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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Use God’s Name with Fear and Reverence
Text:LD 36 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 3rd Commandment (God's name)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 66:1,2                                                                                      

Ps 97:1,5  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Psalm 99; Revelation 4

Ps 99:1,2,3,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 36-37

Hy 63:1,2,8

Hy 5:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, whenever we listen to God’s law, we could compare it to going over a checklist. Imagine that beside each commandment is a little box that we need to mark with a pen. Have we kept this commandment? No? Then we put down an X. Have we kept this commandment? Yes? Then we can give ourselves a check-mark.

Next to the first commandment, for example, we’d definitely have to put an X: “You shall have no other gods before me.” We haven’t kept it, for we’re all experts in idol-making. We know that we place far too much importance on our appearance, or on having money, or winning the approval of others, or success, or on our pleasures.

Beside the second commandment, another X. For our worship of God isn’t always right. We might be clinging to wrong ideas of who God is, or when we meet with the holy God in worship we’re often distracted. At the same time we easily slip into empty shows of religion.

If we skip ahead to the other commandments, we find only more X’s, marking our disobedience. Fifth commandment—broken by our disrespect for our parents. Sixth, seventh, eighth commandments—broken by nasty words, lustful thoughts, and greedy desires. Right down to #10, we must admit that we haven’t done well at all.

But what about Commandment #3? “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” Here we hesitate, ready for a check-mark. Could it be that we’ve done all right? These two Lord’s Days talk about blaspheming or abusing the name of God by “cursing, perjury, and unnecessary oaths.” Now, there are some things that we just wouldn’t do. Maybe none of us would ever take God’s Name in vain; none would use it in a curse, or in an empty oath.

Even so, let’s be reminded that God’s law is about much more than refraining from certain actions or attitudes. Maybe we’ve been obedient to this command in some respects—not blaspheming nor cursing, hopefully—yet we’ve still got work to do. For the flip side of this (and every) commandment is positive, active, and constructive. God wants us to put his name to good and holy use, for this is obedience that rightly honours him. Our theme this afternoon,

Use God’s Name only with fear and reverence:

  1. because his Name is holy
  2. because his Name is worthy


1) because his Name is holy: When you study the Catechism carefully, you come to realize that the authors chose every word for a reason—even the small words have a lot of meaning. You see it in Q&A 99 as well, where it says, “We must use the holy name of God only with fear and reverence.” Underline that word “holy” because it’s so essential to the lesson on the third commandment.

We probably all know that “holy” means “set apart.” For instance, God has made us his holy people, which means that we’ve been reserved for his service and must be devoted to his worship. But holiness can also mean that someone is set apart in his character, outstanding in his ability—compared to everyone else, he’s absolutely unique, he’s untouchable. And that, of course, describes our God. He’s completely unlike any other god, because He is living. And He is completely unlikely any human, because He is without sin and without limitation, without beginning or end.

As the one who is infinitely superior, God alone is holy. Listen to what Moses asks in Exodus 15:11, “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” There is none like him, for He is holy: set apart in beauty and wonder.

When you read the book of Isaiah, there’s a title for God that the prophet uses repeatedly; some twenty-nine times he refers to the LORD as “the Holy One of Israel.” For instance, there is a condemnation of the people’s blasphemy in Isaiah 1:4, “They have despised the Holy One of Israel.” But there’s also a reminder of God’s gracious presence with them, “For great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (12:6). 

Why was this Isaiah’s favourite title for God? No doubt it arose from his stunning encounter with the living God at the start of his ministry, an encounter which is recorded in Isaiah 6. There the prophet had a vision where he went into the temple and he saw the LORD, high and lifted up. And there were angels surrounding the throne, crying out to one another day and night, “Holy, holy, holy.” By that constant refrain they were declaring that God is the holiest and most glorious being, that He is supreme over all things in all creation, and He is one whom sinners dare not approach unless our sins have been purged away.

This startling vision of the holiness of God made its mark on Isaiah who for many years prophesied about “the Holy One of Israel.” And God’s great holiness likewise needs to make its mark on us, where we always hold him in reverence and awe.

That’s clear from the third commandment, but it’s clear in so many other places of Scripture too. Think of Leviticus 22:43, when God says, “You shall not profane my holy name, but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel.” When we know God’s name, we can handle it in only one of two basic ways: you can profane it, or you can hallow it.

We’ll get to that, but first a bit more about “the holy name of God.” You might’ve noticed that we’ve been switching back and forth, sometimes referring simply to “the holy God,” other times to “the holy name of God.” They’re interchangeable, because God’s “name” stands for all of his perfections and attributes; it’s his character and reputation and ability. God’s “name” is a shorthand reference for everything that God is.

This is why the Scriptures say things like in Psalm 9:10, “Those who know your name trust in you.” If I meet someone for the first time, and I learn his name, that’s hardly enough of a reason for me to trust him. But knowing God’s name means really knowing who He is. From Scripture and experience, we know his dependable nature, and we know his amazing works, so that we can be confident in him.

