Morning Sermon: Exodus 20:7, The Third Commandment

Old Testament Reading: Exodus 20:7

“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.” (Exodus 20:7, ESV)

New Testament Reading: James 5:7–12

“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” (James 5:7–12, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.


As we have studied the Ten Commandments, one of my prayers for us has been that we would grow in our love for God’s law. If we are to love God’s law we must know what it is. And if we are to love God’s law we must understand what it requires and forbids. But it is one thing to know and understand God’s law – it is another thing to love it. God’s people ought to love God’s law. 

We should agree with the Psalmist who spoke to God,  saying, “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors” (Psalm 119:24, ESV). In another place he says, “Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!”. And again he says,  “for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love” (Psalm 119:47, ESV). God’s people ought to love God’s law. We should agree with King David’s who spoke of God’s commandments, saying, “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:10–11, ESV). God’s people should love God’s law because it is God’s law. His law is good. His law is pure. His law is right. In keeping it there is great reward. 

In my experience (which I admit is very limited) I have found that when Christians do speak about God’s law it is often to warn against the misuse of it. I wonder if you have had experience the same? In other words, when we do speak of God’s law, I have found that we often stress what God’s law is not good for. And it is very important that we do this. The scriptures do this. Paul especially does this in his writings. He warns against the misuse of the law. Do not think that we can earn salvation through law-keeping, he teaches. God’s law is not good for that now that we have fallen into sin. The law cannot save. The law cannot justify. No, it condemns us. When we read the law we realize (or at least we should) that we have broken it time and time again. So, the scriptures do warn us against the misuse of the law. And it is right that we stress this, for many do stumble over this stumbling stone (Romans 9:32). They seek to be justified by the works of the law instead of by faith in Christ, and this is a fatal error. 

But let us not forget that the scriptures do often speak of the law of God as good. I’ve already cited Psalm 19 and Psalm 119 which speak beautifully concerning the goodness of God’s law. Now let me cite Paul, the man who is famous for his warnings against legalism. He himself says, “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully…” (1 Timothy 1:8, ESV). Paul refers to the law as “good”, but he qualifies his statement by saying, “if one uses it lawfully…” In other words, the law itself is good. The problem is not with God’s law, but with the misuse of God’s law. God’s law is good, but we must be careful to use it “lawfully”, which means, correctly, or according to its design. 

God’s law is indeed good. It is good because it shows us our sins. When we meditate on God’s law it is like looking into a mirror. How do you know what your face looks like? You must look into a mirror! And how can a man examine the condition of their soul? We must look into the mirror of God’s law! We must read it, comprehend it, and meditate upon it, asking ourselves, do I live up to this standard? This is what we call, self-reflection. But you cannot self-reflect without a standard. And the only true and pure standard worthy to be used in the self-reflection is God’s moral law. When we look into it, it functions as a mirror. It enables us to see our sins, our flaws, and our blemishes. And when God’s law shows us our sin, it also reminds us of our need for the Savior, Christ the Lord. God’s law is good, for it drives us to Christ. 

And God’s moral law is also good because it shows the one who has faith in Christ the way to life abundant. In this world, there is a way that leads to death, and there is a way that leads to life. There is a path of wisdom and a path of folly. God’s moral law is like a lamp for our feet. It illuminates the way of righteousness, goodness, and blessing. In God’s law, we find the will of God revealed. God’s law directs us to walk in the right way so that we might live life to the fullest in Christ Jesus. 

Do you wish to be blessed? Do you wish to be truly happy and at peace? Then turn to Christ. Trust in him for the forgiveness of sins. And then, by the gracious aid of the Holy Spirit, walk in the right way. And by that, I mean, love God’s law in the heart, and keep his commandments in thought, word, and deed. Do you remember the very first words of the Psalter? “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away” (Psalm 1:1–4, ESV).

God’s law is good, brothers and sisters. It shows us our sin and therefore dives us to repentance and to faith in Christ. Also, it is a lamp to our feet illuminating for us the way to righteousness and blessing. As we contemplate God’s moral law as summarized in the Ten Commandments, let us not forget that it is good.


The Law

We have come now to the third of the Ten Commandments, which is, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.”

What is the first commandment? “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3, ESV)

What is the second? “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them…” (Exodus 20:4–5, ESV)

And now the third: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain…” (Exodus 20:7, ESV).

As I have said in previous sermons, the first four commandments all have to do with our relationship to God and with worship. The first commandment addresses the object of our worship. Who is to be worshipped? Answer: YHWH alone is to be worshipped. The second commandment addresses the form of worship. How is YHWH to be worshipped? As God prescribes, and not with idols or images. And now the third commandment deals with the attitude of worship. What should our attitude towards God be? Answer: one of reverence. We are to have reverence for God’s name. The fourth commandment will address the time of worship. One day in seven is to be set apart unto him as holy. 

