In the KJV of the Bible, we read: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain." Exodus 20:7
According to Strong's Concordance, the Hebrew word translated here as "vain" can also mean empty, false and worthless. The NLT renders this same verse as: "You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name." Hence, the sense of the commandment in the original Hebrew is one of abusing God's name or not using it in a manner that is worthy of God's holiness and greatness.
Thus we might well ask: What constitutes acceptable or unacceptable usage of the Divine name? There are numerous instances in Scripture where the phraseology is employed that someone "called on the name of the Lord." Hence, we might logically conclude that calling on God or praying to Him/Her is a good thing, but is it always? Jesus Christ once said: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." Matthew 7:21-23 So it is possible to call on the name of the Lord, or claim to be working in His name, and not really be doing so. Christ clearly said that it is possible for someone to falsely claim to be doing something in the name of the Lord. How is that possible? By not performing (or being in accord with) God's will!
Indeed, many wicked things have been done in God's name down through the centuries. People have prophesied things in God's name that did not happen. People have initiated wars of extermination in the Lord's name. People have persecuted and tortured other people in God's name (note the history of how Catholics and Protestants have treated each other down through the ages). People have burned people at the stake in the name of the Lord. They have shunned, excommunicated and disfellowshipped each other in God's name. Nevertheless, we recognize that all of these things were wrong because they were inconsistent with God's will and character - they were not worthy of His name!
However, many of the people who have engaged in these behaviors were very sincere. They did not see themselves as evil or bad people. Indeed, many of them saw themselves as doing the Lord's work. While they were pulling someone apart on the rack or watching the flames consume someone, they thought that they were saving that person's soul and doing a service for God!
Jeremiah was right when he wrote: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it." Jeremiah 17:9 John was correct when he wrote that Satan has deceived the entire world. Revelation 12:9 This is not a new problem. The Pharisees of Christ's day thought that they were God's children and doing God's work, but Christ told them that they were Satan's children. John 8:41-44
Thus, we should all be very careful in what we claim to be doing in the Lord's name. We should all ask ourselves: Is this consistent with God's character and personality? Is this consistent with God's will? If not, then maybe we should consider amending our course. After all, we don't want to be guilty of abusing the name of the Lord.