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
When we think about the third commandment, we most often think of using the word “God” or one of the names of God as a swear word. We could add to this using an attribute of God as a swear word or word of exclamation such as holy (fill in your favorite noun: cow, moly, Mary mother of God, etc.). The problem with such language is that it empties God of his glory, it makes him common, silly even. Making God silly is exactly what is at the heart of the third commandment.
Ezekiel 36.16-32 deals with Israel’s profaning the name of God. The prophet writes, “But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.’ But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations to which they came” (Ezekiel 36.20-21, ESV). By her disobedience, Israel profaned the name of the Lord. So to by our disobedience we profane the name of the Lord.
As the passage in Ezekiel continues we find one of the greatest pictures of God’s gracious salvation in Scripture. The Lord says, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came” (Ezekiel 36.22, ESV). The prophet goes on to announce the plan of God to vindicate his holy name, yet he does not announce some grand punishment, as we might expect, but redemption. God will vindicate his holy name through the redemption of his people! What amazing grace this is!
The work of Christ to redeem his people from their sin was the fulfilling of the third commandment. The work of Christ vindicated the name of the Lord. The gospel fulfilled the law! What good news! By his obedience, Jesus did not take the name of the Lord in vain, but vindicated it, restoring its glory (which of course was never truly lost). For this reason we can now say, to act as if we have some righteousness by which we stand before God is to take the Lord’s name in vain for to do so is to empty the glory vindicating work of Christ of its purpose, which is redemption. Likewise, to announce the good news of Jesus Christ, to give a reason for the hope we have, to abide in Christ, to know nothing but Christ and him crucified is to honor the very name of the Lord.