The study of the Holy Spirit in how He works in the lives of Christians today requires a deep and focused study of the Scriptures. In order to do the study justice and not leave people confused, one would need more time and space than this short article. Let us consider a small but controversial part of the work of the Holy Spirit – His intercession in prayer.
The Bible actually mentions very little about the role of the Holy Spirit in prayer, which creates part of the issue. Paul describes the work of the Holy Spirit regarding prayer in Romans 8:26-27, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” Biblical understandings of this verse render numerous meanings and interpretations, many not doctrinal.
This article cannot discuss all the positions that stem from this passage. However, the most common comprehension among the brotherhood is to read the verse to mean that when a person knows not how to express his/her innermost feelings in prayer, the Holy Spirit intercedes by knowing the Christian’s heart and delivering those emotions and thoughts to God. Furthermore, many would employ this verse to propagate that the Holy Spirit works beyond the Word.
Many dangerous paths derive from believing that the Holy Spirit interacts with the Christian outside the Word. Christians may start looking outside the Scriptures for authority in doctrine and salvation (1 Cor. 4:6). Believers may search for signs or visions of the Spirit outside the Bible to justify their feelings (1 Cor. 1:22-24). Some brethren who read that the Spirit indwells the Christian start thinking that their inner emotions and inspirations emanate from the influence of the Holy Spirit and therefore provide authority (Col. 3:16,17). With this thinking, believers stop checking the Scriptures for answers and simply attempt to feel the Spirit within them.
This article will examine three defenses from this verse that correspond to the teaching that the Holy Spirit interacts with Christians today only through the Word.
One defense that is mentioned and taught by Franklin Camp reveals that this passage illustrates an inspired prayer, and that this type of prayer was limited to the apostolic age or period of miraculous works. Recall 1 Corinthians 14:14, “For if I pray an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.” Just as the Holy Spirit reveals the mind of God for instruction, the Holy Spirit also reveals prayer. The “groanings which cannot to uttered,” meaning from this idea of speaking in tongues, was interceded by the Spirit for our understanding of God’s will. Furthermore, it harmonizes with the general teachings of Romans chapter eight, which does include a discussion of the miraculous (Rom. 8:1-16).
Basically, the Spirit caused the praying Christian to start speaking in tongues to better communicate his/her prayer to God. However, if brother Camp was correct in this teaching, then the prayer mentioned in Romans 8 would not apply to Christians today, so this verse could not be used to claim that the Spirit interacts with Christians outside the Word today.
The second defense, in showing the Spirit intercedes through the Word begins with considering, “our infirmities…we know not what we should pray for as we ought?” If Christians read through the Bible, there are numerous passages that explain the manner, mentality, format, and about what to pray (James 5:16; Heb. 4:16; Matt. 6:19-13; 1 John 3:22-24; Acts 8:22-24). How can followers of God hold the Word in their hearts and not understand how or for what to pray?
If the Holy Spirit intercedes by ‘fixing’ our prayers when Christians pray as they ought not, then how does anyone ever pray “amiss” as mentioned in James 4:3. Those in this context have not and receive not because they “ask amiss” (James 4:1-4). The Holy Spirit provides the words of the Bible to the Christians so that they can use them in communication (Col. 3:17; 1 Peter 4:11). If someone cannot find the words for something, then read and study to find the words because they are there.
This consideration that the Spirit teaches Christians how to pray through the Bible enforces not only this defense but also that this prayer of infirmity was limited to the time of the miraculous age when the church did not have the full written revelation to study and find the words. Today, all Christians reading the Bible should know how to pray. The Spirit intercedes from the Christians’ frustrations in not knowing how to pray by providing the written words so they understand for what and how they ought to pray (Luke 11:1-2).
Lastly, given the understanding that when a Christian cannot find the words to communicate a feeling in prayer the Holy Spirit intercedes and carries those feelings to God, would this imply that the Spirit interacts with Christians outside of scripture? No! This verse shows the Spirit’s interaction with the Father on the Christian’s behalf. This verse is not about the Spirit’s interaction with the Christian, but the Spirit’s interaction with the Father.
One could still make the argument that the Spirit only interacts and directs Christians solely through the Word. Interpreting/interceding the prayers of the saints is not direct operation or leading believers outside the Scriptures. If the Spirit was interacting with an individual outside the Scriptures, that individual wouldn’t need the Scriptures to tell him/her that the Spirit makes intercessions for him/her because the Spirit would be interacting with that person. – Again, this is why Christians are told not to go beyond what is written.
Those of the first century really needed this help from the Holy Spirit, perhaps more than Christians do today because Christian communication with God was very new and their understanding of prayer came from heathenism and corrupt Jewish leaders. – “for we know not what we should pray for as we ought” (Rom. 8:26).
The Spirit’s teaching through the Word transforms one’s vain babblings to God into an orderly, reverent, petition and thanks.