Tag Archives: groaning

Romans 8:26-27 – Holy Spirit Groaning

Romans 8:26–27 (ESV) — 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.


Verse 26:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.


Likewise and Weakness:

Paul transitions from the hope we have in both the “now” and “not yet”…

  • Into another positive feature of the Christian life (as opposed to our sufferings and groanings).
  • …the Spirit…


In fact, the “likewise” here is connected directly to the hope of verses 24 and 25.

  • “…in the same way [as this hope sustains us] (Doug Moo)”, Paul says, “the Spirit helps us…


So, if the hope we have in the “now” wasn’t cool enough…

  • Paul tells us the indwelling Spirit is present with us as part of this hope.


And the best part is what the Spirit is doing on our behalf.

  • Paul says, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”.


What is “our weakness”?


The things that come along with:

  • body of death” (7:24)
  • the sufferings of our present time” (8:18)
  • groan inwardly” (8:23)


The word literally refers to a physical debilitating sickness or disease – BDAG.

  • So Paul’s use here is metaphorical.
  • And he is referring to our “lack of spiritual insight” or “moral deficiency” – BDAG.


So our weakness is this:

  • Because of our “lack of spiritual insight”…
  • Because of our “moral deficiency”…
  • We don’t pray “as we ought”.


What does Paul mean that we don’t pray “as we ought”?

  • Moo says Paul is referring to content not style.
  • Schreiner agrees.


In other words…

  • The problem here is not that we aren’t articulate enough…
  • Or don’t use enough Christianese…
  • Or don’t pray in a British accent.


The problem is that the things we actually pray for…

  • Are apparently, more often than not, outside of God’s will.


So the question is what are the right things to pray for – what is the right content?

  • Generally speaking, the things that God wills.
  • “What Paul apparently has in mind is that inability to discern clearly God’s will in the many things for which we pray…” – Doug Moo.
  • Paul says as much in verse 27 – “according to the will of God”.
    • More on the 26 and 27 connection in a bit.



Spirit Intercession:

This sounds like a serious problem.

  • But this is not where Paul is headed.
  • This is not a beat down passage.


Paul has some good news.

  • Because we are in Christ and indwelled by the Spirit…
  • Paul gives us some good news that mitigates our “weakness”.


Paul says that…

  • The Spirit “intercedes” on our behalf.


In other words, due to our “weakness” and the inability it brings…

  • The Spirit intervenes for our sake.
  • The interceding or intervening of the Spirit is the “help” the Spirit brings us in our weakness.


Parsing all this out:

  • We simply have a difficult time discerning the will of God.
  • We do our best and offer up our prayer and petitions in this light.
  • However, our “weakness” means we fail to discern the will of God on a regular basis.
  • But, the Spirit does know the will of God and intercedes on our behalf.


Before we move on, we have to ask one more question.

  • Didn’t Jesus teach us how to pray?


Jesus said the following:

  • Matthew 6:9–15 (ESV) — 9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.


How do we square what Jesus teaches here with what Paul teaches?



Inexpressible Groanings:

What exactly is the nature of the Spirit’s help and interceding?

  • groaning too deep for words” – “stenagmos alaletos


Or as other translations put it:

  • “sighs to deep for words” – NRSV
  • “groans that words cannot express” – NIV
  • “inexpressible groanings” – NET
  • “unspoken groanings” – HCSB


To begin with this is not the same kind of inward groaning believers express.

  • As we observed last time, the Spirit is not a creature and not in Garden Exile.
  • Doug Moo agrees: “…the groaning of the Spirit is very different in its nature and purpose from [our] ‘groanings’” – Doug Moo.


The BDAG makes a subtle distinction between the Spirit’s groaning and our groaning that might help us here.

  • Whereas, we groan due to our circumstances – our weakness.
  • The Spirit groans out of concern for our circumstance – “expression of great concern” (BDAG).


This distinction is helpful.

  • But it doesn’t tell us what the “inexpressible groanings” of the Spirit literally are.


Tom Schreiner thinks they are perhaps our groanings which the Holy Spirit modifies or translates.

“God searches the hearts of believers and finds unutterable longings to conform their lives to the will of God. The Holy Spirit takes these groanings and presents them before God in an articulate form…the Holy Spirit translates these groanings and conforms them to God’s will” – Tom Schreiner.



Implications for Us:

This revelation from Paul about our “weakness” should serve to humble us.

Believers, “do not have an adequate grasp of what God’s will is when they pray. Because of our finiteness and fallibility we cannot perceive fully what God would desire” – Tom Schreiner.


The implication of this is simple:

  • “…we cannot presume to identify our petitions with the will of God” – Doug Moo.


