What Does it Mean to Pray in the Name of Jesus?


Sam Storms:

Can we really believe the words of Jesus in John 14:14 when he declares: “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it”?

Twice in vv. 13-14 Jesus says you must pray “in my name”. What does that mean? Is Jesus telling us that all we have to do is attach the words, “In Christ’s name” at the end of each prayer and we will be guaranteed a positive answer? If that were the case, the words “in Christ’s name” or “in the name of Jesus” would function much like a magical incantation, no different from what a magician would do when he says “Abracadabra” or what the owner of a magic lamp would do to evoke the presence of a genie who would then grant him three wishes.

It’s important to note that one need not even repeat the words “in Christ’s name” to pray “in Christ’s name.” The perfect inflection of the word “Jesus” or “Christ” carries no weight. Praying in Christ’s name is less a form of precise words and more an attitude, a belief, an overall theology that says all I have is because of him and through him. It expresses utter dependence. Thus, you can pray “in Christ’s name” while remaining altogether silent.

We must never treat Christ’s name as if it were a formula that automatically or mechanically generates a positive answer. It is not a superstitious conclusion, like a magical spell that will infuse our prayers with a little extra zing. It is not a rabbit’s foot to hang on the end of a prayer to give it punch.

When you pray “in Christ’s name” you are declaring that the only reason why God should bother to listen and the only grounds on which you can draw near to the throne of grace is that you are trusting in the finality of Christ’s work on the cross, his resurrection, and his ascension to the right hand of the Father.

There are numerous other Christian activities that are done “in Christ’s name.” Demons are cast out in his name (Luke 10:17), which is to say, by virtue of his authority and power. Miracles are performed in his name (Acts 3:6; 4:10; 16:18), which I take to mean through his power and for his glory. Baptism is administered in the name of Jesus (Acts 10:48), church discipline is enforced in the name of Jesus (1 Cor. 5:4), and the gospel is preached in his name (Acts 9:27-28). Jesus later says in John 14:26 that the Father will send the Holy Spirit “in my name” (14:26). In 2 Thessalonians 3:6 Paul writes: “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He tell us in 1 Corinthians 6:11 that we are sanctified and justified “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” In fact, Paul tells us in Colossians 3:17 that whatever we do, in word or deed, we are to do it “in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

When it comes to prayer it simply means to approach the throne of grace fully aware of who we are, unworthy sinners whose only claim on God is because of the virtue and merit of Jesus. It is to pray conscious of the fact that we are in vital union with him.

It also means we are to pray in harmony with his person or character. It is to pray consistently with all we know to be true of him. It means we should never ask for something that is contrary to the purpose for which he came to earth or inconsistent with what we know he desires.

It means to pray in line with his own objectives and goals. It is to pray as if you were that person. It is to pray according to his will. It is to pray on the basis of the authority that Christ himself has given us.

Simply put, to pray in Christ’s name is to have his fame preeminent in your heart, not your own. It is to pray cognizant of his immeasurable worth and the sufficiency of his work on the cross in paying for your sins. Run every prayer through the filter of Christ’s name: will it honor him, will it promote his kingdom, will it make him more famous, will it enable me to live more effectively for his glory, is it in harmony with his mind and revealed will?

We pray in Jesus’ name and not in our own or in the name of any other person because we have no rights or claim to anything good apart from who Jesus is and what God has done for us through him. We are accepted by God because of Jesus. We are clothed in righteousness because of Jesus. We have access to the throne of grace because of Jesus. And so it goes for every blessing and good thing that we enjoy. It is only because of Jesus. Do you pray with that in your mind? You should. You must.

But doesn’t Jesus prohibit in John 16:23 what he commands in 14:14?

In John 14:13-14 he twice uses a Greek word (aiteo) which means “to make a request for something” or “to petition someone for a favor.” There is another word (erotao) that has the sense of “to interrogate” or “to ask a question” or “to seek information” from someone. Both words are used in John 16:23. The NASB makes this clear:

“And in that day you will ask me no question (erotao). Truly, truly, I say to you, if you shall ask (aiteo) the Father for anything, he will give it to you in my name.”

The shift in terms may only be stylistic. But if a distinction is to be maintained, John 16:23 is not concerned with prayer to Jesus, but refers to the disciples’ asking for information (see John 16:19 where erotao is used in a similar way). Thus it would be a desire for more knowledge or information, not favors in their relationship with Jesus. To this point in their relationship with Jesus the disciples had not prayed to him at all, but they had asked him a number of questions (John 13:6, 25, 36ff.; 14:5, 8, 22; 16:19). But “in that day” (16:23) that is to say, once Jesus has been raised and the Holy Spirit has been given to them, they will no longer need to ask the questions they used to ask, questions that reflected their ignorance and confusion. They will soon enjoy complete understanding.

So Jesus is not suggesting a day is coming when they will pray only to the Father and never to the Son. Rather the day is coming when the Spirit’s presence, on the one hand, will make unnecessary their interrogation of Christ, while on the other hand it will introduce the marvelous blessing of prayer to the Father in Christ’s name.

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.

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