Summary: The Holy Spirit as first-fruits, and efficacious intercessor.
A PRAYERFUL ADVOCATE FOR THOSE WHO GROAN
There are several references to the Holy Spirit in Romans 8. He is named at least nineteen times in the first twenty-seven verses. This serves to contrast the weakness of ‘the law of sin and death’ (discussed at length in Romans 7), with the efficacy of the ‘law’ of the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2).
We start our present section with “groaning” – a groaning in which the whole creation participates, and in which we also participate (Romans 8:22-23).
Creation groans because of its subjection to ‘vanity’ (Romans 8:20) - or ‘meaninglessness’ (Ecclesiastes 1:2) – as a result of the fall of man. One patriarch suggests the possibility that land might cry out, and complain (Job 31:38), whilst one of the prophets hears the earth mourning (Isaiah 24:4). This personification of the inanimate is familiar throughout the book of Psalms.
The Holy Spirit is the first fruits of our inheritance (Romans 8:23), the down-payment (Ephesians 1:13-14). Yet we also groan - on account of our sufferings, and in anticipation of the glory that is to come (Romans 8:18). Our inheritance is not only what God has to offer, but God Himself (1 John 3:2).
We wait “eagerly” for the ‘not yet’ bit of our salvation. The idea is of our standing on tiptoes, looking to the horizon, straining towards the future. We await the full manifestation of our adoption, and we long for the redemption of our body.
We were “saved” (Romans 8:24) when we were washed from our sins in the blood of Jesus (Romans 5:9). We are saved “in hope” of our total liberation. This is not an uncertain hope, but a living hope based in the promises of God (1 Peter 1:3-5).
When we have faith to believe (Hebrews 11:1) we are enabled to ‘wait patiently’ (Psalm 40:1), and to reach out with hope and confidence towards God’s future (Romans 8:25). Sometimes as we wait, our patience is tried: this is only human.
We are, it seems, surrounded by “infirmities” (Romans 8:26). These may be caused by lack of strength (which is what the word means), emotional weakness (including ‘burnout’), financial hardships, sickness, or sin. Paul also speaks of the possibility of ‘weakness in faith’ (Romans 4:19).
Sometimes we do not know what to pray; sometimes we do not know how to pray. Yet it is here that we encounter the Holy Spirit: that ‘other Helper’ promised by Jesus (John 14:16). Just as Jesus intercedes for us in heaven (Romans 8:34); the Holy Spirit prays with us (Ephesians 6:18), in us (1 Corinthians 14:14-15), and for us here on earth (Romans 8:26).
It is with His prayers that we, too, receive an audience before God the Father. We pray in the name of Jesus (who is ever interceding on our behalf at God’s right hand), and in the authority of His shed blood. We pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus we, unworthy though we think we are, may ‘boldly’ approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).
There is an intensity to the prayer offered by the Spirit which reaches beyond the mere ‘obtaining of an audience’ with God. His intercession reaches beyond mere petition and appeal. With audible sighs and moans the Holy Spirit gives wordless voice to our groaning, and the groaning of creation.
Not only this, but we can also be sure that our prayers are heard, because the Holy Spirit’s intercession, like that of Jesus, is also heard. His prayers on our behalf are “according to the will of God” (Romans 8:27). This is the efficacy and the power which lies behind all true prayer.