Do you wish to be truly blessed in this life, friends? Well, as you can see we must start by addressing our relationship with God. Here is where the blessed life begins: by having God as our God, and by living for the glory of his name. 

Again, the third commandment is, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.”

Notice how broad this commandment is. The Hebrew word translated as “take” is very generic. It appears over 600 times in the Old Testament. It means to carry, to rise, to lift up, or to bring. It can also mean to lift up high or to exult. Typically, the word is used to describe the lifting up of a physical object. Men are said to lift up their eyes to heaven, or to take their weapons to war, or to carry as many of their possessions as they can. Here the word is used in reference, not to a physical object, but to God’s name. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain”, the commandment says. 

God is represented by his name. In fact, this is true of all things. Things have names, and names represent things. If I say “tree”, you picture a tree. If I say “dog”, you picture a dog. And to make it more personal, if I say “Lindsay” or “David”, you think of a Lindsay and a David. Names are powerful and they are very important. People are represented by their names. This is why the scriptures say that “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches…” (Proverbs 22:1, ESV). To have a “good name” is to have a good reputation. You are represented by your name, and your name represents you. This is why slander is such a terrible sin. When people slander others they do damage to the person by dishonoring their name. Similarly, if we take up God’s name and use it in a vain way, we do damage to God’s reputation. God is demeaned and disrespected when we take up and use his name in a vain way. 

The Hebrew word translated as “vain” means worthless, empty, inconsequential, unrestrained, or false. So then, the third commandment forbids us from taking up God’s name to use it in a way that is empty, careless, or false.   

To take up and use the name of God in a vain way is most inappropriate, for God is the opposite of vanity. Vain things lack substance, but God is most substantial. Vain things are untrue, and yet God is truth. Vain things are empty, but God is the fullness of life. Vain things are worthless, but God is of infinite worth. Etc. I think you get the point. It is not fitting to take up the name of God and to use it in a worthless, empty, inconsequential, careless, or false way, for God is not worthless, empty, inconsequential, or false. He is glorious. He is perfectly holy, and infinite in all of his perfections. His name is to be honored, therefore. To use God’s name in a vain way reveals that you have no reverence for God in the heart. God is to be revered. And this means that his name is to be revered, for he is represented by his most holy name. 

By the way, you will notice that the commandment does not say, you shall not take the name of the LORD your God. Rather, it says, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” Some have taken this commandment too far and have superstitiously avoided using the name of God at all. Many have refused to pronounce the name YHWH, for example. But that is not what is forbidden here. The command does not forbid the use of God’s name. No, it is the vain, empty, careless, and false use of God’s name that is forbidden.    

So serious is the sin of using the name of the LORD in a vain way that God attached a warning to this commandment. “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” (Exodus 20:7, ESV). Men and women may use the name of God in a vain way without obvious ramifications, but here the LORD says that he will not hold them guiltless. In other words, he will hold them accountable for their sin. 


The Heart Of The Matter

So we know what the third commandment is: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” Now, let us go to the heart of the matter by asking what this commandment forbids and requires. 

What is forbidden in the third commandment? Question 60 of our the Baptist Catechism provides a helpful answer. “The third commandment forbideth all profaning and abusing of anything whereby God makes Himself known.”

As you can see, our catechism applies the third commandment in a broad way, and I think this is right. Not only does the third commandment forbid us from using the name YHWH in a vain way. No, the heart of the matter is that we are forbidden from “profaning and abusing of anything whereby God makes Himself known.” This is about reverence, brothers and sisters.

Question 59 of our catechism addresses this with more precision when it asks, “What is required in the third commandment?” Answer: “The third commandment requireth the holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, words, and works.”

Again I say, this is about reverence. God alone is to be worshipped. He is to be worshipped in the way that he says (never with idols or images). And he is to be revered. He is to be respected and even feared. And how are we to respect God? Well, we do not see him face to face, do we? No, we know God through his revelation. 

God has revealed himself to us in the world that he has made, and through his word. God’s word is to respected, therefore. And also his creation. 

He has revealed himself to us through his names. YHWH is the proper name of God. It communicates, among other things, that he is the self-existent One. Be he also revealed himself to us with other names and titles. He is God Most High. He is Lord. He is the Almighty One. He is the Lord of Hosts. He is Father. We are to honor God by honoring his names and his titles. 

And God has also revealed himself to us by telling us about his attributes. He is infinite, eternal, and unchanging. He is sovereign. He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. He is holy and just. He is merciful and kind. We are to honor God by knowing, believing, and honoring his attributes. 

