You might think a reflection upon God’s name is irrelevant to the current state of our nation. We are living in strange times. Fears of the coronavirus are still among us, but they have been largely displaced by the riots in response to the murder of George Floyd. In fact, more than a thousand medical professionals, infectious disease specialists, and community stakeholders wrote an open letter that got a lot of press. Essentially, they argued that the systemic threat of white supremacy far surpasses the threat of COVID-19. They literally said it was permitted to protest over this, but not over the “stay-home” orders. The inconsistencies are difficult to keep track of.
In the past several weeks we were also warned about other threats such as the flesh-eating rats! One of my favorite memes from the past week stated: “Did we miss the murder hornets? I feel like we missed the murder hornets.” It is also interesting that week after week, I have not struggled to find a way to relate the sermon to our present circumstances. This week is no different. Maybe that’s because so much is going on, how could you miss it? But one positive for pastors is that illustrating sermons has never been easier.
Last week we focused on the positive aspect of the third commandment. We are to approach God with reverence recognizing his holiness and worthiness. If approaching God in a flippant manner results in His displeasure, then approaching God with reverence through Jesus Christ results in His pleasure.
Read Exodus 20:7
While we spent some time considering how flippant we can often be in our prayers, I want to expand on the discussion regarding the various ways we might dishonor God’s name.
Do Not Commit Perjury
This command needs to be broadened to include not only our words, but also our thoughts and actions. However, we can begin by looking at our speech, because that is the most basic meaning of the verse.
The primary function of the command is to forbid perjury, which is lying under oath. If you are a witness in a trial, you will take an oath: “Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” Quakers, who have a problem with taking oaths, in general, can replace “swear” with “affirm”. If you do not believe in God you can replace “so help me God” with “under pains and penalties of perjury. Additional modifications are allowed as long as the individual can demonstrate that they recognize a moral obligation, to be honest.
Some have wrongly argued that the third commandment forbids any kind of oath-taking whatsoever. But that is obviously not how we understand it. When you join this church you are required to take five vows of membership. Vows, in general, are not forbidden. However, taking those vows in a light manner is forbidden. In other words, breaking your vows of membership—which have been spoken before God and His people—is a form of breaking this commandment. That is why, whenever we receive new members, I take a moment to implore all the members who are present to consider the fact that these are their vows as well. It is important to revisit them often and consider whether we are out of accord with them in substance.
The same could be said for anyone who has taken an oath of office within the church or as a civil authority figure. Their vows are important and we must not take them lightly. To do so is to take the name of God lightly because it is in His name that we take our oath.
Do Not Misrepresent God’s Nature
Since the name of God is representative of who He is and what He has done, to say anything that misrepresents Him is forbidden as well. This is where we would include the violation of false doctrine. Let us consider just a few of the common violations:
- God is One, so He cannot exist in three persons. To deny the Trinity is to deny the very clear worship that is offered to God the Son and God the Holy Spirit in Scripture.
- God created the world, but He did so through the “giant bang” that jump-started evolution. The Bible is not compatible with macro-evolution.
- Jesus was a real person, but He was not born of a virgin, nor did He rise from the dead. If you can read the Bible by turning the central Figure into folklore, then you have missed everything!
- God is loving, but not wrathful. You will be hard-pressed to find any book in the Bible that lacks a word about God’s righteous judgment.
- We should also add any misrepresentation of God’s redemptive work. Those who deny justification by faith alone in Christ alone break this commandment. Likewise, it is a violation of this commandment to suggest that you can earn or merit any part of your salvation. Salvation, from beginning to end is a gracious work of God. We must never think that we complete what God begins. No, rather, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
Do Not Dismiss God’s Providence
I feel like we are fighting for the wellbeing of our nation like never before in my lifetime. The moral compass of our nation is at stake. I know there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9), but can we admit that we have not seen anything like this level of unrest since 1968 when riots erupted in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.? The videos and pleas that I’ve seen on social media reveal a strong desire to seize the moment and squeeze as much as we can from it.
Now, bear with me for a moment. This might sound like a rant, but it does connect. One phrase I hear daily is how important it is for me to keep in mind my “white privilege”. Most people seem to be unaware of the origins and purposes of this language. But, many within the Church have co-opted this language and some have even gone so far as to call Christians to repent of the blindness we have to our “unearned privilege”.
I have to ask: what would it look like to repent of “white privilege”? Seriously. Am I supposed to pray to God, “Heavenly Father, I’m sorry that You made me this way. I forgive you for giving me this unearned privilege.” Such a prayer would be blasphemous! The same is true if you have black or brown privilege. We are not in positions to question God’s design for our lives and then offer Him forgiveness. To lament our God-given ethnicity is a direct misapplication of God’s providence in our lives which is a violation of this commandment (WLC Q.113). Such anger and self-hatred ought to be unthinkable for anyone who recognizes that they bear the image of God!
