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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:True repentance includes obedience to the Third Commandment
Text:LD 36 and LD 37 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 3rd Commandment (God's name)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 24:1,4,5

Psalm 99:1-3

Psalm 135:1,6,9,10

Hymn 1

Hymn 4

Scripture readings: Leviticus 24:10-16, 1 Timothy 1

Catechism lesson: Lord's Days 36 and 37

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

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

The life of a Christian is a process.  We’re never at a point in this age where we can say we’ve arrived.  If you ever meet someone who claims to have arrived, be suspicious.  If you encounter someone who claims to be a “mature Christian,” be skeptical.  There are no such creatures on this side of eternity.  We’re all together growing in our life in Christ. 

Someone once compared this process of growth to someone who’s spent a long time in prison.  Maybe you’ve seen movies or TV shows or read books about how hard it is for prisoners after they’re freed to adjust to life on the outside.  If they’ve been imprisoned for years and years, it’s not easy to suddenly move into a world where there are few restrictions on what you can do.  They’ve developed a jail-house mentality and they still think and act like they’re prisoners.  It’s a process to get to thinking and living like a free person. 

It’s the same for sinners who have been set free by Christ from the curse of sin.  The power of sin still lingers in the background.  Though we’ve been set free in principle, in practice we still often live like prisoners, like slaves to sin.  It’s a paradox.  It’s hard to understand.  We may enjoy the imprisonment more than the freedom that we have in Christ.  The imprisonment is our comfort zone.  That’s messed up. 

True repentance means getting out of the comfort zone.  True repentance means living more and more as those who’ve been set free by Christ.  Scripture teaches us that true repentance involves death and life.  Our old nature – the remnants of which linger in the jail house mentality – has to be dying.  We want to see our new nature coming to life. 

Most broadly speaking, this happens across two domains.  One has to do with love for your neighbour.  The other has to do with love for God.  Where we are this afternoon is in the area that has to do with love for our God.  The third commandment is directed towards God and a proper way for us to relate to him, a way that reflects a commitment to him and a love for him.

Let’s not take for granted why we should love him.  It’s because he first loved us.  It’s because he sent his Son to take our curse upon himself.  Jesus has borne the wrath of God against all our infractions of God’s law.  That includes all the times we’ve broken the third commandment in whatever way.  Not only that, but he perfectly obeyed all the commandments in our place.  He did what Adam should have done and what we should have done.  He kept the law.  His law-keeping merits are applied to our accounts too.  And again, that includes his obedience to commandment Number Three.  Through Christ, God looks at us and sees a perfect law-abiding people.  Through Christ, He sees you, his son or daughter, as someone who has never broken the third commandment, and instead, has always kept it perfectly.  Only through Christ.  That’s the gospel and we should never take it for granted.

That gospel message motivates us to be committed to God and love him.  We show that commitment and love in a life of repentance.  That life of true repentance includes obedience to the Third Commandment.  That’s what we’ll see this afternoon.  And we’ll learn about how this repentance includes:

  1. Crucifying the old nature by not blaspheming or abusing God’s Name
  2. Living out of our union with Christ by using the Holy Name of God rightly

The Third Commandment has to do with God’s Name.  Before going further, we should be clear on what God’s Name is.  Right away we might think of his personal name Yahweh.  This was the name by which he revealed himself to Moses and the people of Israel.  It’s the personal name that we find for God throughout the Old Testament.  Yahweh is there in the original Hebrew wherever we find LORD with all capital letters.  In the New Testament, we find another personal name for God, for God the Son in particular.  The name we’re thinking of here of course is Jesus. 

But there’s more to God’s Name.  In the Bible there’s a close connection between God and his name.  God’s Name is connected with his attributes.  So, for instance, in Psalm 8:1, his name and his glory are identified with one another.  God’s Name, like God, is great, holy, awesome, a high refuge, a strong tower, and so on.  In 2 Chronicles 20, we read that God made his name dwell in the temple – in other words, God himself was living there among his people in a special way.  In the New Testament, in John 17, Jesus says that he came to reveal God’s name to the elect.  That means he came to reveal God in his qualities, regulations, word, and works. 

So, when we speak of God’s Name, if we’re thinking biblically, we have to think big.  It’s not just about the personal names Yahweh or Jesus.  It’s not just about titles like Lord or Christ.  Nor is it merely about general words that refer to deity, words like “God.”  God’s Name involves all he is and all he does, everything he reveals about himself.  When we put it in that light, we see how challenging this commandment is for us to keep. 

The commandment says, “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.”  It’s framed in a negative way:  “you shall not.”  And to illustrate the seriousness of this commandment, we have that story found in Leviticus 24.  There was a son of a mixed marriage.  He got into a fight with an Israelite.  During the fight he cursed God’s Name.  What does that mean exactly? 

