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The Second Commandment

It’s short and to the point: “You shall/should not take the name of the LORD your God in vain…” (Exodus 20:7). 

“As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to those of his household.”
(Martin Luther)

Who is the you” that shouldn’t be cavalier with God’s good name? If you are someone who knows God, you are the person who should be circumspect with God’s good name. (Unbelievers need a different starting point.)

What is God concerned about in this commandment?

The Second Commandment 

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God that we do not use His name to curse, swear, practice witchcraft, lie, or deceive; but we should call upon His name in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

He is concerned that His children protect His good name, His fine reputation, His great renown—against all manner of misuse. For example, God deserves better than to have His good name tarnished by “Oh, my God!” at every turn.

While others do not recognize the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and Earth, are clueless about Jesus, the one-and-only Son of God, Redeemer of sinners, and are ignorant of the Holy Spirit, conveyor of all blessings—God’s children know better.

And knowing better, we agree with His estimation of the sanctity of His name.

Doesn’t it torque your heart when the name of Jesus Christ is used as a favored curse? That’s what taking God’s name “in vain” means: mouthing God’s name in a smart-aleck, insolent, careless manner—rather than using God’s name reverently to call upon Him in every trouble, to pray, to praise, and to give thanks to Him.

What leads a person to honor and revere God’s good name?

A person honors God by respecting His good name when His Holy Spirit gets into the bones and marrow of a soul and performs the miracle of conversion. That’s accomplished by the Holy Spirit using the Holy Bible to reveal the Triune God’s claim to fame.

Since God’s name is grounded in the Bible, His name is honored/hallowed “when the Word of God
is taught in its truth and purity, and we as children of God also live a holy life according to it” (Luther’s Explanation of the First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer).

Since God’s name identifies and describes Him, every revelation that God has made about Himself equates with/equals His name. To illustrate: whereas our ID card includes our name, God’s ID card is His holy name, embossed with His personal qualities, representing who He is and what He stands for. God inserts His name inside the Holy Scriptures, much as we put our ID card inside our wallet.

What is included in God’s name?

God’s name includes every quality of His person, so when Moses needed bolstering for the long road ahead, “the Lord . . . proclaimed the name of the Lord. . .  ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful, and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression
and sin…”
(Exodus 34:5-7).

God wanted to assure Moses that He is the embodiment of mercy, grace, patience, goodness, reliability, and compassion; these qualities constitute who He IS. It’s as though God, who cannot be seen or touched, has hologrammed His qualities onto His ID-card, with the name of Jesus as pin-number.

What is the proper way to use God’s name?

God has given us His name in order to convey to us His blessings, especially the gift of faith in His Son for the forgiveness of our sins. We use God’s name properly when we call upon Him in the day of trouble (Psalm 50:15), and when we pray “in Jesus’ name,” for Jesus promises that whatever we ask the Father in His name He will give us (John 16:23).

Warning! Let us be on guard against being deceived by those who use God’s name to make to make error look like truth. It’s bad enough that unbelievers take God’s name in vain by cursing, swearing, and practicing superstition, but it’s worse when “people of faith” palm off their own religious notions as if they were God’s truth.

We are alerted by Jesus’ warning, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15), and we stay on alert via the Spirit’s counsel, “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them, for those who are such [false teachers] do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly [their personal agenda] and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18).

We avoid religious falsehood/false teachers for at least two reasons: first, in love for God we want to bring honor to His holy name; secondly, by abiding in God’s Word we intend to spare ourselves great spiritual harm.

Last, but not least, we enjoy using God’s name in telling the good news that is inherent in Jesus’ name—that heaven is open to repentant sinners who plead the remission of their sins through Jesus. With the psalmist, we “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! … who forgives all your iniquities…” (Psalm 103:1-3). Jesus is God in the flesh, the Word of God incarnate, the embodiment of God’s qualities and purposes, the Name of God that we love to praise.

Jesus! Name of wondrous love,

Name all other names above,

Unto which must every knee

Bow in deep humility.

Jesus! Name of wondrous love,

Human name of God above;

Pleading only this, we flee,

Helpless, O our God, to Thee.

(TLH #114:1,6)