Taking His Name
My life changed forever on the evening of March 15, 2003 when I joined my wife in holy matrimony. As with any marriage, there was a gradual process of growing together, but there were also some immediate changes. One of these was that my wife took my last name. This meant a new signature, a new social security card, and a new driver’s license. Since we were both active duty Marines at the time, it also meant a new identification card, new name tapes for her uniforms, and answering to a new name.
But these changes were more than merely administrative. With the new name came a new identity. Yes, she was still the same person, but she was now associated with something bigger than herself. She was identified by her relationship with me. In fact, the once-common practice of a wife taking her husband’s name upon marriage has become a point of debate recently. Some women prefer to keep their maiden name because it is tied to their family identity, professional status, or another reason. Others may choose to take their husband’s name as a sign of being united in marriage. While society may have mixed opinions about what is appropriate, the underlying issue is that your name associates you with something bigger than yourself.
This is not a new concept. Families began using the names of their ancestors to identify themselves beginning way back in Genesis 10 and this practice continues in contemporary society. But did you know that God has something to say about this? It’s buried in the Ten Commandments and most people miss it. I missed it for years, but now I want to share it with you. God says in Exodus 20:7 (NKJV), “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.”
For years I read this as a prohibition of profaning God’s name. In other words, we are not to use God’s name as part of a vulgar expression. There are examples of this throughout our daily interactions which I will not list here. We should not profane God’s name, but this verse means more than that.
As I grew in my faith, I began to understand this verse as an admonishment to keep God’s name holy. It is not for use in everyday conversation. We should not use God’s name to express frustration, horror, pleasure, surprise, or any other emotion. His name is holy, not an acceptable substitute for “Wow!” or anything else. Strictly observant Jews never even speak God’s name aloud; they only write the consonants because they are so concerned with following this commandment. I have been careful since my youth to only use God’s name for discipleship, evangelism, prayer, and worship. I still follow this practice and believe everyone should do the same. We must keep God’s name holy, but this verse means more than that.
Several years ago, the Lord revealed to me that His name carries power and that to use His name without this power is to use it in vain. When we speak God’s name, we should see miracles, signs, and wonders take place. People should be healed, delivered, and set free. Demons should tremble and situations should change and rearrange. We must speak God’s name with faith and power, but this verse means even more than that.
Most recently, I added to my understanding of this verse when I heard a Messianic Jew teaching about it. He explained that when you take God’s name, that isn’t limited to speaking His name. It also refers to using it as part of your identity. Remember that God was giving this commandment to the Israelites on their way to the Promised Land. This commandment was not for the world. The world was made in the image of God, but they don’t take His name. However, the children of Israel do.
Genesis 32 tells the story of Jacob wrestling with God all night long. As the sun rose, God gave Jacob a new name. God told Jacob in Genesis 32:28, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel.” That word Israel means “God rules” and contains the suffix El, which means God. Just like I gave my wife part of my name when we were married, God gave part of His name to Jacob. In both situations, the names are not identical, and you can easily tell one of us from the other, but the sharing of names makes it clear that there is a valuable relationship between us.
My wife and our children have all taken my name. As such, all of our identities are intertwined. The same is true for every family. If one of my kids is a great student, that raises everyone’s expectations for the whole family. If one of them does something wrong, it makes us all look bad. Fair or not, if you meet a Disney, you expect creativity; if you meet a Hitler, you expect evil; and if you meet a Vanderbilt, you would expect wealth. Because of this, I don’t want my wife to take my name and live in such a way that it discredits it or brings shame to our family. When I send my kids to school, I want my name to be associated with academic excellence and good citizenship.
Likewise, God wants His name associated with good things in the world. This is why He commands the Israelites not to take His name in vain. If you’re going to wear God’s name around, you should wear it in a way that honors Him and that causes other people to want to meet Him.
As Christians, we take the name of Christ. When somebody says, “I’m a Christian,” they are using Jesus’ name to identify themselves. They are taking His name, the name above all names, and using it to claim a relationship with Him. Just like my bride took my name, the bride of Christ takes the name of Christ. We are Christians because we are one with Jesus. Christians are not merely people who share a culture. Christians are not people who share political beliefs. Christians are not even people who can agree upon a religious text. Christians are Christians because they have taken the name of Jesus.
The identity of Christ is linked with the identity of Christians. Consider the following questions. Are you living in a way that is worthy of Jesus’ name? Are you producing godly fruit? Are you leading people to repent? Are you introducing people to Jesus? Are you making disciples? Are you spending time with Him? Are you operating in authority, boldness, and power? Are you seeking first the Kingdom? Are you laboring for the Kingdom’s sake? Have you laid down your life and taken up your cross to follow Him? Or have you taken the name Christian in vain?