"In His Name"
(Delivered Sunday, July 1, 2001 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
Throughout recorded history, navigators and those who have sailed across the seas have relied upon a point - fixed in the evening sky - by which they charted their routes and determine their positions. They've looked to the north star - a conspicuous star in the northern hemisphere; sometimes called the "polestar" because it roughly marks the location of the north celestial pole. Today, we recognize this star to be the outmost star on the handle of the Little Dipper - Polaris. Sailors could always tell where they were, and where they were supposed to go, by looking to the north star.
Today, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I'd like to present something of a "north star" to you. It's not one to guide you across the sea; but rather, one to guide you in everyday life. It's not a fixed point by which you can determine your location on the globe; but rather, one by which you can determine what your conduct should be in the various circumstances you meet with in this world. It's a single verse in the Bible; but it's one that gives you a principle that can guide you in all God wants you to do in any situation. Really, it sums up - in very simple form - all that God requires of us in Christian conduct. It's the believer's 'rule of thumb'. It's our moral 'Polaris'. It's this:
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:17).
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There have been attempts, throughout church history, to create a detailed Christian 'code of conduct'. Some of these attempts are very helpful. One of the most famous is one that I have in my study. It was written in 1665 by the Puritan pastor Richard Baxter. It's full title is:
Directing Christians How To Use their Knowledge and Faith;
How to Improve all Helps and Means, and to Perform all Duties;
How to Overcome Temptations, and to Escape or Mortify Every Sin.
In Four Parts. I. Christian Ethics (or Private Duties)
II. Christian Economics (or Family Duties)
III. Christian Ecclesiastics (or Church Duties)
IV. Christian Politics (or Duties to our Rulers and Neighbors).
As you can probably guess just from the length of the title and from the scope of its subject, it's a pretty thick book. It contains approximately one million, two-hundred and fifty thousand words - all on 904 two-column pages of very tiny print. In it, an outstandingly godly pastor and theologian sought to give us the ultimate 'how-to' book for the Christian life. He writes detailed instructions on just about everything you could ever encounter - instructions on how to deal with every sin, how to help in every counseling situation, how to properly perform all Christian duties, and how to make the best use of every possible help or means available. And in all honesty, it really is a remarkable book - one that many Evangelical pastors and Christians have turned to over the past three and a half centuries as a pastoral and counseling manual. I have found it helpful myself.
But I stand in awe at the simplicity of the verse before us, because everything that Richard Baxter sought to accomplish in his massive book - and even more - is beautifully summarized in this one verse. It is, by itself, a Christian Directory in remarkably few words. God could have given us a long, detailed list of do's and don'ts; but He didn't. Instead, He has wonderfully capsulated what He wants us to do into a simple, basic statement of a universally applicable principle. I'm grateful that He has summed it all up for us in so simple a way; aren't you?
Richard Baxter, in A Christian Directory, sought to detail the Christian walk as it's taught in the Bible. And there have been others who have sought to set up a list of moral rules - some from principles found in the Bible; and others from principles of their own creation. As laudable as the attempt may seem, however, the apostle Paul warned about the dangers of getting caught up in following such lists.
The law God gave through Moses, for example, provided a list of instructions and commands covering many of the detail of life. But the intention of the law, as the Bible plainly tells us, was only partly that of serving as a code of behavior. It was never intended to make us holy. In fact, one of its most important intended purposes was the very opposite of that. It was given to confine every one of us under sin, making sinners out of us all. No one could ever keep God's standards of holiness; and so, as a result, we all stand condemned before God by His 'list'. And this fact is meant to drive us to the Savior. As Paul wrote, "... The Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe" (Gal. 3:22).
Jesus Himself is the only one who has kept the law perfectly; and He did so on our behalf. And once we've recognized our own sinfulness before God, and placed our trust in Christ, then the law has fulfilled its purpose in us. Paul said, "Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor" (Gal. 3:24-25).
Paul wrote to the Galatian believers because they were being tempted to place themselves back under the religious 'do's and don'ts' of the law. He told them about how God has welcomed them into a new relationship with Himself through Christ. God no longer treated them as 'slaves' - duty-bound to keep an oppressive, impossible set of rules an regulations before they could ever be considered acceptable to Him. Rather, God now treated them as as completely adopted 'sons' and 'heirs' through faith Christ. That was God's plan all along. And so, Paul writes; "But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years" (Gal. 4:8-10).
