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In every human culture, a person’s name represents their identity and authority. For example, when I sign my name on a check or credit card receipt, I authorize payment with my funds. If my car needs repair, I can call and identify myself by name to authorize the repairs. So, using my name implies any authority I have, including use of my property. Power of attorney is a legal example which authorizes one person to conduct business in another’s behalf.
It’s typical for people entering covenant to exchange portions of their names as evidence of their shared identity and legal authority to use their partner’s resources, and even conduct their business. Marriage is a covenant and, in most cultures, one partner takes the other’s name and they jointly-own their property. This is true of our covenant with God.
Jesus, the Son of God, took on our identity by being born as a human, and he identified himself as the Son of Man to emphasize his humanity. As a human, he had authority to conduct our spiritual business for us and pay our spiritual debt. As the Son of Man, he accepted responsibility for all of humanity’s sin and died in our place, freeing us from slavery to sin and spiritual death (Rom. 5:8; 1 John 2:2).
By accepting Jesus as Savior, we enter the new covenant he made with God and receive a new identity; that of God’s child. Being a child of God entitles us to call him Father, which is only acceptable within the new covenant.
There are other terms that reveal our covenant identity and relationship; the most obvious one being “Christian,” which describes a follower of Christ (Acts 11:26 NIV). Scripture uses several family terms for those in covenant, such as “God’s family” (1 Thess. 4:10), “children of God” (John 1:12), “heirs of God” (Rom. 8:17), and “brothers and sisters” (Rom. 12:1). We also are the “body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:27), “servants of God” (2 Cor. 6:4), and “God’s holy people” (Phil. 1:1). All of these descriptions apply to us because we are in covenant with God and they reflect our special relationship with him.
Being in covenant with God allows us to invoke his authority, power and resources as needed. Jesus said, “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24). The word translated “ask” means to ask or even demand something from somebody. Obviously, we don’t demand something from God, but our covenant authorizes us to ask and makes us confident he’ll give us whatever we ask for. The same word occurs in 1 John 3:22, which says we receive from God “anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.” Obeying and pleasing him are natural expressions of our covenant relationship. We’re glad to obey and please him, and he’s glad to provide what we request.
When we do something “in God’s name” or “in Jesus’ name,” we’re doing it in his behalf as if he were doing it himself. We have this authority only because of our covenant relationship. For example, Peter and John told a lame man, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). They were using their covenant authority to do what Jesus would have done, what pleased God the Father.
Authority and responsibility usually are inseparable, as they are in covenant. For example, we must avoid doing whatever slanders his name (1 Tim. 6:1). This parallels a command from the old covenant, that Israel must not misuse God’s name, which means not doing what dishonors him (Exod. 20:7). We take God’s name by entering covenant with him but if we refuse to do what he intends, have we not dishonored him? Especially if our conduct misrepresents his nature or damages people’s impression of him? In covenant, we must focus on him and always do what honors him. This suggests in part that we should only use our covenant authority to serve his interests, because selfishness violates covenant.
Jesus, the Son of God, became like us and used his authority to liberate us from sin and spiritual death. We use family names or terms that reflect our covenant relationship with God. As God’s children and heirs, we have authority to represent him, act in his behalf, participate in his kingdom, and do his work as Jesus did.