Catechism Insight – Doctrinal Standard WSC #53 & 54

Doctrinal Standard #53-54

  • Q. What is the third commandment?
  • A. The third commandment is: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
  • Q. What does the third commandment require?
  • A. The third commandment requires the holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, qualities, regulations, word, and works.

Memory Verses

  • Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock” (Isaiah 26:4, ESV).


  • Study Passage: Jeremiah 23:5-6
  • Support Passages: Exodus 6:3; Psalm 83:18; Genesis 22:14; Judges 6:24; Psalm 68:4; Philippians 2:9-11
  • Bible Story: Exodus 17


  • “’O Lord, our Lord,’ says the Psalmist, ‘how excellent is thy name in all the earth’ (Ps. 8:1). What the Psalmist means is that God’s name is not a mere word – not an empty title. No, God’s name means something. And it means something because God has revealed his name in all the earth. The whole world is a revelation of the meaning of God’s name. Just as the name Rembrandt has meaning because of His works of creation and providence. We do not really know God’s name, in other word, until we learn His fame! This is what Jesus meant when he said, ‘I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world’ (John 17:6). Jesus revealed God the father to the disciples. This He did by doing the great works of God before them. From this we see that God’s name really includes everything that reveals God as He records for us, without error, the revelation that God has made of himself. Names such as Lord, Father, Creator, etc., are a part of that revelation. So are titles, such as omnipotent, Counselor, Comforter, etc. We learn that God is holy, merciful, just, etc. And we hear His word, and (through the record of Scripture) learn of His works. All of these help us to understand what it means to say God, or Lord. It is when we learn to know God as He really is, and then speak His name, that we begin to understand what this commandment is concerned to teach us.
  • The popular view is that a man takes God’s name in vain only when he uses that name in a profane manner. We say that God’s name is taken in vain when men swear or curse. And, of course, this is an example of taking God’s name in vain. People will sometimes excuse themselves on the grounds that they do not really mean it when they use God’s name this way. They will say they do not even realize that they are using God’s name – they do it without even thinking. But this is the very thing that the third commandment condemns. The word ‘vain’ means exactly this: carelessly or without thought. It means to use a very important word as if it had no high and holy meaning.
    But let us imagine that this is all that the third commandment teaches us! No, in order to understand the meaning of this commandment more clearly we need to ask a question. What does it mean to take God’s name? Literally it means to ‘lift up’ that name. It means that we lift up the name of God and identify ourselves with Him. We can illustrate this by thinking of what a woman does when she marries. She takes her husband’s name. If she really means it when she takes her marriage vows, she takes her husband’s name permanently (‘till death do us part,’ she will say). She does not take his name in vain! In a similar way, a Christian will confess his faith before men. He will vow – or swear – before men that he takes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And it is this, above all, that the third commandment is concerned with. We must be certain  – when we confess our faith – that we really mean it. We must be certain that we do not take His name in vain! ‘Be not rash with thy mouth,’ says the Bible, ‘and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few… When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou has vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay’ (Eccl. 5:2, 4-5). It is so easy to go through the motions, and say the words, without deep sincerity of heart! It is easy to have the form of godliness, while denying power thereof!” [1]

Discussion Questions

  • What is the third commandment? Read it from either Deuteronomy 5 or Exodus 20.
  • What does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain?
  • What does God’s name represent?
  • How is saying that you are a Christian but living like the world taking the Lord’s name in vain?
  • How is just going through the motions while singing, praying, reading, or listening to God’s word also taking the Lord’s name in vain? Explain.
  • What does this reveal about our heart?
  • What  do we do to help overcome this sin problem?


[1] Williamson, C.I. (2003). The Westminster Shorter Catechism – 2nd Edition. Phillipsburg, New Jersey, USA; P&R Publishing Company.

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