There seems to be some confusion in the minds of some members of the Church as to the reason we pray in the name of Jesus. They don’t seem to have a problem with doing it, but I get the distinct impression that they may not understand the doctrine behind why we do it. Using the scriptures and a few quotes from the Apostles and General Authorities of the Church I would like to try to clarify the reason we pray in the name of Jesus Christ.
To start with I need to review some basic details of the Fall and the Atonement, because they are the reasons we have to pray in Jesus’ name. After that we can get to the quotes from Church leaders.
We must first begin with the Plan of Salvation as presented to us by our Father in Heaven. In order for us to be “free” to make mistakes and not be immediately punished for those mistakes, as we worked out our salvation, we needed to be placed in a position where we were temporarily free from the constraints of living in our Father’s presence. To break God’s laws in his presence brings immediate punishment, for God must uphold his own laws. Mercy has to be offered through a third party. In the Plan of Salvation that is the role of the Christ, the Savior. One of the main purposes of the atoning sacrifice of Christ is to be able to offer us mercy during our time in mortality so we can be free to exercise our agency and learn and grow into the kind of people who are comfortable living in the presence of God eternally.
This brings up the question as to why Christ’s atoning sacrifice can offer us mercy in the first place. Let’s back up and read what Jacob taught his people in the Book of Mormon. In 2 Nephi 9:6-12 he explains what happened when Adam and Eve fell from the presence of God because they transgressed a law. Their transgression led to their expulsion from God’s presence, which is what we call spiritual death. Death is all about separation. Physical death is the separation of the body and the spirit, and spiritual death refers to our separation from the presence of God.
6 For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord.
Side note here: Death and a resurrection are both pre-planned parts of the Plan of Salvation. This was all part of the plan we agreed to accept in our pre-earth life.
The Fall of man (Adam and Eve) brought about both kinds of death. Whereas they were immortal in the garden of Eden, after the Fall they became mortal, meaning they would eventually die. That death was deferred until the separation of their spirit from their bodies. But the spiritual death happened almost immediately after their transgression, for they were expelled from God’s presence. The scriptures teach us that God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance (Doctrine and Covenants 1:31).
The next verse in this passage tells us what would have happened to us if there had not been a plan for a resurrection to take place. Without an infinite atonement, which included a resurrection, we would have remained cut off from God’s presence for eternity. That means we would have remained as spirits, without bodies. We would not have been able to return to His presence. Death would have been a one way ticket to perdition, basically.
7 Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement—save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption. Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration. And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more.
8 O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more.
9 And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.
Without an infinite atonement (payment for the sins we all commit) our physical death would deliver us into the presence of Satan to become one of his angels, miserable like him, forever.
The introduction of Mercy and Grace
The next three verses describe the results of the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
10 O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.
11 And because of the way of deliverance of our God, the Holy One of Israel, this death, of which I have spoken, which is the temporal, shall deliver up its dead; which death is the grave.
12 And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel.
What does this have to do with prayer?
Yea for the redemption offered us by Christ! But what does this have to do with how we pray? Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught this principle about the connection between the Fall, the Atonement, and prayer. Referring the Christ he said,
He came into the world to ransom men from the temporal and spiritual death brought upon them by the fall of Adam. He came to satisfy the demands of divine justice and to bring mercy to the penitent. He came as a Mediator, as an Intercessor, to plead the cause of all those who believe in him.
It is this last sentence on which I wish to focus. How is Christ the Mediator and an Intercessor? A mediator and an intercessor is someone who is the go-between between two parties who are at odds with each other. The mediator/intercessor helps to atone or bring them into a state of union – at-one-ment – if you will.
It is because we are cut off from God’s presence, sinful, willful, and rebellious, that we cannot approach God from any kind of position of strength to ask for his help. Yet we have been commanded to pray to him anyway. Elder Gene R. Cook of the First Quorum of the Seventy said this about why we pray the way we do.
However, to pass successfully through the trials we encounter, we must keep our eyes and our hearts centered on the Lord Jesus Christ. Because “since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself” (Alma 22:14); therefore, we needed an advocate, an intercessor, a mediator to assist us. “And it is because of thy Son that thou hast been thus merciful unto [us].” (Alma 33:11; emphasis added.)
“Then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ.” (Moro. 10:32–33.)
Did you catch that? man “could not merit anything of himself.” Because of our sinful state we do not merit God’s goodness. We cannot in good conscience go to Him and ask for help since we have set ourselves at defiance with His laws and commandments. We need an advocate with our Father who is wholly worthy to plead for mercy on our behalf. That advocate is our Savior. This is why we pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can show us the mercy we seek.
It is important that I point out here that God is not without mercy. It was God, our Father who presented the plan of salvation that provided us with a Savior in the first place. He knows that this is the only way we can return to his presence. Because of the complete unity shown by the three members of the Godhead, there is no difference between the love of one member and the love of the other two members. So Christ’s mercy to us is also the Mercy of the Father and the Holy Ghost. Our salvation is a joint effort on the part of all three members of the Godhead.
Our commandment to pray in Jesus’ name
When the Savior came to visit the people in the Americas, he commanded them to pray to the Father in His (Christ’s) name. When he says that “whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name … shall be given unto you” he is speaking as our intercessor, our mediator. He can plead with the Father from a position of complete obedience to all the laws of God. God has told us that all blessings are based on obedience to the laws upon which those blessings are based or predicated (Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21). So Christ can ask for anything that is right and our Father in Heaven will grant it to him. Since we cannot successfully pray in our own name, our Mediator has told us to pray in His name so our prayers will be answered successfully. Here is the passage found in 3 Nephi 18:19-25.
19 Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;
20 And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.
21 Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed.
22 And behold, ye shall meet together oft; and ye shall not forbid any man from coming unto you when ye shall meet together, but suffer them that they may come unto you and forbid them not;
23 But ye shall pray for them, and shall not cast them out; and if it so be that they come unto you oft ye shall pray for them unto the Father, in my name.
24 Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed.
25 And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me, that ye might feel and see; even so shall ye do unto the world; and whosoever breaketh this commandment suffereth himself to be led into temptation.
By focusing our faith in Christ, striving to obey the commandments he has given us, and praying in his name to our Father in Heaven, God’s great enabling power, his grace, is given to us to help change us into people who will someday be comfortable walking back into the presence of God without any shame or guilt. God’s grace transforms us, changes our hearts, our desires, purifies us, and redeems us. This is the power of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Elder Gene R. Cook taught these important principles about using the intercession of the Lord to change our lives.
By seeking the intercession of the Lord more fully in our lives:
We will “grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.” (D&C 50:40.)
We will “teach … diligently and [His] grace shall attend [us].” (D&C 88:78.)
For our labor, we will “receive the grace of God, that [we] might wax strong in the Spirit, … that [we] might teach with power and authority from God.” (Mosiah 18:26.)
We will not “fall from grace.” (D&C 20:32.)
We will “receive grace for grace” (D&C 93:20).
“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16.)
President Gordon B. Hinckley said:
We approach the Father through the Son. He is our intercessor at the throne of God. How marvelous it is that we may so speak to the Father in the name of the Son.
Our prayers would have no efficacy at all if they were to be offered in any other manner than in the name of Christ. Jesus Christ is our Mediator, and our Intercessor with God, our Father. By praying in his holy name, and seeking the grace, the mercy his atoning sacrifice offers us, we are able to be changed into people worthy of being in God’s presence once again. There is no other way back home.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie
Gene R. Cook
President Gordon B. Hinckley