Jesus gave His followers the special privilege of using His name, and we must use it properly!
"In Jesus' name." You've seen that often — probably too often. It is one of the most overused — and misunderstood — of the religious sounding phrases that are so casually used today. Sometimes people writing in to one of our offices requesting literature will sign their letters "in Jesus' name." Others put it on greeting cards or other casual correspondence. They mean no harm, of course. They probably think that they are demonstrating their faith and belief in Jesus Christ. But stop and think about it a moment. What does "in Jesus' name" mean?
What's in a name?
When you do anything in someone else's name, you're doing it in his stead, or by his authority. For instance, I had to send my passport to an embassy in Washington, D.C. to obtain a visa. I was not able to pick it up personally. But a passport is an important document, and the embassy was not about to hand it over to just anyone who asked for it. So I had to give a friend a letter giving him permission to pick up the passport "in my name" — that is, in my stead, but with my authority. A name, then, is very important. And God's name is the most important name of all. The third of the 10 great commandments warns that we must never take the name of God in vain (Exodus 20:7). Strange, isn't it, how television and film censors who insist that certain four-letter words are removed from scripts don't blink an eye when the names of God and Jesus Christ are bandied about as expletives? A Christian, of course, would not make that mistake. That kind of blasphemy belongs firmly in the past. But even Christians can be guilty of taking the Lord's name in vain (that is, for no good purpose) if they get into the habit of using it too casually. When you write to a friend, or even write to us for free literature, are you really doing it in Jesus' name? No. It is in your own name, on your behalf and on your own authority. You don't need Jesus' permission to do it. A letter truly representing Jesus Christ, coming from one who has the office and authority to write it, is a different matter. Paul wrote his epistles "in Jesus' name." These letters from an apostle to the Church had the full authority of God — they were to be taken seriously. They weren't casual correspondence. On the other hand, there is little cause for the average person to write "in Jesus' name" — most of our regular correspondence just does not need to carry that weight of authority. "Well, OK," you might say, "but what about Colossians 3:17?" There Paul wrote, "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus." Paul obviously didn't mean that everything you do and everything you say had to literally be labeled "in Jesus' name." That would become ridiculous. So what did he mean?
Ambassadors for Christ
Paul understood that when God calls someone out of this world to prepare in thought, word and deed for life in the world tomorrow, that person has a heavy responsibility. He must no longer live the way he previously lived, according to the customs and life-styles of this world. He must now set an example — by following the example of Christ. In a very real sense, God's people represent Him. Paul showed that a Christian is an ambassador for Christ (II Corinthians 5:20). That carries a responsibility. An ambassador represents his government in a foreign country. He must represent the values, standards, policies, politics and attitudes of his country. It is the same with an ambassador for Christ. When Jesus Christ was on earth He did not just represent Himself. "I have come in My Father's name," He explained (John 5:43). When people asked Jesus what God was like, He replied, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). He was not saying that He was physically identical to His Father in heaven. He meant: "If you have seen the way I act, watched the way I do things, observed the laws I keep and the way I handle my life, then you have seen what God is like." It was a massive responsibility Jesus took seriously. It is now a responsibility that Jesus Christ has given to those called to follow Him. He told His disciples, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him" (John 14:23). Jesus said He would commit Himself to helping someone who had accepted the responsibility to live by the Word of God. It was another way of saying that He would live in or through them. They would not necessarily have to go out preaching the Gospel, feeding 5,000, walking on water, healing lepers or the other things that Jesus literally did. God has not called most of His people to do that at this time. Most live fairly ordinary lives. But whatever sort of life you live, you must live it as if Jesus Christ were living it. You must represent the laws and attitudes of God in your daily life. What a tragedy that so many millions who claim to be Christians represent Christ by killing, stealing, cheating and lying. In Northern Ireland two peoples, both claiming to believe in Jesus Christ, bomb, kill and maim each other. In the Middle East Christian groups commit acts of terrorism. In many countries political parties put the word Christian into their names, but then proceed to wheel and deal, politic and fight just as dirty as anyone else. And all "in Jesus' name." But a true Christian must really represent Jesus Christ and the standards and values of the Kingdom of God, of which Christ is the soon-coming King. That is why Paul instructed us, "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17). It is not a responsibility to take lightly.
How you should use Jesus' name
There is one way we all should use the name of Jesus Christ regularly — when we pray. Just before Jesus was crucified, He gave His true followers a special privilege. Jesus had a special link with God. When He needed something, whether it was a small coin to pay the Temple tax or enough bread to feed a multitude, all He had to do was to ask, and God supplied what was needed. He didn't need to make long, ritualistic prayers like the religious leaders of the day did. He just asked. So the disciples came to depend upon Jesus Christ's contact with heaven. But now He was going away. So He explained to them that they, too, could have that same contact with God. "Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you," He stated (John 16:23-24). Think what this means. You might be a nobody, but if you had a letter from the leader of your country giving you authority to use his name, it would gain you access to some of the most important and powerful men on earth. Jesus Christ has given you the privilege of using His name. Next to the name of the Father Himself, Jesus' name is the most important name in all the universe (Philippians 2:9). Jesus has immediate access to the Father. He can, so to speak, "get in to see Him" anytime. The great Being who rules this universe always has time to listen to Jesus Christ. Jesus gave His people permission to use His name so that they could also go and talk to the Father.
You will be heard
God does not hear every prayer. He does not waste time listening to halfhearted, empty, vain repetitions or endless formal chants. He is not impressed with pious-sounding but empty phrases. He is not going to have His mind swayed by massed choirs or a babble of tongues. He can't be forced to act by people beating themselves with whips or risking their lives handling serpents or dancing on hot coals, as some seem to think. But the quiet, sincere, fervent, unselfish prayer of a humble person who comes to Him confidently in Jesus' name — that God will listen to. You can't see God or Jesus Christ — yet. But they are alive. And when you kneel before God's throne it is as if Jesus Christ, sitting at His right hand, nods approvingly. He knows who you are. And He has given you the right to ask whatever you want in His name. God will hear. The answer to your prayer may not be an immediate "yes." Sometimes the answer is "wait." Sometimes the answer even has to be "no." But God will listen. Your prayer will not be ignored, and you will have the right to go back before that throne of power and grace to seek God's help at any time. That is the very special privilege of those who have been permitted to use the name of Jesus Christ. Guard it carefully.