Confidence in Prayer

It is an inexpressible delight to know that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has invited us into his heavenly throne room. Though prayer is a marvelous gift from God to us, it is not always easy to do. For the reflective soul, the realization that he is actually coming into the presence of deity can cause uneasiness and trepidation (cf. Isa. 6:5).

Yet, it is comforting to know that God has made it possible for us to approach him in prayer confidently and boldly. “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). “We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19). “Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). This confidence is possible because of the divine help accessible to us when we pray.

Picturing the Work of Christ

The Holy Spirit sometimes powerfully conveyed ideas by choosing words that create mental pictures for the reader. The verbal portrait of what happens when Christians pray is thrilling.

Scripture affirms this amazing truth: Jesus lives to serve us. “He always lives to make intercession” for us (Heb. 7:25). He is our “advocate” (1 John 2:1). And he is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters (Heb. 2:11). He was willing to surrender certain privileges of his divine nature in order to personally identify with us (Heb. 2:9; 1 Tim. 2:5; 1 Cor. 15:28) – a concept we may never fully appreciate. And this Jesus ascended from earth to heaven “to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:24). “In the presence of” translates a Greek phrase meaning “to (before) the face of God” (Alford 181).

Draw this picture in your mind: Jesus is often presented in the New Testament as being “seated” at the right hand of God (Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:8, et al.) ruling over his kingdom. But when I need His mediation and advocacy in prayer, the writer of Hebrews changes that picture from Jesus being seated at the right hand of God to him standing before the face of God on my behalf – as if he has taken a place standing beside me as I “draw near to the throne of grace.”

Picturing the Work of the Spirit

In addition to the help that Jesus gives, the Holy Spirit is also actively assisting. “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). In the Greek text, the word translated “helps” is a compound word in Greek, consisting of three important parts. The root word means “to take hold.” The two prefixes mean, respectively, “together with,” and “against; opposite; or, reciprocally” (Vincent 358; Earle 180-181; Robertson 376). Putting these three component parts together, Wuest explains the meaning this way,

The word speaks of the action of a person coming to another’s aid by taking hold over against that person, of the load he is carrying. The person helping does not take the entire load, but helps the other person in his endeavor (Wuest 140).

Draw this picture in your mind: you are on one end of a heavy weight and the Spirit of God is on the other end, and both of you lift it together. Amazing, isn’t it? When my human weakness manifests itself in not knowing how to express myself to God, the Holy Spirit, who knows my heart because he lives there (Gal. 4:6), steps up and takes the inexpressible groaning of my heart and communicates them to God for me. In that way he “helps” me lift the burden that I cannot lift by myself.

The Whole Picture

The complete picture is mind-blowing. When I prayerfully enter into the throne room of heaven, standing on one side of me (figuratively speaking, of course) is the Holy Spirit saying to the Father, “I have a special relationship with this man. He is struggling to express his innermost feelings and I am here to communicate what he cannot.” On the other side of me is Jesus saying, in essence, “I, too, have a special relationship with him, Father. I’m delighted to call him my brother, and I’m here as his supporter and advocate.” When you and I approach our Father in prayer, we do not do so alone. We are accompanied by Christ Jesus himself and God’s Holy Spirit, each fulfilling special roles of support just for us.

If that does not give us confidence in prayer, what will?

References

Alford, Henry (1976), Alford’s Greek Testament: An Exegetical and Critical Commentary, Vol. 4 Part 1 (Grand Rapids: Guardian Press).

Earle, Ralph (1974, 1986), Word Meanings in the New Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers).

Robertson, A.T. (1931), Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 4 (Nashville: Broadman Press).

Vincent, Marvin R. (1888), Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. 1 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers).

Wuest, Kenneth (1973), Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Romans 8

Introduction: In the previous chapter, Paul described the civil war being waged within his own heart and mind. There was a part of him that wanted to do right, but he often found himself doing wrong. Though God’s laws are good, his own weaknesses caused him to break those laws. He called his resulting condition “wretched” (7:24). In chapter 8, Paul will counter that wretched condition by describing the glorious state of those who are in Christ. What are the blessings of being a Christian?

I. The Indwelling Holy Spirit (8:1-17, 26-27)

A. Paul begins with a straightforward affirmation of the spiritual status of the person who is in Christ. That person stands under no condemnation (1).

B. This uncondemned state is because of what “law of the Spirit of life” – the law revealed by the Holy Spirit – accomplished. It has set the Christian free from “the law of sin and death” (2).

C. The Law of Moses could not do that because of the weakness of man. But God made it possible for the “righteous requirement of the law” to be fulfilled in us through the death of Jesus (3-4).

D. Those who have been set free are those who will focus their hearts on the things of the Holy Spirit, not the things of the flesh (5-8, 12-14). This is because the Christian is no longer “in the flesh but in the Spirit” (9).

E. As a result of this new relationship with God’s Spirit, we have spiritual life (10), the promise of a future resurrection (11), and a family relationship with God (15-17).

F. While on the topic of the Spirit, look ahead to 8:26-27 and note what Paul says regarding a special kind of help that we receive from the Spirit.

1. “Helps” translates a compound word in Greek and paints a picture of two people taking the opposite ends of a burden and lifting it together.

2. This passage teaches that when we have trouble knowing what to pray for – when we are so overwhelmed that our inner groanings cannot be put into words – the Spirit takes what is in our hearts and communicates it to the Father.

4. He “helps” me lift that burden.

II. Hope (8:18-25)

A. The statement of verse 18 introduces the rest of this difficult section. Whatever the meaning of verses 19-25 is, it must harmonize with verse 18 – that “the sufferings of this present time” do not compare “with the glory” that is to come.

