Monday, June 16, 2014

When Christians Take God's Name in Vain

I have sensed an interesting trend. It seemed good at first, but now I am left with a sense of grief. Have you ever wondered why it is that Jesus’ name is somehow becoming “easier” to say and use? I mean, really easy. Too easy. Casual, even! Here is what I mean…the context in which people speak of our Lord Jesus Christ seems too often to drop the Lord and the Christ while throwing his first name around for every silly fancy that comes to mind. As a family member recently put it, too many people treat our Lord as if He is just the guy next door that we can talk to however we like. Reverence and awe seem to be a scarce disposition among the saints nowadays.

The name of our Lord Jesus Christ is sacred. Jesus is, after all, God Himself in the flesh. How, and in what context, we utter it ought to be done with the highest regard for Him and His glory. The truth of the matter is…the way we use the Name(s) of God is a direct representation of how high or low we actually view God.

The context in which people speak of our Lord Jesus Christ seems too often to drop the ‘Lord’ and the ‘Christ’.

When you say His Name, does it reveal your reverence and awe of Him? Respect? Adoration? Love? Fear? The highest regard? The recognition of your depravity which has been regenerated to a new creation by grace and mercy, which you should have never received? Does it?

Or, when we say His Name, is it in jest? Casual? Light-hearted? Silly? Irreverent? Meaningless? Worthless? In vain? With no regard to His sovereignty? No regard to His worthiness? Is it?

Dear Christian, this is serious. The way that we speak of God reveals what we really think of God.

Some of the most painful things for me to hear in this world are not necessarily the vulgar words from the mouths of unbelievers, but the way that the Name of our holy and almighty God is misused. The worst case scenario, though, is when someone who is a professing believer in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior – uses His name in vain.

A.W. Tozer once said something to the effect that anyone who uses God’s name in vain is revealing their lack of the fear of God. You do not fear God if you misuse His Name. Plain and simple.

The most recent article I wrote was on the subject of the words in our worship music and how vital it is that they are theologically sound and God-exalting. Words are important. It is by the very Word of God that we live (Matt. 4:4). It is with words that we understand meaning and ultimately, understand truth.

The Apostle Paul said, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? […] So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14-15,17).

God has purposed words to convey meaning.

Additionally, we will actually give an account for every single careless word that we speak (Matt. 12:36). If we cannot bridle our tongue, then our religion is deemed worthless (Js. 1:26). It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks, whether good or evil (Lk. 6:45)!

If our day to day words are so important to God and so necessary for communicating meaning, worth, value, or understanding, then why do we ever utter the Name of our Almighty God with anything but careful fear?

The word “fear” is a word with joint meanings, essentially: reverence & awe. It comes from the Greek word phobos.

The command to “fear God” is found all throughout Scripture.

King Solomon said that the whole duty of man is to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecc. 12:13).

The Apostle Peter: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God” (1 Pet. 2:17a).

The angel in Revelation 14:7 said, “Fear God and give Him glory.”

It is this disposition that marks the true believer. It is this disposition of reverence and awe that will naturally manifest itself in our words, especially in the way that we speak His holy Name.

When the earthquake took place right after Christ yielded up His spirit on the cross and died, Matthew 27:54, in the ESV, says that the centurion was filled with awe (phobos). The NAS says that he was filled with fear (phobos)!

When we are told to fear God, we are told to stand in awe of Him. When we utter His Name, how do we sound doing it? What is the intent of our comment? Are we making a passing comedic comment to someone, or are we elevating one’s gaze to Him in awe? Are we dropping His Name in our anger, or are we praising His Name in reverence?

The kicker is this: Many people don’t understand the extent to which taking God’s name in vain can go. Put another way, there are countless ways that we can use His Name in vain, without ever prefacing it with “Oh my”.

For one thing, when rightly and reverently stated, one can say, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for my iniquity has risen higher than my head, and my guilt has mounted up to the heavens” (Ez. 9:6).

Or consider David: “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:8). Or, “O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me” (Ps. 25:2).

In every instance the writers are crying out to God. They are actually talking to Him. They are not talking to someone else; they are not joking about something; they are not mad at something. They are praying directly to God, so they are addressing God directly.

The definition of “vain” is this: without real significance, value, or importance; baseless or worthless; ineffectual or unsuccessful.

