Are You Breaking the 3rd Commandment?

OopsI recently had to sit through a “testimony” that was heavy on motivation and light on Jesus. Considering the setting (an award night for a church basketball league), I expected this sort of talk. What I didn’t expect, was that the speaker would break the third commandment throughout his motivational testimony.

The third 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) Let’s be honest, compared to some of the other commandments, we see #3 as almost trivial. Murder and adultery? Those are big time commands. Idolatry and stealing? Those are serious sins. Lying and coveting? Those are major character flaws. In comparison, #3 just doesn’t feel as weighty.

Maybe that’s why God added the phrase, “for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” Presumably, that idea goes without saying. After all, this is God’s “top ten” list, and none of the other commands include that reminder. So maybe God tagged those words on the end of #3 because he knew his people would be prone to forget the weightiness of this command.

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

As I sat in a church sanctuary (not mine), and listened to a motivational speaker repeatedly take the name of the LORD in vain, I started thinking about the many ways we break this command today. Here are seven that are far too common:

  1. Oh my God! This phrase can be said with excitement, disgust, or shock. To be sure, it can also be said with reverence. However, most of the time when you hear these words the speaker is a million miles away from reverent.
  2. OMG. This is the texting version of, “Oh my God!” These three letters are easy to text and easy to find on social media. They’ve even made their way into our vernacular right alongside “lol,” “brb,” and a host of others.
  3. Daydreaming while singing. Have you ever found yourself singing along with the music in church, thinking about something unrelated to church? Me too. When you sing about God and think about football, you’ve crossed the line on #3.
  4. Prayer that treats God like a genie. Americans are bad at this. I understand it requires a degree of reverence to come before God in prayer. But when we talk to God like a genie who owes us unlimited favors, we’ve missed it completely.
  5. Vows that go unfulfilled. Have you ever made a promise to God you didn’t keep? Me too. Maybe it was a promise not to do something, or maybe it was a promise to do something. Either way, when you break your promise, you’ve broken #3.
  6. Empty professions of faith. Unfortunately, this was also part of the “motivational talk” that inspired this post. The speaker used the classic line of bow your head and “repeat after me.” I assure you, most of the people who repeated his words were not genuinely praying the “sinners’ prayer.” They were breaking #3.
  7. Dopey “Christian” t-shirts. I’ll be honest, this is a pet-peeve of mine. I hate dopey “Christian” t-shirts. Sometimes you get them at camp, and you can certainly find them at your local “Christian” bookstore. These shirts are silly and irreverent, and I think many cross the line of using God’s name in vain.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this issue. What other ways do you see people break the third commandment?

Originally published March 7, 2016 on