God has also communicated himself to us through his ordinances. Ordinances are those things that God has ordered or commanded. Ordinances tell us something about God and his relationship to us. In the beginning, the ordinance of marriage was given to all mankind. The marriage bond between a man and woman for life tells us something about God and his relationship to us. Marriage is to be honored, therefore. God gave Abraham and his descendants the ordinance of circumcision. Circumcision communicated something about God and his special relationship to the Hebrews under the Old Covenant. Circumcision was to be honored, therefore, and not taken lightly. And under the New Covenant, Christ has given the church the two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. God communicates himself to us through these ordinances. They are to be honored, therefore, and not taken lightly.

Listen, just as it was with the first and second commandments, so it is with the third. We tend to reduce the commandments down to a minimum. We often fail to get to the heart of the matter. We often neglect to ask the questions, what does this commandment really require and forbid? 

What sin do men and women typically think of when they think of violations of the third commandment? I would imagine that most people think of the sin of using the name of God, or of Jesus Christ, as a curse word. And indeed, this is a violation of the third commandment. It is sinful to take up the holy name of God, or the precious name of Jesus, and to use them in such a vain way. We are to have reverence for God and for God in Christ, brothers and sisters. Never should we use the name of God to express anger, frustration, or disapproval as if it were a curse word. 

Others may think of the sin of swearing falsely by the name of God. This too is a violation of the third commandment. If we take an oath or swear by the name of God, then what we say had better be true. To swear by the name of God, and then to speak falsehood, dishonors God. It reveals that we do not fear him or revere him in the heart. 

By the way, many think that the scriptures forbid us from swearing, or taking an oath, by the name of God. They think of that passage that we read early in James 5:12: “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” Or perhaps they think of the words of Christ regarding oath swearing in Matthew 5:33ff. A surface reading of both those texts seems to say that Christians are never to take oaths. But I don’t think that is the meaning. Instead, both Christ and James are commanding truthfulness as a way of life. Speak the truth, brothers and sisters. Let your yes be “yes” and your no be “no” in your daily conversations where there is no oath swearing. And if there is to be an oath taken (perhaps in a court of law) then do not play games with by swearing by something lesser than the name of God, namely, the earth, the temple, or your mother’s grave, etc. No, when oaths are taken, you are to swear by the name of God, and you are to tell the truth.  

This is what Deuteronomy 10:20 says. “You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear” (Deuteronomy 10:20, ESV). Leviticus 19:12 is also significant. It says, “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:12, ESV). You can see clearly that the law of Leviticus 19:12 is rooted in the third commandment. It does not forbid swearing (or taking an oath) by God’s name. No, it forbids swearing falsely by God’s name. To swear falsely by God’s name would be to profane the name of God.

Chapter 23 of our confessions is about oaths and vows. Paragraph 1 says, “ A lawful oath is a part of religious worship, wherein the person swearing in truth, righteousness, and judgement, solemnly calleth God to witness what he swears, and to judge him according to the truth or falseness thereof.” Paragraph 2 then says, “The name of God only is that by which men ought to swear; and therein it is to be used, with all holy fear and reverence; therefore to swear vainly or rashly by that glorious and dreadful name, or to swear at all by any other thing, is sinful, and to be abhorred; yet as in matter of weight and moment, for confirmation of truth, and ending all strife, an oath is warranted by the Word of God; so a lawful oath being imposed by lawful authority in such matters, ought to be taken.”

So, it is certainly true that it is a violation of the third commandment to take up the name of God and to use it in a vain way as a curse word. It is also a sin to swear falsely by the name of God. Both are irreverent and unholy uses of God’s holy name. And God will not hold them guiltless who use his name in such a careless. 

But if we are to get to the heart of the matter – if we are to truly understand what this law commands and forbids – we must think more broadly. This commandment is about having reverence for God, and for all of the ways in which God makes himself known to us. He has revealed himself to us through his names, titles, and attributes. And he has also revealed himself to us through his ordinances, words, and works.

Brothers and sisters, in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, God sets his name upon us. These ordinances set us apart as YHWH’s people. Are you following me? Yes, we may “take up” the name of God on our lips. And when we do we must be careful not to profane it by lying or by using it in an unholy manner. But we also “take up” God’s name in his ordinances. 