It’d be easy to read Leviticus 24 and think that the guilty son said something like you might hear an unbeliever say today.  But that’d be taking our contemporary world and reading it into the text.  What happens in Leviticus 24 is different.  The guilty son said something like “Yahweh is worthless.”  He said Yahweh could not help, that he was a loser god.  He said this with the intent of defeating his opponent in the fight.  So what happened was this man directly attacked the true God and said he was insignificant and powerless.  This man was put to death because he attacked God.   

That fits with the literal meaning of the third commandment.  Literally the commandment speaks about making God’s name light.  Making light of God’s name.  Taking God for someone insignificant and worthless.  Our Catechism summarizes Scripture and says that can be done through cursing, through perjury or through unnecessary oaths.  But there are other ways too.  Scripture also speaks of blaspheming God’s Name through our actions.  After David’s sin with Bathsheba, he was confronted by the prophet Nathan.  Nathan told him in 2 Samuel 12:14 that David had given Israel’s enemies reason to blaspheme Yahweh.  Similarly in the New Testament, in Romans 2, Paul quotes from Isaiah and says to his Jewish readers, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” 

You see, by living an ungodly and unChristian life we can bring shame upon the Name of our God.  As someone once said, so often we provide ammo for unbelievers and load the gun for them.  Then they make their attacks on our great God.  How wicked!  This is definitely a great sin which provokes God’s wrath.        

We’re called Christians.  That means we bear the Name of Christ.  Not only that, but we’ve been baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  So when we live worldly and unholy lives, we’re breaking the Third Commandment and blaspheming God.  You see, it’s not merely a matter of using God’s Name as an exclamation mark.  This commandment runs far deeper than that, it holds us to a much higher standard. 

But it does certainly include the words we speak.  We ought never to speak of God in a casual or flippant way.  We ought never to make jokes that include God, his person, his Word, or his works.  Such jokes break the third commandment.  God didn’t reveal himself to us so we can get a few laughs.  He is holy (set apart) and with the third commandment he wants to impress that on us. 

Let me mention something else in this regard.  We can easily see how the world misuses and abuses God’s Name.  But it happens in the church too.  It happens, for instance, whenever someone says “Hallelujah” in a flippant way.  Especially at certain times of year when the Hallelujah chorus is floating around, it’s easy to fall into this sin.  Loved ones, please remember what “Hallelujah” means.  It’s a Hebrew word which means, “Praise Yahweh.”  God’s personal name is embedded in the word “Hallelujah.”  If we use the word “Hallelujah” in a flippant and casual way, we’re no different than the unbeliever who says OMG.  We’re using God’s name in vain.  Let me urge you only to say or sing “Hallelujah” if you genuinely mean it, and if you’re using it in a sincere way to glorify God.   

Putting to death the old nature means we never blaspheme or abuse God’s Name in any way.   We also don’t share in such terrible sins by standing idly by when other people are engaged in it.  Again, rather than thinking first about the world, let’s think about the church.  In the church, we ought never to allow fellow brothers and sisters to be flippant about God.  We shouldn’t stand quietly by when fellow believers are making jokes about holy things.  Moreover, keeping in mind the broad meaning of the third commandment, we ought never to allow a church member to openly live in sin and through that to bring dishonour to God’s good name.    

Yes, there’s a calling here with regard to the world too.  When you have close friends, fellow students, or co-workers who take God’s Name in vain, you ought to speak with them and tell them that this offends you and most importantly that it’s offensive to God.  Sometimes the reactions will be hostile, but if you already have a relationship with someone before talking with them, you may be able to get somewhere.  There’s that saying, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  And that applies to talking to worldly people aboyt the Third Commandment as well.  Our words will go a lot further and be taken a lot more seriously if we show how we genuinely care about the people we’re speaking with.        

The old nature must be put to death. Because we love God for what he’s done for us through Christ, we have to be serious about waging war against sin in our lives and in the lives of others.  But then there’s also the positive side.  We turn away from sin, and we turn to righteousness.  The Third Commandment has a positive side:  using God’s name with fear and reverence.  This is related to living out of union with Christ, living out of our new nature in Christ. 

Not doing certain things, avoiding disobedience, is also related to our union with Christ.  All those things which I’ve just been talking about, the death of the old nature, is also because we’re one with our Saviour.  Then the new nature in Christ also goes on to use God’s name rightly.

In March of 1981, something terrible happened.  The president of the United States was shot by John Hinckley Jr.  Ronald Reagan was immediately rushed to George Washington University Hospital.  His aides knew he was badly injured.  But when they arrived at the hospital, Reagan got out of the limo on his own power.  He stood up straight, sucked in his stomach, hitched up his pants, and buttoned his jacket.  Those who know anything about Reagan, know that this was typical for him.  Everything had to done properly, done right.  Even when you go to the ER after you’ve been shot.  And Reagan did it properly, walking for about 30 feet before finally collapsing. 

