What Taking God’s Name In Vain Really Means

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You have probably heard that taking God’s name in vain is a sin. And if you grew up in Christian circles that meant saying Oh my goodness rather than Oh my god and not using God’s name as a curse word when you stubbed your toe. The problem is we’ve oversimplified the 3rd commandment and have missed the real meaning of not taking God’s name in vain. So, what does it mean to take the lord’s name in vain? Let’s start with what the Bible says. 

What The Bible Says About Taking God’s Name In Vain

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 approach something familiar to us we tend to just read it quickly and move on. But in order to understand what it means to take God’s name in vain, we have to slow down and read it again. 

Representing God 

The first question we should be asking of this verse is what does it mean to take the name of the Lord? 

Another way you could translate this phrase from the original language is You shall not take up the name of God (in vain) or You shall not bear the name of God (in vain). What this verse is sayings is that God’s people are His image-bearers

An other way of thinking about is that Christians are representatives of God. Your actions tell those around us something about God.

Think about it this way, when you go into a store and encounter an employee that is rude you’ll be less likely to shop there in the future. Of course, the reverse is true, if you encounter an excellent employee at a store you will be more likely to shop there again. They represent the company they work for and what they do and say tells you something about the company. 

The same is true for all who follow God. We bear His image (2 Corinthians 5:20). What we do, how we treat others, and what we say tells someone something about Him. Good or bad. The challenge of this verse is to represent God well. 

Think for a minute, what are you telling those around you? 

In Vain Meaning

The next question we should be asking about this verse is what does in vain mean? 

The Hebrew word we translate as vain carries a meaning of empty, hollow, nothing, worthless, or to no good purpose. This doesn’t mean that we should avoid saying God’s name, as some do. Rather that we should be careful how we use His name. 

We tend to downplay the importance of names in our culture, but that wasn’t always the case. In ancient culture, your name meant something. It had value, it told others who you were. And the same is true with the name of God. His name has meaning and power. It’s holy. Therefore, we shouldn’t use it as if it’s empty, hollow, worthless, or in vain. 

That’s what this commandment is getting at. We are forbidden from taking the name of God (representing Him) in a manner that is wicked, worthless, or for our own gain. 

Let me translate the idea of this verse this way, we are God’s ambassadors therefore we should represent Him well to those around us. 

Examples Of Missing God’s Name

Most people think the meaning of this verse is just don’t say oh my god or use God’s name a cuss word. But that’s an oversimplification and missing the real meaning of taking God’s name in vain. 

I’m not saying we should start using God’s name as a curse word. Remember, His name is holy and has power. Rather, I think the real warning for us is about misusing God’s name which goes far beyond saying OMG.

So let’s look at examples of taking god’s name in vain.  

Using God’s Name For Your Own Gain

One way people take God’s name in vain is by using His name for their own benefit. An extreme example is a TV evangelist who promises God’s blessing if you just give them your money. But it’s not limited to preachers. We take the Lord’s name in vain when we take advantage of others for our own gain. 

Think about if the roles were reversed. Let’s say someone defrauded dozens of people in your name. You probably wouldn’t take too kindly to that kind of abuse of your name. 

That’s why the Bible says over and over again not to take God’s name in vain. It’s not something we should gloss over. Whether it be using God’s name to get rich, to get power, or to gain control over someone we ought to think twice. 

We tend to point our fingers at others doing this, but we should also examine ourselves. I’ve seen many manipulate a friend, family member, or co-worker in God’s name for their own gain. That’s using God’s name in vain. 

Using God’s Name To Justify Your Actions

Some use God’s name as a justification for what they want to do. Marriages have ended, business decisions been made, and life choices set all in God’s name. Many throw God’s name out as a trump card of sorts as to why their actions are right. 

Time and time again I have heard the phrase “God wants me to be happy” used to justify a sin they were unwilling to stop. Let me make one thing clear. If what God is “telling you” doesn’t line up with what is found in the Bible, it’s not God speaking, it’s you justifying.

We take the Lord’s name in vain when we use it to justify our actions for selfish reasons. Essentially we are attempting to justify sin so that we can still sleep at night and not feel guilty. Ironically that thing we are trying to hide from and justify is the thing God wants from us so that He can heal us. But instead, we hide and attempt to justify our actions with God’s name.

Cursing The Name Of God

Taking God’s name in vain is more than just not saying “OMG” or using it as a curse word. And I don’t even think that’s the primary message that God is trying to communicate about not taking His name in vain. He’s much more concerned with what we do IN His name and not WITH His name. However, that doesn’t mean we should just use it however we please. 

We should still approach God with honor and respect. And I don’t think it’s the most honoring thing to use God’s name as a curse word. Is it the worst possible sin you can commit to say GD or OMG? Probably not. But still, I think it’s a good idea to show a little respect and reverence for the holy name of God.


Swearing and taking God’s name in vain are often tied closely together. If you are interested in learning what the Bible says about swearing check out: Is Swearing A Sin? (what the Bible really says)

Taking God’s name in vain is more than just not saying “OMG” or using it as a curse word. Again I’m not advocating that we should start using God’s name as a curse word. I think that’s part of taking God’s name in vain, just not the sum total of this commandment. If you are a Christian what you do and say represents Him. We should each take a moment to evaluate our lives and ask ourselves if we are representing God well. 

I want to hear from you! Did you grow up not being allowed to say Oh My God? Comment down below!

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