When we baptize, we are to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In water baptism, God’s name is set upon the one baptized by profession of faith. Baptism signifies membership in the Covenant of Grace. Baptism should not be approached or administered in a vain, careless, empty, or untrue way.  “The LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”  

In the Lord’s Supper, God sets his name upon his people. Those who partake say they have Jesus as Lord. Those who partake are said to be God’s children. Those who partake are set apart from the world as citizens of God’s kingdom. Baptism marks the entrance into the Covenant. In the Lord’s Supper, the Covenant is renewed. When we take up the bread and the wine, we are claiming to have God as our God through faith in Christ, and God sets his name upon us. We are his, and he is ours. The Lord’s Supper must not be approached or administered in a vain, empty, or careless, or untrue way. “The LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”   

And what should we say about God’s word and his works? Briefly, I will remind you that God reveals himself to us in his word. We, as God’s people, must have reverence for God’s word. When God’s word is read and preached, God’s people ought to pay careful attention. They should work hard to understand it. They must believe it in the heart and seek to obey it, with God’s help. It is a dangerous thing to receive God’s word in a careless or vain way. “The LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”   

And consider this: God has also revealed himself to us in his works. When we speak of God’s works we may talk about his works of creation, providence, and redemption. We know that God is revealed in the world he has made. He is also revealed through his providential upholding and governing of the world he has made. And he is revealed in the work of redemption too. We live in God’s world, brothers and sisters. And as cliche as it sounds, history is indeed his story. In other words, we cannot escape God’s revelation. He is everywhere revealed through his works. We are to have reverence for God, therefore, not only in church where the word is preached and the ordinances are administered, but even as we contemplate God’s creation, and as we consider his providence. I think we should be more careful than we are when talking about the Lord’s providence. We tend to gripe and complain about the way that things are going in the world, and we forget that God has willed and permitted it. His glory and grace will be manifest through the world and through the whole course of human history.    

God is to be revered, brothers and sisters. And though we do not see him face to face, as it were, he makes himself known through revelation. He has revealed his names, titles, and attributes. He reveals himself through his ordinances, word, and works. All of these forms of revelation are to be handled with great care, for God makes himself known to us through them. 

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.”

And now that we have considered the heart of the matter, and what the third commandment requires and forbids, I ask you, have you kept this law perfectly? We confess that we have violated this law in thought word.  


The Gospel

The law condemns us, but the gospel offers the forgiveness of sins and life abundant and eternal in Christ Jesus. 

What is the gospel, then? Well, it is the good news that God has provided a Savior for us. His name is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was sinless. He perfectly obeyed God’s law. Yes, even the third commandment. He possed a perfect and perpetual reverence for God’s name. He came to do the Father’s will. More than this, he came to reveal God’s name to those whom God has given to him. This is what he says in John 17:6. Praying to the Father, he says, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word” (John 17:6, ESV). In other words, Christ did not merely keep God’s law in an external way. No, he kept it with reverence for the Father in his heart. And as the God-man – as the eternal Word of God or Son of God come in the flesh – he himself revealed God to us. He kept the third commandment, along with all the others, perfectly and perpetually. Christ did not deserve to die but died in the place of those given to him by the Father. He laid down his life as an atoning sacrifice for the sheep.    

This means that Christ has the forgiveness of sins to give, along with his righteousness. The forgiveness of sins, and the righteousness of Christ, are received by faith. As John 3:16 so famously says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV). This is the gospel. It is the good news that the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life are available through faith in Jesus the Messiah.

But one thing I have attempted to stress in these sermons on the Ten Commandments is that the gospel does not only have to do with the forgiveness of sins and the hope of heaven in the future. No, those in Christ have been regenerated the power of the Holy Spirit. The law of God, which was marred and distorted and suppressed within us because of sin, is written anew and afresh upon the hearts of all who believe. God does not only teach those in Christ his law. He does not merely write it on stone for us to function and an external standard. No, he writes it on our hearts. 

This was promised through the prophet Jerimiah long before Christ was born. In Jerimiah 31:31  we read “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:31–34, ESV).

If you are in Christ by faith, God’s moral law – the same law which was contained within the Ten Commandments written on stone at Sinai – has been written on your heart. You keep this, not to earn salvation, but because you have been saved. You keep this law, not because you have to, but because you want to. You keep this law this law not to earn God’s love, but because God has loved you, and you now love him. 

This is what the Apostle John describes in 1 John 5:3-5. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:3–5, ESV).

So then, the gospel is not only about the past forgiveness of sins, nor the future hope of life eternal. It is about living an abundant life now. Here is good news: though you were once slaves to sin, now you are free in Christ. Though you were once dead to God and to the things of God, now you are alive. Though you were once blind, not you see. Prior to knowing Christ, God’s moral law stood against you. Its moral demands were written on stone. They condemned you. But now that you are in Christ, that same moral law is written on your heart so that you desire now to do all that God has commanded. 

Corruptions remain, don’t they? Sometimes we do what we don’t want to do, and don’t do what we wish we would. But here is the point: those truly in Christ do have God’s law within them so that they desire now to do that which is pleasing to the Father. We trust that the Lord will sanctify us further by his word and Spirit and keep us faithful in Christ to the end. Lord, help us. 

Comments are closed.

"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

© 2011-2022 Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church