START Your Prayers “In Jesus’ Name” (2 of 2)

In the previous post (which you should read prior to this one), I touched on the wonderful theology that is encapsulated in the phrase “in Jesus’ name.” I urged you (a) to understand what the phrase means and (b) to practice applying it by opening your prayers by reviewing and confessing the truths it communicates. I also suggested that doing so would help avoid two errors to which believers are prone. So, what are those errors?

1. We too often don’t pray because of unwarranted condemnation.

I believe that many believers struggle when praying—or simply avoid praying—because they feel unworthy. They’re more aware of their sin than of God’s grace. A very dear friend recently shared this perspective with me: “Who am I, that God should bother listening to me?” Although such an understanding of God’s holiness and our lowliness could be healthy, it becomes destructive when it directs us away from Christ in shame rather than toward Christ in gratitude that His precious blood cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). While it is certainly true that our prayers will be unheard if we are in the midst of unconfessed sin (Psalm 66:18), the solution to that dilemma is not to wait until you are sinless before you pray (which would be difficult, as dead people don’t pray well), but to appropriate the provision of forgiveness of sin God has already provided through the finished work of Christ (1 John 2:1-2). We must run to the cross as our only standing place at all times, but especially when seeking God in prayer. In other words, we must pray in Jesus’ name.

If, then, you feel unworthy to pray, your feeling is actually backed up by reality. You are unworthy to pray. Nevertheless, Christ is worthy of an audience with the Father—He is the Father’s beloved and well-pleasing Son!—and He has made you worthy by virtue of His blood and imputed righteousness (or passive and active obedience; see here and here). Thus, you claim His name and authority in prayer, not your own. You use His key to gain access into the holy of holies.

Rather than giving up on prayer because you feel unworthy, turn from condemnation to Christ. Learn to pray in Jesus’ name. What hope and joy you will find in doing so! What relief! Charitie L. Bancroft got it exactly right:

“When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon [and welcome! and hear!] me.”

That brings us to the second error.

2. We too often pray with unwarranted confidence.

This error is very like the first. Though the two seem to be opposites, they stem from the same misunderstanding. Indeed, they’re two sides of the same coin. If we wrongly believe that we are unwelcome to pray because of our disobedience, we will also wrongly believe that we are (at least occasionally) welcome to pray because of our obedience.

Be honest: how often have you convinced yourself that you were “on praying ground” because you had had what you considered to be a good week—maybe you hadn’t engaged in a particular habit, you had kept up with your devotions, you had witnessed to a friend, you had kept your temper in check, etc. Of course, the truth is that you’ve never had a “good week”—not from God’s perspective, anyway. Even so, such a thought process (and it is a common one!) reveals that your confidence is misplaced. Indeed, your belief that God sits up and takes notice of you because of your commendable performance is nothing but legalism.

Now, I use that term legalism advisedly. Legalism isn’t merely having conservative standards, despite the careless way in which the word is commonly used. Rather, it’s believing that your standing with God is based upon your spiritual performance. So Roman Catholicism with its theology of works salvation is an obvious example of legalism. More subtle, however, is the idea that you are either acceptable to God (and therefore ready to pray) because you’ve been good or unacceptable to God because you’ve not.

C. J. Mahaney describes this misguided idea in his excellent chapter on legalism in Living the Cross Centered Life. (By the way, that chapter is worth the price of the book!) Having compared a legalistic, performance-based understanding of the Christian life to a frantic show business plate spinner, Mahaney makes the following applications:

“When Sunday morning comes, we’ll sing and praise God in church with evident sincerity and zeal when we’ve had a really good week—with not a single plate wobbling.

But on another Sunday, following a week in which several plates crashed, we’re hesitant to approach God and find it difficult to worship freely. We can’t escape the feeling that God disapproves of us. Our confidence is no longer in the gospel; it’s based instead on our own performance, and when that performance slides, so does our peace and joy.” (115)

What Mahaney says about public worship is equally true of private prayer. We believe that we’re welcome at the throne of grace (ironically named, no?) because we’ve earned access by our goodness. We likewise believe that we’re excluded from the throne of grace because we’ve forfeited access by our badness. Thank the Lord that we’re wrong on both counts!Our access into the presence of God is based entirely on the Lord Jesus Christ, whether on our worst day or our best.

We need to learn the gospel. We need to believe it. We need to apply it, even to our prayers. And when we do, we’ll pray in Jesus’ name—and mean it!

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks for the great post, Chris – very appreciated…

  2. Glad it was helpful for you, Richard. What an amazing theme on which to meditate.

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