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How Did We Get Here: You Shall Not Take the Name of the Lord Your God In Vain

The teaching is that the only stipulation of being a Christian is to say a prayer, walk an aisle, or invite Jesus into your heart, with little or no talk about true transformation, dying to sin, or living in holiness, and thus, the significance of the name “Christian” is severely diminished. The result is a generation of nominal Christians who have no concern for imitating Christ, obeying Christ, or walking in a manner worthy of the name. And this is a “Christianity” which cannot hope to impact the world.

 

As fallen man, we have a tendency to look at things on a mere surface level. For instance, many Christians believe that the third commandment, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain…” (Ex. 20:7), as merely prohibiting the use of God’s name as a swear word. While using God’s name flippantly in that way is certainly sinful, this commandment, like all of God’s law, has deeper application. The idea of taking God’s name is much broader than that of using God’s name.

One of the central themes of the Old Testament is the people of Israel as God’s bride. God, as a faithful husband, freely chooses them, redeems them, and makes a covenant with them (Deut. 7:6-8); He makes them His people, the people who carry the name of the only true God (Ex. 6:6-7). However, the people of Israel play the part of the faithless bride (Ez. 23, Hos. 1, 3)—they go after idols, disregard the covenant made with God, all the while still carrying the identification of the people of God. The fact that they bore the name of God while rebelling against His rule in their life was evidence that taking God’s name meant very little to them—it had been done in vain.

This motif continues in the New Testament; God’s people are still referred to as His bride—the bride of Christ (Rev. 19:7-8). The claim to be a Christian has serious connotations. Christ gives to His people His own name (Jn. 17:11-12); claiming to be a Christian is a claim to be a son of God, an ambassador for Christ, His representation. It means claiming deep union with Christ. When a woman marries a man, she takes his name as her own, representing a total unity—two people becoming one (Mt. 19:6). 

This oneness between husband and wife is a picture of the Christian’s union with Jesus: we are one with Him, we have His name (Eph. 5:31-32). Claiming to be a Christian means claiming intimacy with Jesus, the most intimate unity imaginable (1 Cor. 6:15, Jn. 17:23). Being a Christian is for Christ Jesus to be our identity, replacing all else (Gal. 2:20). It is the responsibility of the Church to faithfully convey the weight of professing faith in Christ. Making a profession of faith, calling yourself a Christian, is certainly not something that can be taken lightly.

Regrettably, for too long the church has not adequately called attention to the implications of taking Christ’s name as our own. The trend has been to seek to gather as many professions, “decisions for Christ,” as possible. This leads to an “easy believism,” a watering down of the message to make it more palatable for unbelievers, or even emotional manipulation designed to bring people to this profession. The teaching is that the only stipulation of being a Christian is to say a prayer, walk an aisle, or invite Jesus into your heart, with little or no talk about true transformation, dying to sin, or living in holiness, and thus, the significance of the name “Christian” is severely diminished. The result is a generation of nominal Christians who have no concern for imitating Christ (1 Cor. 1:11), obeying Christ (Mt. 28:20), or walking in a manner worthy of the name (Eph. 4:1). 

And this is a “Christianity” which cannot hope to impact the world. This brand of Christianity breaks the third commandment by taking lightly what it means to be called a Christian. A name identifies us, it tells people who we are, and as Christians, our identity is Jesus Christ. But the trend for so many is to take the name, yet keep their old identity. This is sin, and it has had a detrimental effect on both the Church and the culture.

Lightheartedly taking the name of Christ destroys the Christian witness in several ways and it has had a direct effect on the crumbling morality happening in our culture today. In the first place, this “easy believism” actually prevents many from truly coming to Christ, deceiving people into thinking that they are saved, when in many cases it is not so. Another direct effect is the multitude of unbelievers who have no idea what real Christianity is. Because there are so many who have taken Christ’s name in vain, Christianity has been widely misrepresented, and most in our culture do not know what the Bible actually teaches. Unbelievers also have been given very little reason to take Christianity seriously because the name has been defamed by sinful, hypocritical behavior of so-called Christians. 

With so many unsaved people calling themselves Christians, the distinction that ought to exist between Christ’s Church and the world has all but vanished—the salt has lost its saltiness and is no longer good for anything. The visible church is mirroring the culture, giving into societal pressures, and sliding ever more rapidly into apostasy precisely because Christ and His teaching are not the essence of identity, but are rather “values,” which can be adjusted if the cost of holding them becomes too high. Clearly, an institution such as this cannot hope to stop the onslaught against God’s law when it is itself destroying the foundation upon which that law is built.

As true Christians, we must be faithfully, if not brutally honest about what it means to be a Christian, the great cost it demands. We must continually examine our own hearts to ensure that our faith is genuine (2 Cor. 13:5). We must seek to live consistently as members of Christ’s own body, worthy of the name that has been given to us. We must adequately represent Christ by preaching the full gospel, living in obedience, and counting the cost of taking the name of the Lord our God.
 
Luke Griffo is a member of leadership at Redeemer Church of South Hills in West Mifflin, PA. Click here for more RCSH Blog posts.
 
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