B. The difficulty of this section is in identifying “the creation.” Is it the material creation? Is it the physical body? Is it the Christian?

1. I do not believe that it is the Christian. While the Christian is a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17), that is not how Paul is using that term here. The Christian is mentioned in this section, but not until verse 23, and that by way of contrast with the “creation.”

2. I believe that Paul is personifying the material, physical world – the earth and everything in it (except the people). Mankind was not the only thing adversely affected by the entrance of sin. The entire physical world was. It, too, is awaiting the end when all wrongs will be righted.

C. Just like the world is anticipating the end, so are Christians – those who “have the firstfruits of the Spirit” (23). We anticipate the final redemption of our bodies in the resurrection (24-25).

1. There is confidence in our hope (Heb. 6:11, 19; 1 Pet. 1:3-5, 13).

2. There are responsibilities with our hope (1 John 3:3).

III. Providence (8:28-30)

A. The aforementioned redemption of the body, which will happen at the general resurrection of the dead, is all according to God’s plan and providence. He is working all of these things out for our good (28).

B. Christians are the ones predestined, called, justified, and glorified (29-30) – all of which are in harmony with both God’s sovereignty and man’s free will (cf. 2 Thess. 2:14).

IV. God’s Love (8:31-39)

A. In summary, Paul rhetorically asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (31). Since God refused to spare his own son from death “for us all,” why would he not give us all these other things (32)?

B. No one can sustain a guilty charge against God’s elect (Christians) because God is the one who justifies and Jesus is our intercessor (33-34). The only ones who could condemn us are the ones who have saved us!

C. Therefore, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (35-39). Though many things can try (tribulation, distress, etc.), “in all these things we are more than conquerors” (37).

Conclusion: There may not be a more encouraging and faith-building chapter in the New Testament than Romans 8. It gives all children of God a long list of reasons to be confident in their salvation, be strong in the face of difficulties, and be enthusiastic in their praise of God.

Romans 5

Introduction: In the previous chapter, Paul used Abraham as an illustration of how one can be justified by faith apart from meritorious works in general and the Law of Moses in particular. In this chapter, he will first mention some of the results and blessings of justification, then he will explain that what humanity lost through Adam it can regain through Jesus.

I. Blessings of Justification (5:1-11)

A. The chapter begins with “therefore,” which is a clear indication that what he is about to write relates directly to what he previously wrote.

B. From 3:21 – 4:25, Paul explained and illustrated what it means to be justified, not by works of merit, but by faith in Jesus. To paraphrase verse one, “Since, then, we have been justified by faith, here are some of the results and blessings of that justification.”

1. We have peace with God (1). Sin creates hostility with and separation from God (James 4:4; Isa. 59:1-2). But through faith in Jesus, fellowship is restored and God turns his back on our sins (Psa. 51:9).

2. We have access into God’s grace (2). Grace is not unconditionally given. We access all of the benefits of his grace when we stop trusting in ourselves and start trusting him (Eph. 2:4-9).

3. We have reason to rejoice in hope and in our sufferings (2-5). It is easy to rejoice in good times, but not so easy to rejoice in bad times. But when we consider the benefits of difficulties, we can improve our outlook (James 1:2-4).

4. We have the indwelling of God’s Spirit (5). The Spirit of God is given when one becomes a child of God (Acts 2:38; 5:32; Gal. 4:6). He serves as a “seal” and an “earnest” of future reward (Eph. 1:13-14; 2 Cor. 1:22), and helps us in our growth and sanctification (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 3:16; Rom. 8:13).

5. We have protection from the wrath of God (9-10). One of the intriguing lessons to consider from this text is that when Jesus saves us, he is saving us from God (Heb. 10:31; 12:29).

6. We have been reconciled (11). Sin caused separation. Through the death of Jesus we can be brought back into fellowship with God (Col. 1:21-22; 2 Cor. 5:18-20).

C. The above blessings were made possible because Jesus died for weak, ungodly, sinful enemies (6-8). It is a love that defies description and understanding (1 John 4:9-10)!

II. What We Lost in Adam, We Gain in Christ (5:12-21)

A. This section contains some of the more difficult statements in Romans. But its primary message is clear: while Adam’s disobedience opened the door for sin to be committed, Jesus’ obedience opened the door for salvation to be received.

B. First, let’s consider what Paul writes about Adam and his sin:

1. Sin entered the world through him (12).

2. Death (physical and spiritual) entered the world because of his sin (12).

3. Sin existed prior to the Law of Moses, and death reigned over all who sinned, even though their sins may not have been exactly like Adam’s sin (13-14).

4. Adam is a “type” of Christ (14). Wayne Jackson, in his helpful book, Biblical Figures of Speech, defines a “type” this way, “A type is a real, exalted happening in history that was divinely ordained by the omniscient God to be a prophetic picture of the good things he purposed to bring to fruition through Christ Jesus” (p. 126).

C. Second, consider what Paul writes about Jesus and his obedience. Regarding Adam and Jesus, the comparison is more in how they are different than in how they are alike (15-19).

1. Through Adam, many died; through Jesus, grace abounded (15).

2. Through Adam came condemnation; through Jesus, justification (16).

3. Through Adam, death reigned; through Jesus, life reigns (17).

4. Through Adam came sin and condemnation; through Jesus, justification and righteousness (18-19).

D. The Law of Moses was given “to increase the trespass” – that is, to shine a bright light on the sinfulness of man (20; cf. 7:7, 13). This was to increase man’s awareness of how much he needs God’s grace in Jesus (21).

Conclusion: A great summary statement for this section is the last part of Romans 5:20, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”