy feeling when the Lord’s name is used in vain. Exodus 20:7 reads

“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.

God’s name is expected to be exalted. His name should spark reverence and fear. It should spark loving affections and peace to His children. His name should spark the proper worship to bow down in one’s life. Using inappropriate words in the same sentence as Jesus is not showing the proper respect and reverence to the Lord, but there is something far worse and more dangerous. 

False teachers 

The words of false teachers and preachers of the Gospel are words of deceit and poison to one’s spiritual state. False preachers can teach with such authority and power while at the same time blaspheming the name of the Lord. The authority and power they speak do not come from God. Just like using Christ or God in the same breath of a curse word, each time they speak of the Lord they are using His name in vain. One is supposed to bow down to the Lord when His name is being exalted. When a false teacher preaches His name, sadly the listeners are not worshipping the Lord as they may wish. Worship comes from believing and meditating on the truth and one cannot do that if the truth is being tainted by unfaithful teachers.

In Exodus and other parts of Scripture God’s people were constantly warned not to participate in false worship. The use of divination and incantations to receive certain knowledge or to even curse their fellow brothers was a common practice. God made it clear in His Word that He hates this (1 Chronicle 10:13). People would also use the Lord’s name for their own personal agenda to exalt themselves as spiritually discerning and powerful. We see this with the Sons of Sceva in Acts 19 as they tried to partake in religious activities on behalf of the Lord while partaking in sorcery. The consequences they experienced for this resulted in them receiving a beating that put them out of their clothing (Acts 19: 11-16).

As noted, using the Lord’s name in vain is far more than foul language but truly rests in the false teaching and preaching as well as false worshipping. As a follower of Christ, one should do everything in their power to stay clear of these two things. We should stay clear from false teaching as well as worshipping idols. What’s interesting about these two is both are wicked but God has a specific hatred for one over the other.

Can God hate some sins more?

The answer is an absolute yes. Using the Lord’s name in vain through false worship can be found when one deceives ONESELF into thinking they are worshipping the Lord. Using the Lord’s name in vain through false preaching is when one deceives SOMEONE ELSE into thinking they are being obedient to the Lord. God’s wrath is kindled more greatly when wicked people lead the innocent astray. Jesus says in Matthew 18:6:

but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

This is a vivid description of how God feels about people leading others astray through false teaching/guiding. This is why the apostle James gives an enormous warning to people who desire to be a teacher of God’s truth. He says in James 3:1: 

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

The responsibility is great for teachers of the Gospel. With the right words of a teacher, one’s soul can be saved, strengthen, and renewed. But with the wrong words, one’s soul can be deceived, led astray, and damned for all of eternity. There are many Scripture warnings that tell God’s people to be on the watch for these teachers as well as show the consequences these false teachers reap for themselves (2 Corinthians 11:13, Ephesians 5:6, Psalm 5:6). The right understanding of the core doctrines of the Christian faith is of great benefit for the believer. The life of a Christian is founded on a set of belief systems God’s Word gives. If the truths are not taught properly then how can one’s Christian life be lived properly? It simply cannot which is why every follower of Christ should be on guard each time someone open’s their mouth in the name of the Lord (1 John 4:1-6).

The True God

Just because in someone’s preaching the name of Jesus is being used doesn’t actually mean they are speaking of Jesus, the one true Lord, and Savior. Spiritual discernment is needed when one is listening to others speak of Jesus. This truth is not only confined to the pulpit but also as one is engaging in the public. Every Christian should be spiritually discerning when in a random conversation about Jesus with an unfamiliar person. There are a lot of narratives that attempt to portray Jesus and all of them are not biblical. This is not only true with Jesus, but also true with God. Here is a list of common false narratives of Jesus and God.

False teachings of Jesus

  • Jesus was merely a man who taught good principles 
  • Jesus was just a myth to look to for good morality
  • Jesus was only a prophet but he was not the Son of God
  • Jesus’ ONLY message was love, nothing else matters (like holiness)
  • As long as you have faith Jesus will answer any prayer you have
  • As long as you have enough faith in Jesus you can accomplish anything you set your mind to

False teachings of God

  • There are many ways to get to God so find your own path (other religions & multiple Gods)
  • You do not need to read the Bible or go to church to be close to God
  • God accepts everyone into Heaven as long as you try to be a good person
  • God is everything (the world, animals, & people)

This list (this is not an exhaustive list) are all completely different narratives of Jesus and God that the culture or false teachers will tell. In today’s culture, one can use the name God or Jesus, but be referring to Him in one of these false narratives and this creates a huge problem. If salvation is found in placing your faith in Jesus Christ, and there are multiple narratives of who Jesus Christ actually is, then the opportunity for souls to be led astray increases. In other words, the more options you have, the greater the chance you could be wrong. These alternative beliefs or false narratives of God and Jesus plague our society and you can bundle them all together and label them as false teachings. 

Every doctrine, belief, and idea about God that contradicts what Holy Scripture teaches is a false belief and when someone talks as if they are true, God’s name is being used in vain. 

How Do We Respond?

As stated earlier as followers of Christ we must be on guard. We must protect ourselves from false narratives of our Lord and Savior but there is another thing God is calling His church to do. James 5:19-20 says,

19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Christians who are secured in their faith are called to help others who are struggling. People will fall victim by wandering from the truth. Your loved ones will walk right into a false narrative of God or Christ. They will speak with authority of who God is but sadly they will be using His name in vain. We cannot save all of them. Some won’t listen to us, some will wander off too far and get stuck in the lie. But with prayer, patience, and many conversations God can use you to bring some back. God delights in His children pursuing after the lost. God gives His children the power, wisdom, and the influence to lead people out of their wandering. The life of a Christian should deal with false teaching in these two ways:

  1. Stay clear of them or else they may lead you astray
  2. Pursue after those who have wandered and hope that Christ will use you to bring them to the Lord.