When I was in college, I worked in Indiana Wesleyan’s Admissions. Part of our job was to call prospective students and remind them of forms they still needed. I had called a student and was leaving a message. “This is Josh Hilty calling from Indiana Wesleyan. Hope you’re doing well. It looks like you need to turn in ______ and then we can process your application.” All was going fine until it was time to hang up. That’s when it happened.
“In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
That’s what I said. And then I hung up and belly laughed with my boss.
It is an understatement to say that Christians in my tradition have been taught to end their prayers with this phrase. The biblical teaching underlying this is found in Jesus’ words in John 14:13-14 and 15:16 and 16:23-24.
- John 14:13-14 “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
- John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”
- John 16:23-24 “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”
We have obviously taken Jesus’ commands literally. About these verses in John, Eugene Peterson comments,
“Was Jesus giving us a magical ‘Open sesame’ that would get us anything we wanted? Hardly. He was inviting us into his entire life, a life of intimate personal relationships in which his words ‘became flesh’—not in general, but in a local and present and particular way in all the various circumstances that make up everyday living.”
To pray in Jesus’ “name” means that we are drawing on and entering into the entire life and world of Jesus. So we pray in Jesus’ name anytime we are praying for something that we know Jesus would pray for if He were on earth. We are praying out of the relationship with have with Christ when His concerns and passions for our world overflow in our longings and words and actions.
What this means is that tagging that little phrase onto the end of our prayers means nothing if the content and attitude of our prayers is not aligned with the life of Christ. It also means that if you forget to say those words at the end of your prayer, your prayer is not any less effective or any less Christ-like than if you had remembered to say it. You are still praying “in the name of” Jesus.
Richard Foster also reminds us that to pray in Jesus’ name means that we have full assurance of His completed work on our behalf. Our prayers don’t matter if He had not died on the cross, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and sat down with the Father.
So keep praying, and watch how you end your voicemails!
I cannot think of a time I have said used the language of abiding or remaining to describe a friendship. I’ve never told my wife that one of us is a vine and the other a branch. It’s funny language that seems to be almost redundant, unnecessary. Why would Jesus, in the moments before His arrest and death, talk this way?
Maybe because he was going to the Father.
Maybe because he knew the real temptation the Twelve would have to walk away from all they had known in the past three years with him.
Or maybe because Jesus knew that the only way his disciples would have life and bear fruit would be in their attachment to him, not to anything else, including the Judaism they had grown up in.
John 15:1-4 says,
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
Jesus begins by saying He is the “true vine.” Why? In the Old Testament, Israel was called a vine. Vines were on some of its coins, too. In every instance in the Old Testament, Israel as vine meant Israel was being judged by God. For example, in Hosea 10:1-2, God says, “Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself. As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones. Their heart is deceitful, and now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will demolish their altars and destroy their sacred stones.”
Thus, when Jesus calls himself the true vine, he is saying that he can do what Israel failed to do: produce fruit out of a faithful relationship with God. And those who are connected to him will do the same. This connection with Jesus produces eternal life in his “branches,” in us, and it is this eternal kind of life being lived now that results in fruit.
Jesus says these words on the night of his betrayal. They are some of his last words to his disciples who would, after seeing his suffering and death, be tempted to at the very least question how this metaphor works. How do you remain in a dead Messiah? How do you stay connected to your dead Master? And what if the remaining, abiding relationship you have with him results in your own suffering and death?
Paul’s words of being found in him speak to this. Philippians 3:8-12 says,
8What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Now we turn to a transformation of the will. The will is something that God gives humans so that they might create new things. The will is what makes each person unique. It is our capacity to create new things, concepts, events. It comes from us alone. It is part of being made in God’s image for us to have a will. It is the nature of the spiritual to be self-determined. Without elevating our will to the sinful place Americans give it–freedom being the ultimate right–we must recognize that God created us to have free will, un-coerced by outside wills to some extent.
N.T. Wright says that people tend to focus on outward behavior rather than on the will. In doing this, they opt for one of two things:
- Obey rules imposed from the outside
- Discover the deepest longings of your heart and try to be true to them.
Neither of these is a valid approach to life. The will must be shaped and aligned with God’s will. Both of those options are shortcuts to a life of character and virtue. They want what virtue offers without the hard work–yes, I said hard work–required to become a person of character.
For example, the person with a rules-based mentality knows what to do but does not have the power to follow through. Wright says, “We must search for the larger framework within which appropriate rules may play their proper, though ultimately subordinate, part” (After You Believe, p. 45). Maybe the rules are only signposts pointing us to a larger purpose, a grander end, that God wants for us. Maybe we need them but not in the way we’ve been taught to need them.