As those united to Christ, we have to get this.  When it comes to God and his Name, everything connected with him, we have to be careful and proper.  We must be circumspect – which means we’re thoughtful and not careless.  Everything must be done properly when it comes to God’s Name, no matter the circumstances.  This is what the Third Commandment teaches those who are in Christ.

The apostle Paul got this.  He’d been an upstanding Jew.  He out-Jewed the best of the Jews. From all appearances he had it all together before what happened on the way to Damascus.  But did you hear what he said about himself at that point in 1 Timothy 1?  He said he was once a blasphemer.  This most religious man was breaking the Third Commandment through his attacks on Christ and his church.  Then our Lord Jesus broke him.  Paul was humbled and converted by the Holy Spirit.  He became a new creation. 

Following his conversion, what did Paul’s life look like?  Yes, he still struggled with sin.  He says in verse 15 of 1 Timothy 1 that he is the worst of sinners.  He’s aware of his remaining sin.  It humbles him.  Still, as we read Paul’s letters and as we read about him in Acts, we know there was a change.  He was no longer living in the sin of blasphemy.  Instead, he began to use the name of God with fear and reverence.  He recognized the name above every name, that of Jesus.  Paul rightly confessed the name before kings, governors, philosophers and whoever would listen.  He called upon the name of God through Jesus Christ.  He praised him in all his words and works.  Paul made a good beginning of living according to all the commandments of God, including the Third.  He could do that because he was looking to Christ every day in faith, and living out of union with him.

Loved ones, this is the new life to which we’re called too.  We’re called to use the holy Name of God.  That means we speak the names Yahweh and Jesus.  For example, we use them in prayer.  We use the revealed divine titles, whether Lord or Christ or the Almighty or whatever other titles are revealed.  We speak of who God is, his attributes, his works, his Word, his revelation.  We speak.  We must.  A silent Christian is an oxymoron.  You know what an oxymoron is, right?  It’s a contradiction in terms, like dry rain.  A silent Christian is the same, a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron.   

We “must” use the holy name of God. We speak to him and about him.  We speak about him in the church and in the world.  We share the gospel with those who are lost and dead in sin.  We don’t hide who our God is, but rather speak and vividly and enthusiastically portray the reality that can’t yet be seen.  We praise him with what we say and with what we do.  Our entire life is meant to be lived for him. 

The key thing, what this all boils down to, is the fear of God.  For many people the fear of God carries a negative connotation.  In the Bible it’s not a negative or a bad thing to fear God.  The thing to realize is that it is not the same thing as the dread of God, the dread that comes over someone who knows that they’re about to get what’s coming to them.  The fear of God is what characterizes a Christian.  Christians have the utmost respect, awe, and reverence for God.  They know God is holy and they’re not.  They know God is exalted and highly majestic, and they’re not.  They know God isn’t to be trifled with.  They know we can’t be glib when it comes to the King of the cosmos.

There are numerous examples in the Bible of people encountering God.  Most of them find people meeting with God and they’re awestruck and sometimes even afraid for their lives.  Think of the prophet Isaiah in chapter 6 of his prophecy.  He thinks he’s going to die for being in the presence of the thrice-holy God.

There’s an example in the New Testament where someone comes into God’s presence in an inappropriate way.  In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira bring the proceeds from a land sale to the apostles.  That seems to take place in a gathering of the church.  Think of the words of our Lord Jesus, “Where two or three are gathered in my Name, there am I in the midst of them.”  Ananias and Sapphira didn’t come with the fear of God in their hearts.  Rather, they presumed to lie to the Holy Spirit, to God.  You know what happened to them. 

In Hebrews 12:28-29, the Holy Spirit tells us, “...let us be grateful…and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”  The Third Commandment is meant to take us from love for God to the proper fear of God.  We love him for what he’s graciously done for us in Christ.  But at the same time we recognize he is someone weightier than any human being.  He demands to be taken seriously, to be respected, and held in the highest esteem by us and by all people. 

Loved ones, out of our union with Christ, let’s recommit ourselves this afternoon to taking this commandment seriously.  Let’s recommit ourselves to a life of repentance, dying to the old nature, and living out of the new.  Since we’re loved by God, and since we love him, let’s endeavour to always see his name lifted up by us and through us.  AMEN.            


Heavenly Father,

You are the exalted God of the universe.  Everything is the work of your hands.  You made everything, including us, for your glory.  We confess that there are many times when we do not live according to your will.  We detract from your glory, we blaspheme you with our actions, if not with our words.  We ask you to forgive us through Christ.  We ask you to continue looking at us through him, our perfect Saviour.  Father, please help us with your Spirit to live out of our union with him.  Please help us hate all blasphemy and abuse of your great Name.  Help us to use your name rightly, so that you are always praised because of and through us.  Father, we also ask for your help in giving us courage to speak up in the church and in the world when your name isn’t respected.  Please give us the words and the opportunities to show our love for you and for the good of our neighbours.  We pray that you’d continue to lead us to fear you and honour you in everything we say, think, and do.            

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

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