The problem with ‘in your name we pray’

I’ve asserted before that there are no magic words for Christians to use to take hold of spiritual power. You can say “in Jesus’s name” with no power whatsoever if you’re not submitted to His authority, as some unfortunate would-be exorcists discovered in Acts 19.

Often when I hear people pray, and they top it off with “in Jesus’s name,” it sounds so formulaic that you wonder if they’re even conscious of the authority they’re supposed to be acknowledging, as opposed to merely mouthing a rote platitude that’s the equivalent of “bye” when you’re wrapping up a phone call.

So does it matter at all if people offer a variation such as “in your name” instead of “in Jesus’s name”? Well, assuming people mean the words they say and choose them for a reason, yes, it matters very much.

When Jesus tells us in John 14 that no one can come to the Father except through Him, the reason for this is that we are unpresentable to the Father because of our sin. We can only deem to enter His presence because Jesus Christ has the authority to declare us washed of our iniquity. When we declare that we are addressing the Father in Jesus’s name, what we’re really saying is that we’re under the authority of Jesus, so by and because of that authority – and only because of it – we can even presume to come to the Father.

When you say “in your name” as your prayer wrapup, you could defend your word choice in the technical sense that Jesus is God and is one with the Father. But I don’t think that really gets to what’s going on. In the context of the Trinity, the Son is distinct from the Father and serves a distinct purpose. One of His purposes is to exercise His authority to pronounce us clean from our sins, which is why He tells us we can only come to the Father through Him.

For that reason, I’m convinced it’s necessary to specifically acknowledge the Son as the authority by Whom we can enter into the presence of the Father. “In Jesus’s name” means we’re acknowledging that only by the authority of the Son can we even make an approach to the Father. When you say “in your name” instead, you’re really not addressing the specific and distinctive role of the Son as He taught us to do.

This does raise an interesting question, of course: Does God hear and accept the prayers of those who really have not submitted to the authority of Christ in their lives? This does happen, of course. Lots of people are willing to “say a prayer” under a given circumstance, or sometimes even have a moment of seriousness when they decide maybe they should talk to God. Their heart is not repentant and they haven’t accepted the need for the grace of Christ, but in that moment, they’re talking to God.

Does God allow this?

The answer to the question is that God is sovereign, and He knows what you’re thinking before you say it to Him. He is also a merciful God, and I know of many situations in which God has bestowed His favor upon nonbelievers in order to give them further chances to come into His true plan for their lives. So of course He hears you, and He just might give you some of what you want or need as a way of bringing you closer to Him.

But actually coming into the presence of God such that you can receive power through the Holy Spirit can only come when you do so in the name of Jesus Christ, because you have to be under His authority to operate in His authority. And only then are you really in communion with the Father.

So no, “in your name” is not really the best way to wrap up your prayer. It totally misses the line of authority we’re called to heed when we approach God.

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