In our fallenness and imperfection, there's just something about us that craves a "list". Even though we've been set free in Christ, we still seem compelled to spell out the do's and don'ts in detail on a sheet of paper, make copies, and urge everyone to conform to what's written on it. And, if it's not we who make the list, there's always someone else out there who is happy to formulate such a list for us and put us into bondage to the one they made. Perhaps it's because we feel a sense of pride whenever we score high points on our own lists of do's and don'ts (Luke 18:11-12). Or perhaps it's because of the self-importance we would feel when other people feel obligated to the lists we make for them (Gal. 6:12-13). But whatever the reason, Paul urged the Galatian believers, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1).
Similarly, in His letter to the Colossian believers, Paul was warning his brothers and sisters against the same sort of thing - not to let themselves be deceived by such lists, or get trapped into thinking that following such lists would make them more complete in Christ than they'd already been made through faith. He said, "Let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Col. 2:16-17). He said, "Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations - 'Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,' which all concern things which perish with the using - according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh" (vv. 20-23).
Now, make no mistake about it: Paul very much wanted his beloved brothers and sisters to live holy lives that were worthy of Christ. He urged them to put off the sins of their former life (3:5-9), and to begin to adopt the life-style patterns of those who had been 'renewed' in Christ, and who were now guided by His word (vv. 10-16). But the answer wasn't to give them a detailed list to follow. They were already made holy and accepted by God because they were united to Christ. Jesus had already taken up residence in them in the Person of His Holy Spirit; and they were now already made complete in Him. A "list" of rules was no longer necessary to make them holy. Holiness was no longer to be sought through obedience to a set of laws; but rather, obedience was now an expression of thanks for having been given holiness as a free gift through Christ.
And so, what is now to be our rule of conduct? It was summed up beautifully and simply in this: "... Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." He doesn't give us a long list, outlining every possible detail of what to do in any possible situation. Rather, he gives us one basic, fundamental principle that can be applied to any of the various situations we face. Isn't that wonderfully freeing?
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This simple 'rule of thumb' for Christian conduct may appear at first to be inadequate to guide us through all the twists and turns of life ... particularly when we compare it to something that spells things out in such great detail, like A Christian Directory - or even to the Old Testament law. But I assure you; the principle behind this verse is more than enough to do the job. It's as sure and as reliable a reference point as the north star. You can take it with you anywhere, and it will always help guide you in the practical choices and decisions you must make in life.
This principle is sufficient, because the basis of this principle is an all-sufficient Person. He's called "Jesus", which is a name that points to His humanity. He is one of us; having been born into the human family, having felt the infirmities and temptations we feel, and having tasted death on our behalf. He's also called "Lord", however, which points to His deity. He is one with God the Father; the eternally pre-existent Son of God, possessing all authority and power and majesty. And He is presented as the Mediator between God and man; because, as the latter part of the verse says, it's through Him that we are to give our thanks to God the Father. Paul described Jesus as the God/Man - and as the all-sufficient Mediator between God and men - when he wrote that it was in Him that "we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Col. 1:14). Paul said,
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consists. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross (vv. 15-20).
And then, notice that we are now called to do all things in His "name". We are welcomed to work, walk, speak and live in the "name" of this glorious all-sufficient Person, Jesus Christ. That is the greatest honor we could ever be given; and it explains why this principle is more than sufficient to guide us.
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What does it mean to do all things "in the name of the Lord Jesus"? That phrase is something very familiar to us. We're accustomed to saying it at the end of our prayers: "... In Jesus' name"; but to be perfectly honest, we often do so far too thoughtlessly and out of mere habit. What does it really mean?
In our day and age, a name isn't much more than a verbal symbol. But in the Bible, someone's name meant much more than a mere proper noun - a verbal symbol, or a group of letters. Speaking of someone's "name" was often a way of expressing the totality of someone's full identity - the whole compass of who they are and what they do. There was something of the very nature of the personality involved in someone's "name". And so, to do all that we do "in the name of the Lord Jesus" means to do all that we do in vital union with the totality of all that He is and that He has done.
Consider what the Bible teaches us about Jesus' "name". To be connected to His "name" meant, for example, to be identified with Him and united to Him in a saving way. People who believed on Jesus were said to be "baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:5); which meant they understood themselves to be united with who Christ is and what He has done, through the spiritual act of the Holy Spirit "baptizing" them into Him. And if anyone had been so united to Him, they were to then live a life of holiness consistent with a vital association with His name. Paul wrote, "... The solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: 'The Lord knows those who are His,' and 'Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity'" (2 Tim. 2:19).