This is God’s character— his personality, if you will. It’s displayed in passages like Exodus 34, his revelation to Moses on the mountain: “The LORD descended in a cloud, stood with him there, and proclaimed his name, the LORD” (v 5). And what was the glorious name that God announced to his servant? “Then the LORD passed in front of Moses and called out: ‘The LORD, the LORD God, is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving devotion and truth, maintaining loving devotion to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, yet by no means excusing the guilty” (vv 6-7).

He is holy for his nature, we said, and He is also holy for his works. Think for a moment about just a few of the incredible things that God has done. Simply by speaking, He created this universe and everything in it. Out of mere grace, He chose a people for himself and saved us from sin. So this is how Psalm 111 praises him, “He has sent redemption to his people; He has commanded his covenant forever: holy and awesome is his name” (v 9). He is incomparable, unrivaled, matchless in glory—our God is holy, and his name is great!

In light of all that, how should we handle the glory and dignity of God’s name? It’s becoming obvious, isn’t it? The Catechism says, “only with fear and reverence” (Q&A 99). And in the next answer the Catechism reminds us that offenses against God’s name are deeply grievous: “No sin is greater or provokes God’s wrath more than the blaspheming of his name. This why He commanded it to be punished with death” (Q&A 100). God is rightly zealous for his reputation and honour.

It was because of this seriousness that the Israelites had certain customs for showing great reverence to God’s name—to the point that they avoided saying God’s name altogether! They reckoned it was better not to say God’s name in case you accidentally misused it. So the Jews would allude to God in conversation or prayer by saying “heaven.” Instead of saying “God hears your prayers,” they would say, “Heaven hears your prayers.” Or they’d simply refer to God as “The Name” (capital “n”) rather than saying his name outright.

Even when scribes copied out the Hebrew Bible, they were very cautious. They feared tarnishing God’s name by getting a letter wrong or smudging the ink when they wrote it, so they abbreviated references to the LORD, or they left out the vowels. And if they did make an error in writing God’s name, it wasn’t erased or crossed out, but they would start the whole page over; meanwhile, the page with the mistake was put in special burial place for Scripture.

These precautions seem overdone, yet the reason is clear. God says his name is so great that it must be used only with fear and reverence, with a humble respect and a deep humility. As we said, it’s true that we might not commit sins like cursing and blasphemy, yet God’s name can be misused in other ways. For perhaps we say God’s name so often that we no long think about it, and we start to use his holy name carelessly.

For instance, in discussions at Bible study or at school, we sometimes refer to God with barely a thought for his heavenly majesty. He’s just part of the argument, just another character in the story. Or in prayer, we might speak to the LORD casually, addressing him like He’s our friend from school, or some impersonal being up in the sky. Other times we ramble through prayer without much of a thought for the holy God whom we’re addressing; it’s almost like we’re talking to ourselves.

Or consider our songs of worship. When we sing in church, we say God’s name probably every other line of the Psalms and hymns, praising his glory, calling on his strength, recounting his great works. Yet do we actually consider the words that we’re singing? God’s holy name is on our lips, but we might be lost in thought, looking around or wondering why we have to sing so many stanzas. We ought to think when we sing, and worship God with understanding. Indeed, every time we handle the name of God, we must remember that He is holy. This is our God we’re talking about and praying to and singing to!

Psalm 99 teaches us how to respond rightly to the holiness of God’s name. The Psalm opens with a reminder about his overwhelming majesty: “The LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble!” (v 1). The Psalm goes on to celebrate God’s amazing character, “[You] love justice; you have established equity” (v 4), and it celebrates his awesome deeds for his people, “You answered them, O LORD our God; you were to them the God who forgives” (v 8).

And because of this great glory, we as God’s holy people must answer him with acts of worship. Three times in this Psalm we’re called to respond, and notice how each time the reason for worship is God’s holiness. Verse 3: “Let them praise your great and awesome name—He is holy.” Verse 5: “Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his footstool—He is holy. And verse 9: “Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy hill; for the LORD our God is holy.”

The Psalmist couldn’t be more emphatic. If you know God’s holy name—if you know something about his great deeds of creation and redemption—then you have an inescapable duty to praise, exalt, and worship him! This activity should be your life’s purpose, with the holy God at the centre of everything you do.

Psalm 99 reveals that obeying the third commandment is much more than keeping OMGs out of your text messages. It’s more than having a kind of superstition about saying God’s name, and it’s more than turning off movies when there is blasphemy.

No, the third commandment is really about who the LORD is to us. Does his unequalled glory fill our minds and hearts? Is God’s unfailing greatness and goodness our daily source of strength and hope? Is the LORD so impressive to us that He gives us our reason for living? Because we know his name, do we trust in him? Do we want to glorify him in all that we do?


2) because his Name is worthy: What does it mean that something is worthy? It’s when we say that something deserves our interest, our investment, or even our love. We make this kind of judgment on a regular basis, like deciding whether it’s worth it to spend our money on this new device, or if some new project is worthy of our attention. It means considering the value of something and thinking about the return we might get.

