The Careful Use of God’s Name

The humility and graciousness of God are evident in every one of his deeds among humans. One example is his willingness to reveal his name to Moses.

Exodus 3 describes the encounter between Moses and God at the burning bush. Some of the high moments of this meeting are below:

Exodus 3.3-6 – God met with Moses and told him that he was the “God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

Exodus 3.7-10 – God told Moses that he planned to free Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt and that Moses was to be his human instrument in the process.

Exodus 3.13-15Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”

He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:

This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.

It was out of love and grace that God revealed his name to humans. Why is that so?

What’s In a Name?

What is so special about a name? Why is it a loving and gracious act when God allows people to know his name?

(1) The name reveals the character of a person.

For example, Jesus means “God is salvation” and Peter means “Rock.”

God’s name, “I am who I am,” can be translated “I will continue to be what I always have been,” according to one of my Hebrew professors.

God’s name reveals his character as someone who is faithful at all times and in every situation.

Moses relied on God to deliver the people from Egyptian tyranny because he could count on God to fulfill his promise.

(2) The ancient world believed that if you knew a person’s name, it gave you power over that person.

To know the name of a god meant you may have some measure of power over that deity.

The tendency to use the power of a name to manipulate the gods to receive what we want from them is at the heart of the third commandment.

The Use of God’s Name

The third commandment was given to maintain a love relationship with God.

Commandment #3: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name (Deuteronomy 5.11).

The primary issue in this command is that we are prohibited from trying to have power over God to get what we want, by using his name in prayer.

Jesus makes clear the correct way to use God’s name. Let’s examine Jesus’ what he had to say.

John 14.13-14I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Jesus definitely wants us to use his name in prayer. His further teaching on prayer reveals that the name of Jesus should never be used as manipulation to get what we want.

John 15.7 – If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Instead of tacking on “in Jesus’ name” to our prayer, we pray with the attitudes and actions of Jesus’ character. We incorporate the character of Jesus in our prayers.

To abide in Jesus and his words is another way of describing how his character weaves its way into our prayers.

— John 15.8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Effective prayer does not use God’s name as a magic “Open Sesame” to our wishes. Instead, the proper use of Jesus’ name in prayer glorifies the Father and reveals that we are followers of Jesus.

John 15.9-10 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

The proper use of God’s name is rooted in love and is expressed in love.

The love we have for God prevents us from using his name to get our selfish desires fulfilled.

Common Failures with the Name

I wish I could say that I have never misused God’s name. I have often used his name in the wrong fashion and I hope examples from my life may help you think about ways you may have done the same as me.

— I have asked God to do things that benefit me, my family, or others and not considered Jesus’ teaching on prayer.

Instead of aligning my life with God’s word before praying, I just asked for what I wanted and concluded with “in Jesus’ name.”

When I was a child, I whined and begged my parents for toys or privileges without any thought of their feelings. As an adult, my childish behavior is revealed by how I try this tactic with God.

— On numerous occasions, I have prayed to impress people who were listening to my prayers, while losing sight that I was talking to God.

Jesus said this about hypocritical prayers: “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward” (Matthew 6.5).

Prayer was never designed to impress other people with our spirituality. Prayer is God’s gift to his children, so we can relate to him and bring our concerns to him.

— Any use of our so-called spiritual life to enhance our ego is a misuse of God’s name.

This is a particular temptation of the clergy. The chance to “show off” our spirituality can unconsciously take place.

There is much more at stake in our life with God than the tender egos of ministers.

Coach Jake Taylor, the pastor of Maywood Baptist Church, had an excellent sermon last Sunday that highlights the proper relationship with God.

He was speaking about John the Baptist and taught how John always pointed people to Jesus. At every opportunity, John turned the discussion to the absolute greatness of the Savior.

May we do the same.

About this Blog

Rudy Ross and I have a YouTube video on the third commandment. Rudy is an excellent Bible student and lover of God. Please check out our discussion on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel.

Peter Craigie has written an excellent commentary on Deuteronomy. Many of my thoughts are influenced by his writing.

Please email your prayer request to me at or private message me on Facebook. The Maywood prayer team will pray for you.

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