The Third Commandment

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“The Third Commandment,” Ensign, Apr. 1999, 13

The Third Commandment

A study of scripture expands our understanding of the commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

The Ten Commandments, like all of God’s communication with His children, are multifaceted and layered with meaning for all who have ears to hear. Those who have received the ordinances of the restored gospel can develop particularly sensitive ears to the messages of the third commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” (Ex. 20:7).

When we read this commandment, we may think first of irreverent language. People often profane the name of God by using it as if it were little more than slang. It shows a profound disrespect for our Father in Heaven and the Savior. Speaking the sacred name of Deity must be done with reverence to show our great respect and worshipful appreciation.

Another aspect of taking His name in vain relates to those who speak and act without authority: “Wherefore, let all men beware how they take my name in their lips—for behold, verily I say, that many there be who are under this condemnation, who use the name of the Lord, and use it in vain, having not authority” (D&C 63:61–62; see also Matt. 7:15–23).

Taking His name in vain may also include trifling with sacred things, calling on His name for that which “we ought not” (D&C 8:10).

In addition to these important levels of meaning, we focus here on another vital aspect: taking upon us the name of the Lord without “real intent” (2 Ne. 31:13). As Latter-day Saints, we have taken upon us the name of Jesus Christ by being baptized in His name and, with broken hearts and contrite spirits, becoming His sons and daughters (see D&C 18:21–24; D&C 20:37; Mosiah 5:7). We take His name by becoming members of the church that bears His name and is built upon His gospel (see 3 Ne. 27:5–8). By taking the sacrament we renew our commitment to take upon us His name, to remember Him, and to obey His commandments (see D&C 20:77). We must keep this covenant, continuing in faith and repentance and worship (see D&C 20:29) and do all that we do in His name (see D&C 46:31–33).

But if we take upon us His name without “real intent,” we surely take His name in vain. If we forget and do not endure in the covenant we made at baptism, we take His name in vain. Taking the name of the Lord must be done “with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of [our] sins” (2 Ne. 31:13).

This broader view of the third commandment suggests we are not to use His name disrespectfully, use it without proper authority, trifle with sacred things, or—all inclusively—neglect to serve Him with all our hearts.

Taking His Name in All Ages

There is ample evidence that people have taken upon them the name of Christ in all ages. In Moses 5:8 Adam was commanded to “do all that thou doest in the name of the Son” (emphasis added in this and following scriptures). Thus, Adam was to pray, speak, testify, offer sacrifices, perform priesthood ordinances, and make sacred covenants in the name of the Son. The name of Jesus Christ is and was the only name under heaven whereby mankind in any age can be saved (see 2 Ne. 31:21).

Moses himself was later told by the Lord to “put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them” (Num. 6:27). The oft-quoted verses that precede the Lord’s instruction describe some of the beautiful blessings of taking His name:

“The Lord bless thee, and keep thee:

“The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:

“The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

“And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them” (Num. 6:24–27).

When we take the name of the Lord upon us, we begin the process of learning to be like Him, of receiving His countenance in our own, and of receiving His grace and therefore His peace.

Hundreds of years later, David demonstrated that he understood the principle of taking the name of the Lord upon him and becoming a son of Christ. David fought the Philistines “in the name of the Lord” (1 Sam. 17:45) and later wrote in Psalms: “I will declare thy name unto my brethren” (Ps. 22:22) and “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake … and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps. 23:3, 6). The term house can mean family or tribe. David is talking of the peace that comes with having made the covenant to take the Lord’s name and becoming His for eternity.

Those who had ears to hear must have resonated to the words of the Lord that Isaiah recorded: “I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off” (Isa. 56:5) and again when he said,

“Bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth;

“Even every one that is called by my name” (Isa. 43:6–7).

Elsewhere he says: “Our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary.

“We are thine: thou never barest rule over them; they were not called by thy name” (Isa. 63:18–19).

No wonder the Lord told the Nephites to study Isaiah.

Micah must have been speaking with a determination to keep the third commandment when he said, “We will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever” (Micah 4:5).

Certainly the righteous among the ancients understood the ultimate importance of taking the name of the Lord their God and becoming the sons and daughters of Christ. But within a few centuries after Micah spoke those words, the authority to put the name of the Lord upon the people was lost in the Old World. To this day, many of Judah believe that the third commandment requires them to avoid speaking the name of the Lord their God entirely.

Preserving the Doctrine in the New World

Perhaps there is no greater evidence of the marvelous blessing that resulted from Lehi’s obedience to the command to leave Jerusalem than the beautiful sermon King Benjamin delivered almost half a millennium later. For while King Benjamin was teaching the doctrine of taking the name of Christ, the leader of the Jews on the other side of the globe, John Hyrcanus, had no understanding of this principle.

Thus, Lehi’s descendants in the New World had preserved the doctrine and authority to take upon themselves the name of Christ. Like Moses, King Benjamin used his authority to put the name of the Lord upon his people:

“And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.

“And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.

“And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ” (Mosiah 5:7–9).

Then King Benjamin cautioned: “Take heed that ye do not transgress, that the name be not blotted out of your hearts. … I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts, that ye are not found on the left hand of God” (Mosiah 5:12). This counsel echoes Exodus 20:7 [Ex. 20:7]: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”

In our dispensation, we can embrace the breadth of meaning in the third commandment, including the vital doctrine of taking upon us the Lord’s name with real intent. We are blessed with a living prophet who holds the keys in our time. We are blessed with the ordinances of the gospel. We have accepted the Atonement through baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, thereby taking upon us the name of Christ.

We must not take that name in vain. Let us give our hearts to furthering our Savior’s purposes here on earth, serving others, denying ourselves of all ungodliness, and thereby retaining His name written always in our hearts.

Photo by Robert Casey; electronic composition by Charles M. Baird

The Savior, by Del Parson

Photo by Welden C. Andersen