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« What Does It Mean to Pray in the Name of Jesus? | Home | Should Christians Say “In Jesus’ Name” at the End of Our Prayers? »

What Does It Mean to Pray in the Name of Jesus? Section 2

By Mark D. Roberts | Thursday, January 15, 2009

Part 3 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus’ Name
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

In my last post I showed that Jesus himself taught his followers to pray in his name. But he did not mean that they should say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of their prayers. Rather, to pray in Jesus’ name meant to pray in his authority or as his representative. Christians pray in the name of Jesus in that we come before God, not in our own righteousness, not because we have any claim upon God, but rather in the righteousness of Jesus, who opened up access for us to God.

When we pray in Jesus’ name as his representative, we pray that which reflects his values and vision. In order to do this well, we need to know Jesus intimately through Scripture and through the Spirit. We need to internalize his concerns and passions. None of us prays perfectly as Jesus’ representative, but the better we know him, the more we are able to pray in his name in this sense.

mark d. roberts howard buttAgain, an example might help. In my position as Senior Director of Laity Lodge, I often represent Laity Lodge and our founder, Howard E. Butt, Jr. For example, Howard had been slated to give a message at a Laity Lodge retreat in November, but he got a cold and couldn’t speak. He asked me to fill in for him. I did speak on the topic that Howard would have addressed, and I spoke in my own voice. But I thought about what Howard would say and how we would say it. I tried hard to represent his graciousness and enthusiasm, his love for God and for people. To use the biblical language, I was speaking “in Howard’s name,” both because I was speaking under his authority and because I was representing him. (Photo: Howard Butt and me at Laity Lodge)

The idea of acting in Jesus’ name is found in the New Testament, not only in the Gospels, but also in the letters of Paul. There we read, for example,

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:17)

When Paul wants to emphasize the authority of his command to the Thessalonians, he uses speaks in the name of Jesus:

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. (2 Thes 3:6)

Similarly, in the Book of Acts, when Peter seeks to heal a man who was lame from birth, he says,

“I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” (Acts 3:6)

Peter had not authority to heal in his own name. But as he functioned in the name, which is to say, under the authority of Jesus, he could do miracles.

The early Christian writings not only show the true meaning of praying in the name of Jesus, but also contain no prayer that ends with the phrase “in Jesus’ name” or something similar. The first Christians, including many who had known Jesus in the flesh, did not believe that Jesus wanted them to mention his name at the end of their prayers.

What I’m claiming in this blog post is nothing new. One of my commenters, RevK, pointed me to a couple of passages in the Westminster catechisms. The Larger Catechism includes two questions that have to do with praying in the name of Christ:

180. What is it to pray in the name of Christ?

To pray in the name of Christ is, in obedience to his command, and in confidence on his promises, to ask mercy for his sake; not by bare mentioning of his name, but by drawing our encouragement to pray, and our boldness, strength, and hope of acceptance in prayer, from Christ and his mediation.

181. Why are we to pray in the name of Christ?

The sinfulness of man, and his distance from God by reason thereof, being so great, as that we can have no access into his presence without a mediator; and there being none in heaven or earth appointed to, or fit for, that glorious work but Christ alone, we are to pray in no other name but his only.

The language might be a bit more careful and archaic than mine, but the point is very much like what I’ve been trying to make here.

So, if praying in Jesus’ name is not a matter of mentioning him specifically at the end of our prayers, should we actually say “in Jesus’ name” at the conclusion of our prayers, or does this somehow create confusion? I’ll address this question in my next post, before I move to the related issue of how Rick Warren should pray in the inauguration.

Topics: Praying in Jesus's Name |

3 Responses to “What Does It Mean to Pray in the Name of Jesus? Section 2”

  1. Karl Landstrom Says:
    January 15th, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    You write that Christians pray “in the name of Jesus.” That must be a minority of Christians, at least those in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), because the Book of Confessions of that denomination contemplates that prayer will be offered in the name of Christ. 7.098, 7.290, 7,291. The index to the Book of Confessions lists “Jesus of Nazareth,” and the text in part describes him as a Palestinian Jew, who lived among his own people and shared their needs, temptations, joys, and sorrows.” 9.08. That Jesus is distinguished from the risen Christ, the Savior for all men.” So the words “Jesus” and “Christ” or “Jesus Christ” are not synonyms, as you seem to employ them

  2. Mark Roberts Says:
    January 15th, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Karl: Thanks for your interesting and provocative comment.

    You are certainly correct that “Jesus” and “Christ” are not synonyms. “Jesus” is the English form of the Aramaic name Yeshua, which was the first name of the man we call Jesus. “Christ” is the English version of the Greek word “christos”, which means “anointed one,” and is the Greek version of the Hebrew word “maschiach,” which, in English, is Messiah. So Christians say “Jesus is the Christ,” meaning, at first, that he is the Messiah.

    But, from the very earliest times, the word “christos” or “Christ” became a name for Jesus. Thus both “Jesus” and “Christ” refer to the same person, the man from Nazareth who, because of his resurrection, was heralded as God’s Christ/Messiah (so Acts 2:32-36, etc.). Therefore, it is common for people to say “Christ walked on the water,” using “Christ” in reference to Jesus of Nazareth. It is equally common for people to say things like, “Jesus shall reign where e’er the sun doth his successive journeys run” (Isaac Watts). Of course “Jesus Christ,” which once meant “Jesus the Messiah,” also functions as the name of Jesus, who is the Christ. Thus Christians can say “I believe in Jesus” or “I believe in Christ” or “I believe in Jesus Christ” as if they are synonymous. Or we can pray “in the name of Jesus” or “in the name of Christ.” At any rate, both “Jesus” and “Christ” refer now to the same being, the second member of the Trinity who is God the Son. It is in his name we pray, whether we use the name Jesus, or the name Christ, or not.

    You could reference here, for example, the Apostles’ Creed, where “Jesus Christ” is clearly the same one who was “born of the Virgin Mary” and “Suffered under Pontius Pilate” and who “ascended into Heaven” where he now “sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”

    Or you could reference the Heidelberg Catechism, Question 34:

    Why is Jesus called Christ, that is, the Anointed One?
    Because He is ordained by God the Father and anointed with the Holy Spirit (Ps. 45:7; Heb. 1:9; Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:18) to be our Prophet-Teacher (Deut. 18:15; Acts 3:22; 7:32; Isa. 55:4) fully revealing to us the secret purpose and will of God concerning our redemption (John 1:18; 15:15), to be our only High Priest (Ps. 110:4), having redeemed us by the one sacrifice of His body (Heb. 10:12, 14; 9:12, 14, 28) and continually interceding for us with the Father (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 9:24; 1John 2:1; Rom. 5:9, 10), and to be our eternal King, governing us by His Word and Spirit, and defending and preserving us in the redemption He has won for us (Ps. 2:6; Zech. 9:9; Matt. 21:5; Luke 1:33; Matt. 28:18; John 10:28; Rev. 12:10, 11).

  3. Ray Says:
    January 15th, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Karl, can you help me understand the point you’re making? You seem to be saying that the historic Jesus of Nazareth and the divine Christ cannot be one in the same. Yet the references you cited both make the claim that Jesus was/is fully God and fully man. Sorry to be so dense, but I’m lost here. You might be onto an interesting point, but I’m not quite following your argument. Would you mind trying again to help me get what you’re saying? Thanks!


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