Curious? Come on in!

What does it mean to do things in Jesus’ name?

Doing something in someone else’s name has a distinct legal meaning that is the same under our law as well as Hebrew, Greek, and Roman law.

A friend of mine wanted to buy a house. Since he wasn’t going to be present for the closing, he gave me his power of attorney. I bought the house in his name. Whatever I did during the closing in my friend’s name was legally the same as if he had done it himself. I signed his name on the papers. However, that power of attorney was limited to the real estate closing and did not permit me to do anything other than acquire the property so that the title would be in his name. When it was over, I had no benefit from the transaction except my friend’s thanks.

If a wealthy man hires me and gives me a power of attorney to purchase real estate, and if I act within that authorization, I could purchase a shopping mall in his name. I would receive no benefit from that transaction, except for his gratitude and the salary he chooses to pay me. If I tried to buy a shopping center on my own, they’d laugh me out of the bank. But if I go in his name, they would do business with me.

If you appoint someone to act in your name, it means that they can act as your agent within the restrictions you impose. Jesus has empowered His followers to act in His name to do certain specified deeds: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, preach the gospel, and so on.

If you do something in Jesus’ name it means that you do it with the authority He gave you and not on your own authority, and that you act within the limits of your authorization, whatever those limits may be. You act as His agent, in His stead, to His credit and for His benefit. You have no benefit from your deeds except His thanks and whatever reward He chooses to give you.

Now we can understand the relationship between faith and works and the necessity for Christians to live holy lives.

Living a meaningful life is a lot like playing the stock market. It’s a very chancy thing for creatures like us who do not know future events. When you decide to purchase stock, you cannot know in advance which firms with a promising future are going to squander their resources in mismanagement or are going to be overcome by someone else’s superior technology. And even if you could discern what to buy, your ability to buy stock is very limited. It’s hardly thinkable that anyone of your means or mine would be able to pick a stock that we could afford to purchase that would make us millionaires by the time we wish to retire!

In fact, I once had a wealthy employer who reevaluated his stock holdings and decided to invest in something else. After ten years of following the sagest advice he could buy, the return on his money was the same as if he had put his money into a savings account at the bank! If wealthy people with superior resources can’t discern the good investments, how could we ordinary folk hope to do it?

Suppose that instead of playing the stock market with your own resources, you took a job working for a millionaire to manage his stocks. Suppose he placed his financial resources at your disposal and hired the best stock consultants in the business. Suppose he also had certain knowledge of the future, and gave you guidelines for your investment activities! Imagine what you could do with that portfolio! Of course, to have enough time for all this you would have to completely abandon all of your attempts to play the market on your own behalf and concentrate on his portfolio. You might say you’d have to die to yourself and live for him, because all your investments would be in his name and the profit would all go to his account. You would receive nothing for your work, except the reward your employer chose to give you. The reason you would do it is that his reward would be greater than any return you could realize on your own investments.

This is how salvation works. We cannot do enough good works to earn salvation simply because our ability is limited and our knowledge is limited. Talk to anyone who got mixed up in a cult or a political witch-hunt: based on their limited knowledge at the time, they thought they were doing good deeds of eternal import, but when the lights came on their deeds were revealed as evil. “It seemed so right at the time,” they say. Our limitations as human beings prevent us sometimes from knowing what is right and sometimes even the wisest of us get good and evil reversed.

We cannot earn salvation by our deeds. The chances of becoming millionaires by investing our salary in the stock market is certainly much greater.

However, we can hire on as Jesus’ slaves. Jesus is the spiritual millionaire who hires us to manage a part of His holdings. He gives us a power of attorney so that we can transact business in His name and gives us infallible guidelines through His commandments. We no longer do good deeds on our own behalf in order to obtain salvation, for all our deeds are in His name and go to His account. We work to show ourselves good stewards of His trust, confident that He will reward those who serve Him well.

It is necessary to do good works, but it is only profitable to do the works that Jesus assigns us and authorizes us to do as His agents and to conduct His business in His name. We do not work to be saved; we work because we have been saved, and strive to show ourselves worthy of His trust. How many talents have you been given? Invest them wisely! Manage them well! Don’t just put them in a safe deposit box and hide them away until His return! (Matthew 25:14-30)

If you do something in Jesus’ name it means that you do it with the authority He gave you and not on your own authority, and that you act within the limits of your authorization, whatever those limits may be. You act as His agent, in His stead, to His credit and for His benefit. You have no benefit from your deeds except His thanks and whatever reward He chooses to give you.

We are tiny creatures with very short life spans in a vast and ancient universe. Compared to God, we are like grass which grows today and dies tomorrow. It is ludicrous to think that we could ever make the right ethical choices in this life, or understand which of our deeds has eternal impact. Therefore, surrender your entire life to Jesus. Die to yourself and live as His servant, doing all things in His name.