When people use God’s name as an idiomatic expression of surprise or sincerity, they reduce it to a common slang word and empty it of all its worth. This is taking the LORD’s name in vain, which is a sin according to God’s law.
God’s name is precious. And calling on His name is something the Bible urges us to do. But what about when we casually use His name to express surprise or dismay at something? “Oh my God!” and “On God!” are expressions used all the time—so much so that many people don’t give them a moment’s thought.
Let’s learn about calling on God’s name and how to declare an oath according to the Bible in a way that honors and glorifies God.
Saying “Oh My God” or “On God”
The LORD feels strongly about how people use His name. His name is precious and is to be used carefully, in worship, with a heart attitude of humility, dependence, and awe. He commanded the nation of Israel to not take His name in vain (use it in a worthless, casual way). It is a sin—an act of rebellion against God.
Exodus 20:7 (ESV) “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.”
Even though this command was given thousands of years ago, God does not change (Mal 3:6), and how He feels about His name won’t change either.
How to “Swear” or Make a Promise
It is tempting to use God’s name as a vow of your sincerity when making a promise or declaring the truth, but saying “on God” is not necessary according to God’s Word. Simply speak the truth and allow your character to defend it. Don’t fall into the habit of swearing on something else.
Matthew 5: 34-37 (ESV) But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
God grants us every breath we take, He asks us to testify to that when we make plans. Simply put, don’t make promises that aren’t 100% up to you. You cannot control the future—only God is sovereign; the future is in His hands. The Bible outlines a simple but humble approach to making plans and sharing them with others.
James 4:13-15 (ESV) Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
Calling on the Name of God
We know it isn’t right to say God’s name carelessly or use it to validate a promise. So, when is it right to call on the name of God? The Bible is full of references to calling on His name—and this simple act of faith can radically change your life. Let’s take a closer look.
Call on the Name of the Lord for Salvation
You call on the name of God when you acknowledge your complete dependence on Him and stand in awe of who He is (the essence of His being) according to the Bible. We are to call on His name alone for rescue and reconciliation when we become aware of our sin—sin that leads to death (Rom 6:23)—and our great need for His salvation.
Romans 10:13 (ESV) For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Calling on the name of the Lord is a life-saving and life-changing choice when you realize that there is nothing you can do to be good enough for God. But be sure that your heart is right before the Lord. Placing your faith in God, being united with Christ in His death and resurrection, should completely change your life, your dreams, and your desires.
Matthew 7:21 (ESV) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Call on the Name of God in Worship
We are to call on His name in worship when we marvel at His majesty and holiness and when we remember His faithfulness and kindness to us. This pattern was established right in the beginning, in Genesis.
Gen 13:4 (ESV) To the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord.
Call on the Name of God in Distress
We can also call on God’s name in our distress. While a very different situation, crying out to God recognizes Him as sovereign—He is supremely in control of all things. Even Jesus called on the name of God while on the cross (Mark 15:34).
Lamentations 3:55 (ESV)
“I called on your name, O Lord,
from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea, ‘Do not close
your ear to my cry for help!’
Calling on His name provides comfort and peace as you live out your life trusting in Him alone. Can you see how precious His name is? Christian, don’t use it carelessly. Cherish it. And call on Him daily in worship and in faith.
What if I Say “Oh My God” or “On God” and It’s a Habit?
The good news is that God knows the depths of your heart, and these are just words. That said, you should try to be more aware of what’s coming out of your mouth – because it does matter. Ask some friends to help you and hold you accountable to using speech that honors Him and makes much of others.
But more importantly than not saying some certain words, we should live lives that don’t take the Lord’s name in vain. The command in the Torah is about far more than some words we mutter. Not taking the Lord’s name in vain is about living a life worthy of the calling. He’s called you to follow Him. Live (and talk) like it.