Our lives must bring honor to God by reflecting His holy and loving nature.
In ancient Hebrew culture, a person’s name was synonymous with his or her nature. To know the name was to understand the individual's personality. The nation of Israel believed this was also true of God. They held one name for God that was deemed so sacred that it was spoken only once a year by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies. When they wrote the name of God, they did not use any vowels, only consonants, out of reverence to The Name (YHWH).
The Israelites were reverent because God’s name was sacred—it reflected His character and essential nature. The Israelites dared not profane the name of God by speaking it flippantly or carelessly. It was to be revered, sanctified, and hallowed.
When we say “hallowed be Your name,” we’re saying: Show the world who You are. May the honor of Your name be of ultimate importance. Show the world Your real identity and character. Sanctify Your name and reveal Your true self. Let the whole world know that there is a God who has a good name.
God’s essential nature
So what is God’s essential character, His fundamental nature? The answer is that God is love, and God is holy.
Jesus came to reveal the Father’s nature by the life He lived and the words He spoke. Jesus prayed, “I have made Your name (essential nature) known to those whom You gave me from the world” (John 17:6 NRSV).
God’s “name” is holiness and love. God cannot not be holy, and God cannot not love. Why? Because these attributes are not merely God’s actions, they are God’s essence. They are not only what God does, they are who God is.
God’s “name” is holiness and love.
In his book The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith refers to a statement from a sermon written by the great Scottish preacher George MacDonald: Love loves unto purity. MacDonald skillfully merged God’s unending love with God’s pure holiness. Smith comments:
God loves us so much that He longs for us to be pure and works tirelessly to make us pure. God is against my sin because He is for me. And if I am for sin, God stands against those desires, because they cause my destruction.
If God did not love us, He would not discipline us, but because God loves us, He wants His essential nature to become ours. God wants us to experience holy love.
Tangible expressions of God’s holy love
To pray “hallowed be Your name,” then, is to say, Let my life represent who You are. Let the way I live bring You honor. Let me reflect Your glory.
Really, no distinction exists between true worship and ethical behavior. For when we pray for God’s name to be hallowed, we are asking God to sanctify us and to commission our lives as tangible expressions of His holy love.
Gregory of Nyssa believed that what Christians pray for in saying “hallowed be Your name” is an ability to mirror the characteristics of God so that anyone looking at us can see in us something of who God is. It is to pray: May the beauty of Your holiness and the power of Your love shine through my life. May my life be a living witness of the best of who You are.
The third commandment
Now we begin to understand the seriousness of the third commandment: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:7). Misusing the Lord’s name is more than an occasional curse word or vulgar swearing. It is misrepresenting the essential nature of who God is. Whenever we make God a rubber stamp for our causes or drag God into our crusades and call it holy, we have taken the Lord’s name in vain. For example:
- The Nazi soldiers of World War II had engraved on the buckles of their belts: Got Mit Uns (God is with us).
- A U.S. TV preacher said that Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on New Orleans.
- A news anchor stated that evangelical Christians were the people most likely to support torture.
- A report presented as statistical truth the statement that Christians are no less likely to cheat on their taxes, end their marriages, and gossip about their neighbors than anyone else.
It should make us sad when our Father’s name is misrepresented.
To pray “hallowed be Your name” is asking God to make His true character known. It is also asking God to bank His reputation on us. We pray it is so.
David A. Busic, General Superintendent
Please note: This article was originally published in 2016. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.