ONE SUNDAY MORNING ONE OF OUR ELDERS led the congregation in intercession. He opened something like this, “Father, you are utterly holy. Your presence can bear no sin. Even the mountains and hills, corrupted by human, sin will flee from you on the day of final judgment. We confess that we are sinful, that we have no right to approach you or even speak to you. But we also confess that you sent us a mighty Mediator—your Son Jesus Christ. The imputation of his righteousness, and the satisfaction of your justice through his atoning death qualifies us to approach you in intercession. After his opening prayer, he spent about three minutes leading the congregation in intercession for various needs. However, when finished he did not end with the customary phrase “In Jesus Name we pray. Amen!”

Afterwards, a concerned friend approached me. Why didn’t he finish, “In Jesus Name?”  To my friend this phrase was an evangelical ritual—like when basketball players make the sign of the cross before shooting free throws.

Pray In Jesus Name!

My friend was onto an important principle. God wants us to pray in Jesus name. He promises big benefits to those who do.

“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13).

“So that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (John 15:16).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:23–24).

These texts beg an important question. What does it actually mean to pray in Jesus’ name? Will God refuse to hear our prayers unless we conclude, “In Jesus name?” Or does it mean something deeper? I want to suggest the latter. We can end our prayers, “In Jesus Name,” and have no idea why we pray that way, or what we are actually saying when we do so. We can also meet the requirements of praying in Jesus name without ending it with those words.

God is holy. In his moral purity he is ineffable, unapproachable, and transcendent.

My best understanding is that prayer in Jesus’ name means prayer in utter dependence upon the gospel for any and all access to the Father. Prayer in Jesus Name assumes three powerful biblical truths. First, God is holy. Second, we are not. Third, we therefore pray in total dependence upon a Mediator.  “Prayers in his name,” notes Dr Carson “are prayers that are offered in thorough accord with all that his name stands for…and in recognition that the only…way to God…is Jesus himself.”

God Is Holy

God is holy. In his moral purity he is ineffable, unapproachable, and transcendent. Holiness means he is utterly intolerant of sin or evil, even in the smallest degree. We know of nothing comparable to God in his holiness. “There is no one holy like the Lord,” exclaimed Hannah (1 Samuel 2:2).  The angels worship in amazement: “Who will not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy” (Revelation 15:4). Everything in proximity to God is made holy by his presence, Holiness adorns his house (Psalm 93:5).

That is why God commanded Isaiah to honor him as holy, to fear him, and even to dread him (8:13). God sits on a holy throne (Psalm 47:8). Even his name is “holy and awesome” (Psalm 111:9). In fact, holiness is his splendor or his beauty (Psalm 29:2). That is why the Cherubim that surround God’s throne never stop singing day and night. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8).

God’s holiness separates him from sinners. Because he is holy no one can see him face to face and live. When his holy presence filled the wilderness tabernacle even Moses was unable to enter (Exodus 40:35). Because of their irreverence, sacred fire proceeded from God’s presence and struck down Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10). When Uzza touched the Ark in a way not sanctioned by the law he was immediately put to death. So Miriam, after the Red Sea Crossing, led the Israelites in song, “Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11).

All of this means one thing. Nothing in creation, and nothing in our relationships with people can prepare us for the shock of divine holiness that will confront us on the day of final judgment

We Are Not Holy

The second truth that “praying in Jesus name” presumes is the simple truth that we are not holy. Jesus ended the first part of the Sermon on the Mount with this straight forward command. “You therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This was not a suggestion. Jesus did not think of  it as a good idea. It was not a lofty goal to shoot for. It was a commandment. It is something we must do. Failure to be holy as God is holy is damming. It creates an immediate barrier between us and God. None of us have carried out God’s law in any but the most partial way. We are not holy, and there is no flexibility here.

We Need A Mediator

God’s holiness and our lack means one thing. No one can approach the utterly holy God we serve for intercession or worship without a Mediator. To presume to do so is insulting to God. It is an act of heinous arrogance.

“Praying in Jesus name” presumes the simple truth that we are not holy. We need a Mediator”

But there is good news. God has given us a glorious Mediator, a Savior able to bridge the gap between this holy God and our sinful selves.

Mediation is exactly what Paul had in mind when he admonished his disciple, Timothy. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5–6). We can approach God’s throne in worship or intercession because Jesus mediates our relationship with his Father. We could say so much about this, but we will limit ourselves to two facts.

First, Christ is our justice. When a Believer puts their faith in Christ, his death on the cross becomes the punishment that we deserve. Jesus takes the Father’s wrath in our place. God’s justice is satisfied and his holy wrath is exhausted.

Second, Christ is our righteousness. Our faith in Christ unites us with him in such a way that his holiness becomes ours. He is the only person who has ever been “perfect as his heavenly Father was perfect.” Our humility, expressing itself as faith, motivates God to see us perfect as his Son is perfect. Our heavenly Father welcomes with delight everyone willing to approach him this way. “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:21-23). This is what it means to pray in Jesus name. It means approaching God with a posture of humility, confessing that I can only approach through the merits of a Mediator.  

Therefore, I come to him in humility, fear, and reverence confessing God’s holiness, my unholiness, and his desire to be approached through faith in the Mediator that he has provided.

This makes God happy. He wants to be approached. He loves his children, and that is why he has opened the door of access to himself, a door which would otherwise be totally closed. What it cost God to open this door was infinite. Therefore, God invites us to come in Jesus Name. He wants us to come. He is delighted when we come this way. But he is deeply offend when we try to come any other way. All of this is what John Piper had in mind when he wrote—

“The first mark of the upright heart whose prayers please the Lord is brokenness, contrition, humility, trembling. In other words, what makes a heart upright and what makes prayers pleasing to God is a felt awareness of our tremendous need for mercy…We have a God whose nature is such that what pleases Him is not our work for Him, but our need for Him.”[1]

And, in his book, Engaging With The Holy Spirit, Graham Cole writes.

“For to pray to the Father in the name of the Son in reliance upon the Spirit is to rehearse the very structure of the gospel: the sending of the Son by the Father, the sending of the Spirit of the Son from the Father, and our response through the one mediator between God and humankind.”[2]

So, are you praying this way? Is this your attitude? Do you know what it means to pray in Jesus Name? It is not a set of words added to the end of public prayer. It is faith in the three principles mentioned above. It is good to end your prayers “In Jesus name we pray” if by those words you mean submission to the three principles above.

Prayer in Jesus Name is a heartfelt attitude of deepest humility and joy. This is not the broad way that leads to destruction. It is the narrow gate that leads to the narrow path that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14). Although few take it, I trust you are on it.

[1] Piper, John, the Pleasures of God, pg 214,15 (Sisters, Ore, Multnomah, 2000)

[2] Graham A. Cole, Engaging with the Holy Spirit, (Wheaton, Cro40:35). ssway, 2008), pg 64-65