And so, one aspect of doing all things "in the name of the Lord Jesus" is that we do those things with a sense of our vital union and relationship with Him. Do you seek to live your daily life with a sense of your union with Jesus Christ? And when you encounter everyday situations and circumstances, do you acknowledge Jesus' presence with you in that circumstance; and that you are in Him? Do you give Him the premier place in it? That, in part, is what it means to do all you do "in the name of the Lord Jesus."
Another aspect of doing all we do "in the name of the Lord Jesus" would be that we do all things as if under His authority. Jesus is our example in this; because He said that He came to the earth and worked in His Father's "name" (John 5:43; 10:25); meaning that He did what He did under the authority of His Father. And Jesus likewise calls us to do all that we do under His own authority. He said that all authority had been given to Him in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:19); and we've been taught that "God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow ..." (Phil. 2:9-10). And so, we are to now operate under His authority. He told us to pray and make our requests to the Father in His name (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24); that is, with His full authorization behind our requests, as we ask what He Himself would want. And likewise, as we read in the Bible, we see that demons were cast out by the disciples "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 16:18); and missionaries and preachers were sent out "for His name's sake" (3 John 1:7); and the apostles gave instructions and commands to the church "by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:10; 5:4; 2 Thess. 3:6) - that is, all as if under His full authorization.
And so, when Paul says that we're to do all that we do "in the name of the Lord Jesus", he means that we're to live and move and walk about in full submission to Jesus' authority. We're to do what He commands; and do it with confidence, because we do so under the greatest possible authority. When you encounter the situations and circumstances of life, do you do so with a sense of being under the authority of Jesus? Do you seek to understand what He wants you to do; and do you do so quickly and faithfully? And knowing what He wants you to do, do you do it fearlessly - regardless of the opposition - because you are doing it under His full authority? That, too, is a part of what it means to do all things in His "name".
Another aspect of doing all things "in the name of the Lord Jesus" is that we do those things in His place, as His representatives on this earth and in harmony with His revealed will. He told His disciples that they would be persecuted in this world and hated "for My name's sake" (John 15:21; Matthew 24:9); because He was leaving them to be His ambassadors on the earth. But He said that they were also to perform miracles in His name (Mark 9:39); and meet the needs of others in His name (v. 41), and even receive little children in His name (Matthew 18:5) - that is, to continue the work that He had done on His behalf as His representatives.
And so, when we do all things "in the name of the Lord Jesus", this means that we do all things as His representatives on the earth - seeking His agenda, and doing what is in harmony with His revealed will. When situations and circumstances meet you, do you respond to them with a sense of the wonderful ministry of representing Jesus Christ to the world? Do you seek to do as He would do, and do you seek what He would seek? This is what it would mean to do all things in His "name".
To do what we do "in the name of the Lord Jesus" also means to seek the advancement of His cause on the earth. We're to be willing - even glad - to suffer "for His name" (Acts 5:41; 9:16). We are to display a readiness to work and labor for others, as a demonstration of love "toward His name" (Heb. 6:10), because it would advance His cause. Jesus even said we're to be ready to leave "houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My names sake" (Matthew 19:29). All of this speaks of a total commitment to His agenda.
And so, when we do all that we do "in the name of the Lord Jesus", it means that we're to do all that we do in the pursuit of His cause, and for the advancement of His kingdom. When you consider the decisions and choices you must make in the various situations and circumstances of life, do you do so with a concern to subordinate your priorities the priorities of Jesus; and your agenda to that of the Master? Do you ask what it is that Jesus wants to see happen in those situations? Do you ask how you can advance His cause in the circumstances in which you find yourself; and once you know what to do to advance His cause, do you make doing so the highest priority? To do this is, again, a part of what it means to do all that you do "in the name of the Lord Jesus".
Finally, this also means that we do all that we do in His power. When the disciples performed acts of healing, they attributed all they did to "His name" and "through faith in His name" (Acts 3:16). Even the enemies of the gospel, when they saw the power of Jesus displayed in the miraculous healing of people, demanded to know, "By what power or by what name have you done this?" (4:7); and they were told plainly, "... Let it be known to you all, and to all people, that by the name of Jesus Christ" it had been done (v. 10). Even salvation and the complete forgiveness of our sins - the greatest miracle of all - is accomplished "through His name" (Acts 10:43); because, as Peter said, "... There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (4:12).
