Frequently in the discussion about gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Bible’s command to pray in the Spirit3 will be brought up. The assumption here is that the few times the Bible actually talks about the Christian’s need to “pray in the Spirit” is synonymous to and evidence of a gift of the Holy Spirit. Some have tried to define this by looking to other preachers or theologians, but let’s simply take a look at any/only/all Scripture for an answer…
How Scripture answers "What does it mean to pray in the Spirit?"
To pray in the Spirit is first something that can only be done by believers4,6, or those that have been given the Holy Spirit5. Naturally, these should be individuals offering prayers that are “according to His will”7. Similarly, Paul contextualizes it as pertaining to those “in Christ Jesus” in a chapter dedicated to how a Christian should be living according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh1. There he explicitly defines what it means to pray in the Spirit:
- WHO: the Holy Spirit, as directed by God,
- WHAT: interceding for us with “inexpressible groanings”,
- WHY: in order to compensate for our own human (or “fleshly” per the context) weakness.
Notably, the “HOW” is not answered in Scripture, and therefore not something we can answer. We are only told matter-of-factly that He “DOES”. The fact that those “in the Spirit” should “pray in the Spirit” is repeated a couple of other times3,4 in a way consistent with Paul’s definition (without offering further explanation on “HOW”) and in a way that comforts a Christian that may feel inadequate in their daily struggle. Also worth noting is a passage2 that some attempt to pull into this discussion, but with misapplication. Based on the context, Paul is clearly speaking about his own “spirit” (the essence of his spirituality as a human) versus God’s Holy Spirit that indwells him as a believer5 or the special, miraculous gifts he possesses as an apostle.
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