For those who choose option 2, the problem becomes when the longings of one’s heart are wicked and cruel. What if one’s “true self” really just wants to steal? To have an affair? What then? The more they choose to be “authentic” in this way, the more they will become this person in habitual ways and their wills will indeed be shaped inwardly. The heart cannot transform itself by looking inwardly; the answers to life’s deep questions about purpose and meaning are never found by simple meditation and authenticity, no matter how well-intentioned the thought.
“Certainly the will of a spiritual being is the one thing in his creation that God chooses not to override and force to take on a specific character…. It has its choice–though it does not have its choice of the consequences of choosing what it wants. And one of the consequences of choosing what one wants without regard to God’s will is enslavement to one’s own self-conflicted will. On the path of self-will people eventually come to the place where they cannot choose what God wants and cannot want God” (Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p. 146).
Willard is saying that the effects of habitual choice of what you want are only being able to choose what you want. You eventually lose sight of God and are unable to do what He wants.
Before this happens though, most of us live lives of duplicity. Our wills are fragmented. If we think about the choices we make in a given day, we have varied motives and thought processes that go into making them. Our duplicity begins to manifest itself in deception, where we pretend to feel and think something when we really don’t. We do what we want to do but hide it because we’re afraid of being found out.
We don’t exercise our wills unless we’ve first used our minds. The mind and will are connected. The will or heart can change the thoughts and feelings that are available in our future choices. But we must first have those new thoughts and feelings through new information.
In John 8:28-29, Jesus says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”
Jesus’ will was aligned with His Father’s will. It was not that He did not have His own will–Jesus could have sinned against God just like any one of us. But He did what pleased His Father. “Single-minded and joyous devotion to God and his will, to what God wants for us–and to service to him and to others because of him–is what the will transformed into Christlikeness looks like” (Willard, p. 143).
But how do we go from self-will or duplicity to being aligned with God’s will? According to Willard, it means…
- Surrender. We begin by surrendering our will to God’s will, telling God that we really want Him to be God. We stop asking God to bless us while still living life as we wish.
- Abandonment. We move beyond surrender to abandonment when we not only want God to be God, but surrender to every circumstance of life as happening within God’s permission. We do not gripe and complain when bad things happen to us, but remember that there is no suffering that God cannot use for our good. We choose not to fight against God when we suffer but embrace God (and even the suffering) for we know He is working in it for our good.
- Contentment. We are grateful and rejoice in our “lot in life.” We are content with surrendering to God, and so duplicity becomes a thing of the past.
- Participation. Somewhere along the line, we choose (or we have chosen) to participate with God to see His will played out in the world. “The strongest human will is always the one that is surrendered to God’s will and acts with it” (Renovation of the Heart, p. 152).
What do you think?
These initial posts on an ordo salutis certainly are fun. Last time we wrote about original sin. In doing so, we presupposed an earlier post about humanity being made in the image of God; Genesis 1-2 are the starting point, not Genesis 3. I post about sin here first because before turning to God in Christian spiritual formation, we must turn from our sin. And before we can do that, we must be made aware of our sin.
Because we are dead to God, have made ourselves into gods and goddesses, and are helpless to change, conviction of sin does not come from within. A person whose heart stops beating needs someone else to yell, “Clear,” and zap them.
It comes from without, from the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples that when he left, he would send the Holy Spirit. “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment; in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned” (John 16:8-11 NIV). At this beginning stage of the transformation process, the Spirit is at work to both make us aware that we’re living in sin and to convict us about it.
God can make us aware of sin through a variety of ways [not an exhaustive list]: a passage of Scripture that cuts us to the heart (in our own reading or in corporate reading), in hearing the story of another Christian who struggles with the same sin (similar to Nathan’s story to David in 2 Samuel 12, only a real-life story rather than a parable), from a book we’re reading, or at the moment of transgression when there’s no arguing that I sinned.
If the Spirit is truly convicting us, he will remind us of a Scripture passage that we already know, or of the nature of God, or of God’s love for us simultaneously with our realization of sin.
Conviction is generally thought of in negative terms: guilt, getting caught in sin, etc. But in its real sense, conviction is an indication that our hearts are sensitive enough for God to touch them. Conviction is a positive experience in this way. One of the key indicators that you are being convicted is that God will let you know about your sin in both grace and truth. Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. This applies to conviction, I believe, in that God does not hammer us with how bad we’ve been, causing depression and grief, but with clarity and truth, bringing the reality of what we’ve done to the fore of our minds so we can respond to it.
Here are two places in Scripture where we read of conviction.
- In Isaiah 6, Isaiah responds to God’s holiness by saying, “Woe is me!”
- In Acts 2, after hearing Peter’s sermon, the Jewish audience was “cut to the heart” and asked, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).