Now let’s have the heart-breaking moment of recalling anytime we said God’s name that wasn’t expressing real value, worth, reverence, or importance.

Friends, I think many more of us are guilty of this than we think. We should never say His Name unless we have an intent to talk to Him in prayer; teach about Him; or speak reverently of Him in general. Otherwise, don’t waste His Name in worthless, unimportant talk. Don’t speak His name in vain.

God has spoken very clearly on this issue. If He has something to say about His own name, then we need to take it to heart:

“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” (Ex. 20:7).

Deuteronomy 5:11 reiterates the same thing.

Think about how else the term “in vain” is used in Scripture. It always means unsuccessful, pointless, worthless:

“A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain, but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding” (Prov. 14:6).

In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9).

“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Ps. 127:1).

Now let’s use this last verse as a spring-board to understanding something better: On the flip side, nothing that God does is in vain. Since He is all-powerful and sovereign and ordains blessing and calamity, He guarantees the outcome of what He decrees all by Himself. He never says anything in vain because everything He says is of immense value, importance, significance and worth. Everything that He says is going to happen…will indeed happen! It will be effectual and successful.

I have not said in vain that I would do this evil to them” (Ez. 6:10).

“[God’s] grace toward [Paul] was not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:10).

We must seek to be more like our God who has called us to worship Him in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23) and in reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28). Only God’s enemies take His Name in vain (Ps. 139:20). May we not align ourselves with them!

Here’s an interesting fact about the saints of God. By definition, we are a reverent people. The Greek word for “saint” is hagios, but it is almost always translated as holy, although it is also used to describe the people of God. No wonder as we are called by God to be what…? Holy as He is (1 Pet. 1:15).

The word hagios is similar to the Greek word hagnos, which means: exciting reverence; pure. When we read the letters from the apostles we see the word hagios used for the saints as well as the Holy (hagios) Spirit to indicate that we are indwelled by Him and made holy by Him. The saints are the holy priesthood, the holy nation chosen by God (1 Pet. 2:5,9). They are the holy people who revere God in word and deed!

Do we act like it? If the Holy Spirit has truly regenerated us, then we will.

The reality is this: the way we use God’s name reveals a very deep truth about us. It reveals if we are people of conviction and maturity, or scant beliefs and immaturity. It could be the difference between being a true Christian or not.

A person who continually meditates on God’s Word day and night; who knows that it is by His Word that they live; and that the only way to really know God and His heart is through His revelation; then they will not be prone to speak of God casually, or indifferently. They will be very careful not to take His Name in vain. This person will speak with tenderness in their voice and with a humble disposition because they know who it is they are speaking about and they know that the holy God of Heaven demands reverence in our utterance at all times.

A person who doesn’t take the Bible serious enough to study it deeply, let alone read semi-regularly, will be much more prone to taking God’s name in vain because they have much less information to go off of when speaking of God. If you speak about God in an inaccurate way, you are taking His Name in vain. If you speak about God in a deceptive way, then you are taking His Name in vain.

When churches across the globe promise health, wealth, prosperity, power, healings, visions, new revelation, salvation by works, etc…they are all taking God’s Name in vain (Matt. 15:9). They are using His Name in a false, unworthy and irreverent manner. They are using His Name in a way that is ineffectual and powerless.

In many churches today, I fear that the man Jesus is only respected as the Son of Man and that’s it. The way that many Christians speak of our Lord Jesus Christ is in a way that a Mormon or Muslim would be comfortable…a good guy who can show us practical ways to live a good life!

I fear that we are insufficiently addressing our Lord and Savior when we don’t address Him as our Lord and Savior and as God Himself. We must be much more careful in how we teach about God and how we talk about Him in our day to day conversations. If the unbelieving world doesn’t notice a sense of reverence and seriousness in us when talking about God, then what message is that sending?

“From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised” (Psalm 113:3)!

Let us not be casual or indifferent about the living God. Let us not be arrogant or presumptuous in how we speak of the one, true, holy God. Let us not ever say His Name unless it is in praise, in teaching, or in pointing people to Scripture, or to know Him better. Don’t forget, we’re talking about the holiness of God in all of His manifestations – Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Don’t misuse any of His Names.

If we ever say God’s name in a way that is not meant for praise or reverence or exaltation, then we are taking His Name in vain and we must confess this sin and repent of it (turn away from it) and cease doing it.

Soli Deo Gloria!


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