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OMG, What Did You Say?

OMG, What Did You Say?

“Oh, my God!”

There are plenty of people, including me, who immediately cringe when they hear those words. Christians specifically tense up as they recall the words of 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.”

Of course, that’s a much milder infraction of the Commandment than what’s frequently heard on movies and your average sports bar. For whatever reason, God is asked to damn things quite a bit. And some people believe Jesus’ middle name begins with an “H.”

Yeah, a lot of Christians are pretty sensitive about using God’s name in vain. While I fully believe that the thoughtless OMGs thrown about today aren’t right—that God’s and Jesus’ names should be glorified, not used as curses—I think the Third Commandment goes deeper than our flying-off-the-handle exclamations. Jesus did a great job of unpacking the heart behind the “rules.” It wasn’t about following the letter of the law; it was about showing how our hearts our corrupt and we can only do good through the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. One of my favorite exegetical explanations is in Matthew 5:21-22, where Jesus explains the commandment against killing:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ [a term of contempt] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

That’s pretty serious stuff. What once was an easy checklist of not ending someone’s life suddenly has become a seemingly impossible task not to get ticked off at someone. What it shows is that we need Jesus to forgive our murderous hearts and then allow Him to change them.

So what about this whole using-God’s-name-in-vain business? I believe, just like the commandment against murder, it goes much deeper. Consider these questions. Have you ever told someone you’d pray for them, and didn’t? Have you ever avoided an uncomfortable decision about something by saying, “We should pray about this”? Have you ever prayed differently around your pastor than your best friend? Have you ever talked trash about a politician because you believe their morals don’t line up with God’s? Have you ever placed a political party and their agenda ahead of the agenda laid out by God? Have you ever had “a word” for someone that really was comprised of your own ideas and expectations of that person?

I could answer “yes” to all of these things at some point in my life, and I believe that each scenario uses God’s name in vain.

If a person is said to be “vain,” they are consumed by vanity, which means they are obsessed with their outward appearance. I believe that to use God’s name in vain means to use His name in order to look good. At the macro level, His name has been used to make palatable terrible things like the Crusades, Hitler’s “Final Solution” and other genocide, preemptive war, runaway greed (ever heard of the prosperity gospel?), environmentally destructive practices, political platforms and hate speech. That’s the big stuff.

In more subtle ways, God’s name is used in vain when sports figures plug Him into their postgame remarks after they played dirty. (No, I’m not talking about Tim Tebow.) And when musicians with absolutely horrific and disturbing lyrics and stage shows thank God or even Jesus at awards shows, it’s difficult not to think that it’s in vain. This isn’t a judgmental thing; it’s just that everyone—myself included—injects God into our doings in order to make ourselves look better. That’s vanity. That’s using His name in vain.

I believe that injecting God’s name into curses is very wrong, but injecting His name into our own vanity is perhaps even more wrong. Let’s only attribute to His name what is due: worship, praise and glory. We know those belong to Him. Those have nothing to do with our vanity. For everything else, let’s take ownership of our own actions, all the while privately and earnestly seeking the heart of God for our lives.

Marcus Hathcock is the Senior Editor at, and a contributor to RELEVANT

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