Here on earth we face a lot of uncertainty in our choices, whether in relationships or spending or studying. But about God there should be no hesitation. He is so worthy of our love and commitment and honour! Just a few passages from Scripture make this clear.

Take the powerful song of praise in Revelation 4 as an example. First, the four living creatures echo the refrain that was once heard by Isaiah, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (v 8). They proclaim him as the incomparable One, unsurpassed in power and glory.

Then comes this response from the twenty-four elders, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and by your will they exist and were created” (v 11). They’re saying that God deserves the worship of all creatures, because He is Lord over all. His name is holy, therefore his name is worthy.

Glory is due his name—it’s fitting that God gets the honour and recognition. So often we take the credit ourselves for success and blessing, thinking that it happened because of our intelligence or strength or character. Other times we completely forget to thank God for his gifts, taking them for granted or overlooking his generosity. But it’s all from him, so we should give him the glory that is due his name.   

Other right responses to God’s glory are found in Q&A 99, “We must use the holy name of God only with fear and reverence, so that we may rightly confess him [and] call upon him.” We said earlier that there’s something to learn from how reverently the Jews treated the name of God. Yet God hasn’t told us his name so that we can put it under glass or store it in a box—He has given his name for us to use.

First, his name is worthy to be confessed. Jesus says, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven” (Matt 10:32). Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are each glorified when we speak about him, when we confess faith in him and acknowledge all that He is doing in our lives.

This is a challenge for us. For though God has told us so much about himself, we still have a hard time talking about him. In conversations with one another, we might talk about anything besides God: how hot (or cold) the weather is, our plans for work, the latest game. Perhaps we don’t want to sound foolish talking about God, or say something that sounds wrong, or be vulnerable by sharing too much. For some reason, we prefer small talk to talking about the glorious God.

Yet God has created us, saved us from sin, and given us new life. His great name should be on our lips! What has God done for you? How are you serving him these days? What joy does Christ bring you? Scripture exhorts us, “Let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name” (Heb 13:15). The holy name of God is worthy of confession.

Second, this Lord’s Day says that God’s name is worthy for us to call upon. Sings David in Psalm 86, “You Lord, are good and ready to forgive, great in mercy to all who call on you” (v 5). This is the amazing thing about prayer, that the holy God—the Almighty LORD, Creator of all, perfect in every way—this God doesn’t remain at a distance from his people, but He wants to come close to us, and He wants us to be close to him. He desires that we call on his name and when we do, He promises, “I will answer you in kindness and in faithfulness.”

So when you have a worry, or you’re burdened, or when you’re looking for direction, or you need encouragement, know that God is worthy of your prayers. He can handle them, and more than that, He delights in them! The Father is always worthy of our sure and quiet trust, and He is praised when we bring our requests to him in prayer.

God is worthy to be confessed, and worthy to called upon. In fact, He is worthy of our whole life being offered in devotion to him. That’s why the Catechism teaches us to praise God’s holy name “in all our words and works” (Q&A 99). You know the expression: “Actions speak louder than words.” This is also true in the Christian life, where simply by the way we act, we can declare God’s name.

For example, when we’re with our friends, or we’re at the office with our colleagues, we can have the opportunity to say something about the God we worship. “No, I will not take part in sin. I will not put that person down. I will not lose self-control.” Whenever we make the choice to turn from sin and flee from evil, we are giving God the praise: “He is my Lord, and He’s worthy of my loyal obedience, so I will obey him.”

Now, much of our life is not seen by others. So much stays within our minds, in our quiet moments, in those times when no one else is around. It is also then—perhaps it is especially then—that we must praise the holy name of God with our works. Will we honour his commands, even when nobody sees it? Will we confess his holy name, even when “only” God is there to hear it? It’s particularly in these times that we prove our commitment to God, showing that our whole life is offered in devotion to him. In these times too, we show that the holy God is worthy of our love and loyalty.       

When the Catechism explains the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer a bit later, it says the same thing. Our daily prayer is that God’s name would be hallowed. But if we say “Hallowed be your Name,” then we also need to offer the heartfelt prayer, “Grant us… that we may so direct our whole life—our thoughts, words, and actions—that your name is not blasphemed because of us, but always honoured and praised” (Q&A 122).

That’s the uncomfortable truth in the third commandment as well: God’s holy name might be blasphemed because of us. We might blaspheme by being known as a Christian, but still living in pride or hatred or jealousy. We might dishonour him through the shameful difference between where we are on Saturday night and where we are on Sunday morning. We might blaspheme God’s name by who we are when no one else is around, even as we bear God’s name on our forehead through baptism. 

God is worthy of so much better. He is worthy to receive devotion, honour and worship in all that we do! We hear it again from Psalm 99: “Let them praise your great and awesome name—He is holy” (v 3). “Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his footstool—He is holy” (v 5). “Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy hill; for the LORD our God is holy” (v 9). This is our calling: to live for God’s glory, making this the constant purpose of our life. For He is holy, and He is worthy!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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