I received the following question in the Question Box: How is the intercession of the Holy Spirit different from the intercession of Christ (especially with reference to prayer)? Let’s discuss these two intercessors separately, then we will see draw conclusions on how they are different and whether this affects our prayers or not.
The Intercession of the Holy Spirit
Found in Romans 8:26, the intercession of the Spirit is described this way: “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
This scripture contains an important piece of information about the Holy Spirit, which, if understood properly, provides Christians with encouragement and confidence that the Father most certainly hears all their needs. Let’s break this text down into bite-size chunks that will be easier for our minds to digest.
“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses”. The word “helps” in the original Greek means to “lend a hand together with.” The same word is used in Luke 10:40: “But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” Applying the word “help” to the Spirit teaches us that He lends us a hand in our weaknesses. The specific weakness that Paul uses as an example is prayer. Two questions come to my mind: how does He help with prayer? And in what way is a Christian weak in prayer? The rest of verse 26 will answer both questions for us.
“For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought”: The word “know” in the original Greek text is not talking about knowledge that is gained through personal experiences, but rather the type of knowledge that is natural to us (i.e. something within us that we are born with). God, by His nature, knows exactly what we need; we do not. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow or what we need to prepare for tomorrow’s events; it is not our nature to be omniscient. It is God’s nature always to know exactly what we need.
The next statement: “as we ought” is interesting. The word “ought”, in the Greek, literally means “must or necessity.” So, Paul is specifically talking about things that we must be praying for by necessity. Now, altogether the first part of the verse states that the Holy Spirit lends a hand to us in our weaknesses, such as our prayers, because it is not our nature to know specifically what we need right now and what we will need later, but the Spirit knows and as we will see in the rest of this verse, it is He who will make requests for us to the Father in regard to all things that we need but don’t know about. The text says that “the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us.” Intercession is an interesting word; it refers to one who happens to come upon someone who is in trouble and pleads on their behalf. Let’s pay close attention to the word “Himself.” It is not through our prayers that He makes intercession, it is separate and apart from our prayers, the Spirit himself pleads to the Father.
Therefore, the way the Spirit “helps in our weaknesses” is not by guiding us in thought while we pray, but rather he pleads to the Father on our behalf. His work is completely separate from our prayers. Isn’t it a wonderful thought to know that the Holy Spirit continually pleads to the Father on behalf of the saints? What unconquerable love the Spirit has for us! And I don’t want to forget to mention that His pleads of requests on our behalf are done “with groanings which cannot be uttered.” That is to say, He pleads to the Father for us in ways, words, and an intensity that is not possible for us.
The main thing to recognize here is that the Spirit does not add to or modify our prayers in any way. They are offered to the Father exactly as we said them. However, aside from our prayers, He makes His own fervent requests for all things we need specifically that we do not even know we need.
As much of an encouraging text as this is, it does not vanquish our need to pray without ceasing. The text said that the Spirit helps in our weaknesses, such as not knowing about certain things to pray for, but there are so many other things that we know to pray for or about. And so many other things that we have been commanded to pray about (1 Timothy 2:1-4; James 5:16). Knowledge of the Spirit’s work is not to affect our work in prayer. We still need to be constant in our thanksgiving and praise to God; in our requests for what concerns us for the day. That is the work God has given the saints every day on this earth.
How is the intercession of the Holy Spirit different from the intercession of Christ?
In the same chapter of Romans, Paul also mentions that Christ makes intercession for us. “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” (Romans 8:34) While the English translations will likely use the same word, the word translated “intercession” (huperentugchano) in 8:26 (referring to the Holy Spirit) is different from the word translated “intercession” in 8:34. The word that is attributed to the work of Christ’s intercession is enteuxeis, and is defined a “meeting with, conversing with, holding an interview or conference”. Jesus, at the right hand of God, is talking about his disciples to the Father.
I can’t say just how different the intercession of the Spirit is from the intercession of Christ, but I can say that there are many similarities. Neither of these two intercessors affect our prayers. We pray to the Father on behalf of others and ourselves; Christ speaks to the Father on behalf of the believers; and the Holy Spirit likewise speaks to the Father on behalf of the Christians.
Article by Tanner Campbell.