And so, to do all that we do "in the name of the Lord Jesus" means to do it all with a complete dependency on His power. When you find that you must deal with a situation or circumstance in which God has placed you, do you turn to the Lord in humble prayer and ask His help and enablement? Do you trust in His power and strength? Do you depend on Him to do His mighty work through you? This, once again, is a part of what it means to do all things "in the name of the Lord Jesus".
And so, you can see that doing everything "in the name of the Lord Jesus" means much more than merely tacking-on a phrase at the end of our prayers. His "name" means the totality of His person; and to do all things "in His name" means to do what we do in vital union with Him, in obedience and subjection to His divine authority, and in complete dependency upon His power, and with the priority placed on His cause and agenda and in the pursuit of the advancement of His kingdom, as His representatives on earth.
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This verse not only presents this wonderful principle to us, and shows us what we're to do; but it also tells us how we are to do it. First, notice that it tells us that we're to do it completely. We're literally to do everything in Jesus' "name"; "... whatever you do in word or deed".
Consider that we're to do whatever we do "in word" in the name of the Lord Jesus. We are to speak as His representatives with respect to whatever comes out of our mouth. "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth," Paul writes, "but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers" (Eph. 4:29). He said, "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt [that is, as if seasoned with a preserving and healing agent], that you may know how you ought to answer each one" (Col. 4:6). Certainly, this involves our spoken words; but I'd suggest it also includes our written words, our whispers, our gestures, our expressions, and even our thoughts. All that we "speak", in any of these ways, is to be spoken "in the name of the Lord Jesus".
And notice that this verse tells us that we're also to do this with respect to whatever we do "in deed". We're to make sure that all of our actions are done "in the name of the Lord Jesus". "... Whether you eat or drink," Paul wrote, "or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). "... Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men ..." (Col. 3:23). And so, you can plainly see that this fundamental principle of conduct in the Christian life is all-pervasive. There are to be no "partitioned areas" in our lives; no areas that we keep for the Lord, and separate areas that we keep for ourselves. All that we do - both in word or in deed - is to belong to Him. When we make sure that this is our guiding principle, we'll be living the kind of integrated lives He wants us to live.
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Second, notice that this verse tells us that we're to do all this for Jesus gratefully, and with glad-hearted joy. We're to do everything in Jesus' name, "giving thanks to God the Father through Him."
Thanksgiving is to be a vital part of all we do in Christ. The writer of Hebrews said, "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15). We're told, "In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess. 5:18). Thanksgiving is to be the natural manner of all that we do; and since we're to do all that we do "in the name of the Lord Jesus", then we have good reason to be always in "thankful" mode - continually giving our thanks to the Father through His Son.
And incidentally, thanksgiving is to be a vital part of the principle that guides us through the moral decisions of life. We're to always be doing all that we do with a spirit of thanks to the Father through Christ; and so, we're to be continually asking ourselves, "Can I do this, or that, with a spirit of genuine, sincere 'thanks' to the Father in the name of His Son?" Frankly, we'll find, when we think about it, that there's many things in life that we certainly could not do, and still be saying "thanks" to the Father while we're doing it. But Paul spoke of the things in life that "God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature [that is, every created thing that God made to be enjoyed] is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer" (1 Tim. 4:3-5).
If you and I understand what it means to do all that we do "in the name of the Lord Jesus" - that is, to do it with a sense of our vital union with Him in all that He is and has done, doing it in His authority and as His representative, for the advancement of His cause, and with a dependency upon His enabling power - then we'll certainly know what it is that we can or cannot genuinely thank the Father for. And under those circumstances, whatever you can give sincere thanks to the Father for through Jesus His Son - you may certainly feel safe in doing with a clear conscience.
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I hope you can appreciate what a wonderfully freeing and universal principle this is. It applies to every situation we could ever encounter; and if we seek to follow it, it will guide us safely to what God wants us to do in that situation. We must cease from doing things in our own authority, our own power, and in our own wisdom; seeking our own agenda, and trying to advance our own cause. Instead, we must ask, "What does Jesus want in this situation? What would He do? How would He have me advance His cause in this? What would He wish to do through me? How can I represent Him and be a witness for Him in this? The apostle Paul put it this way: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). That's what it means to do all things in Jesus "name". It's to now be the guiding principle - the north star - in our lives.
May this north star guide our lives to His glory.
(copyright 2001 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)
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