I used to know some folks who, upon encountering some evil thing or person, would begin repeating "in the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus," like some sort of mantra, something that would magically repel the devil.
I chose not to join in. I never saw much good come from their practice. Magic words don't work. Ask the seven sons of Sceva in Acts.
There is another form of the Magic Word Club, however, that is more pervasive, and more dangerous. These folks also believe there is some magical power in the name Jesus. But in this case, it's for salvation.
I need to say here that there is great power in the name of Jesus. But not as a formula to be repeated mindlessly. It's not a magic word.
Widely accepted in the church is the idea that one must "accept Christ" to be accepted by God. That's reasonable, but what does it mean? Well, it's asking Jesus to save me, right? Perhaps.
It is certainly true that the New Testament teaches that Jesus is the only way to God, and that there is no way beside him. The references to that are too many to list here. But, again, what does that mean?
Does it mean speaking a verbal formula? You know, you die and get to the pearly gates, and the angel says, "Hi, welcome to heaven. What's the magic word?" And if you say "Jesus," you're in, but if you happen to be among the vast majority of folks who have ever lived, you have never heard of Jesus. "Sorry, Charlie, but you know how it is: no word, no heaven. Rules is rules."
I appreciate that there are places in the New Testament that seem to indicate the need for verbally confessing the name of Jesus. But I will argue that the instruction was given to those for whom the name had meaning, not to folks who had never heard of Jesus.
Here's the truth: Everyone who cries out to God will be heard. It is impossible that the loving, just, merciful God, the one who went to such great lengths to reveal himself to us and make a way for us to know him, would turn away from anyone who sincerely seeks him.
Part of our problem is that we have dumbed down both the Bible and the gospel it teaches. We have made the gospel nothing more than a ticket to heaven, and speaking, praying or acting "in the name of" someone a ritual, and not a powerful principle.
To speak in the name of another is to speak for that other. To act in the name of another is to act in the place of that other. When we pray in the name of Jesus, we are coming to the Father as if standing in the place of Jesus. When we baptize in the name, we are baptizing, standing as a delegated representative of the one whose name we use.
"In the name of," in biblical usage, means standing on and in consideration of everything that person is and stands for. The name of Jesus refers both to Jesus and to everything he is and stands for.
So, when a man or woman somewhere - one of the unfortunates who hasn't been clued in to the rules of the game - responds to the prompting of the Holy Spirit within and cries out to who must be to him or her an unknown God, how is it possible that God will say, "Oops! Sorry, you need the magic word, or you can't come in"?
Any person genuinely seeking God will be welcomed into the kingdom and the presence of God. How? On the basis of what Jesus has done to enable that person - and this person - to come to God. There is no other way. The difference is I know who Jesus is, and from that have both greater privilege and greater responsibility. The other person may well meet his or her "anonymous benefactor" for the first time in heaven.
Jesus calls us to live, speak and act "in his name" here on earth. He calls us to be his representatives, making him real to those around us. We - alone or together - do not live for ourselves, but for the world around us, that they might hear the message of reconciliation and have the opportunity to live.
We cannot claim to be obedient, biblical followers of Jesus until we take this principle seriously, but only disobedient children, unworthy of the great privilege and blessing God gives to us.