Now, I’ll admit that most believers who are advocating for the Church to do more to end systemic racism are not saying we need to repent of our skin color. But that is what people are doing all over the place. They are kneeling down and apologizing to people they have never personally harmed. But because of some socially constructed theory of humanity, that is not rooted in Scripture, many people have taken upon themselves a burden of guilt that was never their’s to bear. In one video, I saw a group of white Christians kneeling before a group of black people who were standing opposite them, while someone on their knees prayed a prayer of repentance. This kind of virtue signaling knows no bounds.
Let’s have a conversation with others. Let’s be willing to ask hard questions and hear difficult answers. Let’s even be willing to be uncomfortable because we don’t really know what to say. But let’s not fill the void with apologies for sins we did not commit. And let’s certainly not spin this as a problem that God needs to be forgiven for allowing it to happen.
To do so would be to profane His name.
Do Not Profane God’s Name
Yes, this would include our flippant use of God or Jesus or Christ. There are many forms of misuse in our modern vernacular, and we would do well to conscientiously remove them from our language. What comes out of our mouths reveals our hearts. If we can speak God’s name in a flippant manner, it means we hold Him with low regard in our hearts. If you can joke about God’s name with your mouth, it is likely that you hold him lightly in your heart.
To call into question the value of God’s name is to question His very existence. If we have not done this in our speech, we have often done it in our thoughts and actions, which are also implicated in this command.
Scripture reveals how the subject extends beyond our speech. Offering children in sacrifice to Molech is an example of profaning the name of God (Leviticus 18:21). To make an oath or swear by God’s name is also taking it in vain (Leviticus 19:12). The Lord who sanctifies His people must be sanctified by them (Leviticus 22:32-33). To sin openly and obnoxiously is to revile the Lord’s name (Numbers 15:30-31). To reject God’s word or servants is a form of blasphemy (Nehemiah 9:26).
Once again, we bump into an illustration of something that occurred last Sunday. Both Donald Trump as well as Joe Biden used churches for photo opportunities. It is quite clear in both cases, that our current president and his primary opponent were pandering for Christian voters by taking pictures at churches that neither of them attends. Donald Trump used a Bible for a prop while Joe Biden used Black Christians for a backdrop. It stretches credulity to believe either gesture was genuine. If that is true, then it is a serious matter to invoke the name of God so casually. Of course, this is nothing new for politicians. Both parties have been pandering for the religious vote for quite some time.
The problems in our nation are not primarily political. Problems exist because people are sinful. We can argue about the best course of action to bring justice to our nation. But what is needed more than anything else within the Church, is a community where the old interact with the young, and everyone is exhorted to conduct themselves in a way that honor’s the word of God (Titus 2:2-5). This is an opportunity for the Church to show to the watching world that the love of God compels us to love one another (1 John 4:11).
Our unity in Christ must supersede any political ambitions.
Christ Fulfilled the Third Commandment
Remember, to dishonor God’s name is to dishonor who He is and what He has done. That includes His redemptive work. We cannot lose sight of the context in which this command was given to Moses. God was passing on to him the covenant promises that had been given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
If Christ was to be the fulfillment of the covenant promises that God made to the patriarchs, then Christ would be the embodiment, the very incarnation, of the name of God. This is certainly no more evident than in our Savior’s name. Jesus is the English transliteration of the Greek name Iesus, which is the Greek transliteration of the name Yehoshua, which literally means, “YHWH is salvation.” The name Yehoshua is the English translation of the Old Testament name Joshua. Quite literally, the name of the Savior is Joshua. Jesus, therefore, is the incarnation of God’s name and the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.J.V. Fesko, The Rule of Love
The name of Jesus points to the redemption that He accomplished. It is only as we place our faith in Him that we can be saved. Our theological understanding of Christ as God, who took on flesh, lived a perfect life, died on the cross in our place, was buried and rose again on the third day, and after ascending into heaven is seated at the right hand of the Father. His is the name that is exalted above every name (Philippians 2:9-11)!
The only way to truly honor the name of God is to place our faith in the Son of God. In so doing, we receive the imputed and perfect righteousness of Christ. Then out of our union with Christ, flows a life that seeks to give God a proper reverence in speech and conduct. In other words, out of gratitude for our Savior, we seek to please God in word, thought, and deed.
The covenantal faithfulness of God is expressed in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. In Christ, all of the shadows of the old covenant were finally and fully fulfilled.
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.”Hebrews 1:3-4
Yes, the third commandment exhorts us to watch our language, especially as it pertains to our view of God. But, in its fullest sense, it is about conforming our lives to the One who gave His life for us. So let us live for Christ—in the midst of our present chaos—by the enabling work of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Only until we reach glory, will we no longer fear the possibility of violating the third commandment. And let us look forward to the day when our redemption is sight and we gather around the glassy sea with saints from every tribe, tongue, and nation offering pure worship in the name of our Lord! What a glorious day that will be!