So even in our prayer life…

  • We must depend upon the Holy Spirit.
  • In the midst of our weakness, we find the Spirit’s strength and intercession!
  • And this is good news!



Verse 27:

And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.


Heart Searcher:

Paul says God the Father continually searches the hearts of believers.

  • T. Wright says of Paul’s word choice for “searches”:

“The word ‘searcher’ comes from a root which suggests someone lighting a torch and going slowly round a large, dark room full of all sorts of things, looking for something in particular” – N.T. Wright.


Wright says this is both “disturbing and exciting”.

  • I think so too!


Why would the idea of God the Father doing a room-to-room search of our hearts be disturbing?

  • Short answer: He is going to find the stuff of weak creatures – sin, etc.
  • And this stuff will come under judgment.
  • Romans 2:16 (ESV) — 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.


Why would the idea of God the Father doing a room-to-room search of our hearts be exciting?

  • Because, for the believer, He will also find the stuff of those in Christ and indwelled by the Spirit.
  • And our text tells us that part of that stuff is the groanings of the Spirit.


N.T. Wright puts it like this:

“But the thing he is wanting to find above all else, and which according to Paul he ought to find in all Christians, is the sound of the spirit’s groaning” – N.T. Wright.


This is more good news for the believer!

  • God the Father, the searcher, confirms our union with Christ through the presence of an interceding Spirit groaning on our behalf.


It’s hard to find a better Trinitarian description of the Gospel than this.

“This hints at something deeper than merely prayer in the way that God wants or approves; God’s own life, love and energy are involved in the process. The Christian, precisely at the point of weakness and uncertainty, of inability and struggle, becomes the place at which the triune God is revealed in person” – N.T. Wright.



Spirit Mindset:

Paul goes on to tell us that the Father knows the “phronema” or “mindset” of the Spirit.

  • the mind of the Spirit”.


So what is the “mindset” of the Spirit?

  • the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God


The “mindset” of the Spirit…

  • Is to intercede, mediate and translate our prayers and our groanings to the Father.
  • And to do so “according to the will of God”.


In other words, the “mindset” of the Spirit is CONCERN:

  • Concern for the weakness of the believer.
  • Concern for the will of God the Father.


This is how verse 26 and verse 27 are connected and fill each other out.

  • We are weak – so the Spirit groans (show of concern) on our behalf.
  • God the Father has a will – so the Spirit intercedes for us (show of concern) according to the Father’s will.


This work of the Spirit should bring us huge comfort!

  • Why?

“We discover that God himself does not stand apart from the pain both of the world and of the church, but comes to dwell in the middle of it in the person and power of the spirit” – N.T. Wright.


And with respect to our lives:

“Believers should take tremendous encouragement that the will of God is being fulfilled in their lives despite their weakness and inability to know what to pray for. God’s will is not being frustrated because of the weakness of believers” – Tom Schreiner.


Romans 8:18-23 – Groans and Laments – The “Now” Stuff

Romans 8:18–23 (ESV) — 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.




Paul uses verse 18 to outline and frame his thoughts in verses 29-21.

  • He does so by presenting yet another now and not yet motif.
  • He speaks of the “sufferings of this present time” – the now.
  • He speaks of the “the glory that is to be revealed to us” – the not yet.


In verses 19-23, he fills out what he started.


The Now:

  • Sufferings of this present time” – vs. 18.
  • Creation…subjected to futility” – vs. 20.
  • Creation is in a “bondage to corruption” – vs. 21.
  • Romans 8:22 (ESV) — 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
  • We, “groan inwardly” – vs. 23.


The Not Yet:

  • Glory that is to be revealed in us” – vs. 18.
  • Revealing of the sons of God” – vs. 19.
  • Romans 8:21 (ESV) — 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
  • We, “wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” – vs. 23.


Observing these two distinctions is significant enough.

  • The future for those in Christ is going to be pretty awesome.


But Paul didn’t speak of them just to be observed.

  • He wants them to be tasted and savored.
  • So we need to dive deep into a few of the ideas Paul has raised.



The “Now” Stuff – Suffering, Corruption, Groaning:

Paul makes quite a few allusions to The Fall.

  • Three highlights of The Fall ground much of what Paul is saying in Romans 8.
  • Genesis 3:17b (ESV) — 17b …cursed is the ground because of you…
  • Genesis 3:19b (ESV) — 19b …for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
  • Genesis 3:23–24b (ESV) — 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24b He drove out the man…


These three excerpts capture the “now” that Paul is contending with in Romans 8.

  • (1) Creation has been corrupted and warped due to sin.
  • (2) God’s image bearers will die.
  • (3) God’s image bearers have been expelled from the presence, blessing and life of God and have corrupted creation.


He spoke of these things previously in Romans 5.

  • Romans 5:12 (ESV) — 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned


Adam sinned; Adam was exiled from the Garden; Adam died.

  • We, therefore, were born in exile, so we sin and we die.


The fact of our death is why Paul laments in Romans 7 and in Romans 8:

  • Romans 7:24 (ESV) — 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
  • Romans 8:10 (ESV) — 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.


So, lets deal with two questions that pop out.

  • To dive deep in God’s word – you have to question it!
  • Don’t worry, it can take it; its not going to break.



Question 1:

What does it mean that “creation has been groaning” and that we “groan inwardly”?


The BDAG gives us a couple of ideas:

  • “to groan together with, lament, groan”
  • “to express oneself involuntarily in the face of an undesirable circumstance, sigh, groan”


The EDNT puts it this way:

  • Groaning is “a powerful metaphor for the dejection and powerless yearning of believers in their present suffering”.


Simple enough, but these lead to more questions.


How does creation groan?

  • It seems the idea is that its current “cursed” condition is the expression of its groaning.
  • And such language points to the cosmic size of The Fall.
  • Which would mean the solution has to be cosmic in scope.


Why do we groan “inwardly”?

  • Given the fact that inwardly we are indwelled by the Spirit…
  • Wouldn’t make more sense to say we groan outwardly, in our bodies?
  • This would seem to fit the way that creation groans – outwardly, as a result of The Fall.


Paul helps us out in some other texts (X-Refs).

  • 2 Corinthians 5:2 (ESV) — 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,
  • 2 Corinthians 5:4 (ESV) — 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.


So it appears that our inward groaning is…

  • Our Spirit filled heart and mind expressing a lament of the “now” because we know there is a glorious “not yet”.


Before we move on to our next question…

  • I want to take a short, but important, rabbit trail.



Jesus Rabbit Trail:

When we do a Logos inline search on the Greek word for groan, we find an interesting use of the word.

  • Mark 7:33–35 (ESV) — 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
  • Sadly, there was only one interpretation I could find that translated it with the more accurate “groaned” – the NAB.


This is actually a beautiful picture of the “now” and “not yet” of which Paul speaks.

  • A “now” and a “not yet” that are both wrapped up in Jesus!


Who is it that is also groaning inwardly with us?

  • Answer – Jesus.
  • The 2nd person of the Trinity.


Over what is Jesus groaning?

  • The “now” of creation that Paul has been speaking about.
  • A corrupted, cursed, futile creation and a “body of death”.
  • In this case has manifested in a deaf and mute man.


What is Jesus’ solution to the corruption of creation found in this man?

  • Jesus groans!
  • Jesus heals!


This is awesome stuff!

  • The incarnation is God groaning with His creation and us!
  • The incarnation is God giving us glimpses of new creation.
  • A new creation in which all is put right.


So this means that Jesus’ healing miracles are the future breaking into the present (N.T. Wright).

  • They demonstrate that Jesus has the power to reverse the effects of The Fall!



Question 2:

Earlier in Romans 8, Paul has been speaking of some splendid things such as…

  • Our life in the Spirit.
  • The indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
  • The believer as sacred space.


Why does Paul turn into such a buzz killer with all this groaning stuff?

  • What might be the reason he brings all this bad news up after having pumped us up?


It appears he might be doing a couple of things.


(1) Explaining why those who are in Christ and indwelled by the Spirit still have a “body of death”.

  • Michael Bird puts it this way:
  • “…if believers have been freed from the ‘law of sin and death,’ why does death still engulf them? If believers have a share in the glory of Christ, where is this glory now?”


Paul certainly has experienced immense physical hardship since he put his believing loyalty in Christ.

  • And we certainly know that believers fill our hospitals; they die of cancer; they are murdered; they starve to death, etc.


So how might his description of the “now” address all this?


(2) And he also wants to bring our attention to the fact that God isn’t done.

  • Creation groaning and the “body of death” indicate things aren’t right.


But the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ have secured a resurrection future for us.

  • A future in which God will redeem all the suffering and groaning of the believer.


The Christian, then, is awaiting God’s action to put creation right – something that began with Christ.

  • And, for Paul, this is understood only against the backdrop of the “now”.
  • “…the fact of suffering [is] the dark backdrop against which the glorious future promised to the Christian shines with bright intensity” – Doug Moo.


In other words, to be glorified like Christ, we must suffer like Christ.

  • “Paul makes clear that this suffering is the condition for the inheritance; we will be ‘glorified with’ Christ (only) if we ‘suffer with him’’’ – Doug Moo.


So given all this Paul says:

  • 2 Corinthians 4:17 (ESV) — 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
  • We will deal with this “not yet” future next week.