Entering into the intercession of the Holy Spirit
Definition of the word "groan": to make a deep inarticulate sound in response to pain or despair / to utter a deep moan indicative of pain, grief, or annoyance / to make a harsh sound under sudden or prolonged strain / a low, mournful sound uttered in pain or grief
Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19) upon His throne of unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16; 1 John 1:5) and limitless glory (Psalm 29; Psalm 102:15-16; Isaiah 42:8), and it’s by His word that all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). “Because I, the LORD, do not change, you descendants of Jacob have not been destroyed.” Malachi 3:6 (BSB). Because Christ is alive, having paid the eternal debt of our sin, we have an everlasting and living hope. But, despite God being enthroned in victory, His heart still groans out of love and righteous anger for His people who are suffering, and a creation not yet redeemed.
A House for the Lord
Because of Jesus, God’s own Spirit now dwells within us; we are temples of the living God and a place the Holy Spirit calls home.
Our calling and our assignment are to honestly and unceasingly provide a pleasing sacrifice unto the Lord; Christ is the only acceptable offering we can give to God (Isaiah 53:10-11).
2 Corinthians 2:14, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.”
The only offering that is pleasing to God is Himself–nothing else is worthy, for all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), for God is holy (1 Samuel 2:2). Thus, God provided for our sacrifice through Christ’s cross, which we partake in by the offering-up of our bodies through faith (Romans 12:1). In Christ, we are living sacrifices, a life that says, “God, Your body was beaten and bloodied for my sake, so take my soul and make it a pleasing dwelling place for Your Spirit.” God chose us–these clay phylacteries–to make His home in.
David wanted to build God a house (1 Chronicles 17:1-2), but God’s response was, “No, I will build Myself a home. A home no mere human hand can construct.” (1 Chronicles 17:3-4). Though David was a man after God’s own heart, there was One coming after David who was, and is, and always will be the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). It is of Him the Father speaks, “‘He shall build Me a house, and I will establish His throne forever. I will be His Father, and He shall be My Son; and I will not take My mercy away from Him, as I took it from him who was before you. And I will establish Him in My house and in My kingdom forever; and His throne shall be established forever.’” 1 Chronicles 17:12-14 (NKJV).
The temple of Christ’s body was destroyed and raised on the third day (John 2:19), so that we could become temples of the living God (1 Corinthians 3:16). Though every believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit, we are also individual and living stones that Christ is using to build His Church (Matthew 16:18). We are all being fashioned together to construct a unified dwelling place for God, with the apostles and prophets as the foundation and Christ Jesus as the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-22). The only foundation that can be laid, however, is Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:11), which means the only usable stone for God’s house is the Stone of Israel, the mighty Rock of Ages (Genesis 49:24). An imperative to the Body that we must heed, for our work in Christ will be tested--did I lay God's foundation or my own (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)? Nonetheless, God provides us with a powerful picture of both our individual call into Christ’s righteousness, but also our corporate call into unity, which is fashioned by and founded upon the Word of God. All so that we may grow and be built up in love (Ephesians 4:16).
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ Himself, who is the head. From Him the whole body, fitted and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love through the work of each individual part.” Ephesians 4:16 (BSB)
This is why it is written, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:5 (ESV). God is love (1 John 4:7-12), and we see that love is the sacrifice that God wants us to give, which is illustrated to us in practical terms in Isaiah 58:6-7 and Luke 10:25-37; love is a self-sacrificing and active move of compassion. And, though God provides us with this picture in the Books of Isaiah and Luke as to what the love He desires looks like, our love is not unconditional as His is (John 21:15-17), so the question of sacrifice is not answered in our own love. The Word of God gives us our answer: “We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19 (BSB).
To give our spiritual sacrifice of love to the Father, we must give it through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20), which means lifting our eyes to the intersecting wood beams where His love was glorified (Galatians 2:20). A glorification through self-sacrificing, suffering love.
The Indomitable Will of Christ
To gain Christ inevitably means an increase in suffering because it means putting to death our flesh, whose nature is selfish and is what the world is founded on. The direction God walks in response to self is diametrically opposed to the direction walked by man.
Christ was tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), but when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion, the temptation Jesus faced was refusing the cross–a desire to not be separated from the Father (Matthew 26:36-46). Where Christ’s temptation led Him to the Father and away from becoming our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), our temptations lead us away from God and into sin (James 1:13). For we know that Christ was obedient unto death–even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). Christ was sent into the wilderness, so we could draw near to the Father’s throne. Jesus was perfectly justified in all things and could have refused the cross if He wanted to–it was not His suffering to bear. But, Christ and the Father are One (John 10:30; John 17:22), so there was never any intention in the living God to turn away from His purpose: glorifying His holy name (Psalm 23:3). Therefore, the sinless One, because of His sinlessness, became sin and was separated from God so that we, the sinful ones, could become sinless through Christ’s death (separation) and resurrection (restitution).
How much are we struggling against our flesh? How intense is our hatred of sin, and our willingness to fight against it? Truly, there is far more fight that we all can give; “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Hebrews 12:4 (BSB). Jesus literally fulfilled this–He resisted sin to the point of sweating blood (Luke 22:44). Such a condition is real, though extremely rare, and it’s called Hematidrosis. To fight to be obedient unto God in such a way is impossible by our own strength. The measure of our success against sin and thereby in our sanctification has absolutely nothing to do with our own ability to be righteous. As we have established, those who reside in Christ are temples of the living God. The Holy Spirit resides within you, believer, and He is all we will ever need.
The same willpower that made Christ sweat blood rather than disobey His Father in heaven is the same fighting Spirit that dwells within us. Are we contending for the kingdom of God? The good news of Christ’s gospel is that we don’t have to try harder to become holier, we just have to sit at the feet of the One who is and simply behold Him (2 Corinthians 3:18).
To Weep with the Weeping God
So, how does Christ maintain a soft and moldable heart within us, while also deepening the roots of righteousness? Christ’s call of sanctification is a sowing of tears and a pressing of new wine.
God stores our tears in bottles (Psalm 56:8), and we know Jesus turns water into wine (John 2:1-11). Jesus said to the disciples, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:29. It's ironic (and I find kinda funny) that, on the day of Pentecost and the unleashing of the Holy Spirit, people thought those who were filled with the Spirit were filled with new wine, aka, were drunk (Acts 2:13).
Gethsemane means “olive or wine press,” and it is the place where Jesus prayed in the Spirit while under the weight and agony of His situation. Christ also attributes His blood as drink indeed (John 6:55)–it gives the picture that He is both the grapes being crushed to produce new wine (Psalm 22:14), and the One trodding on the winepress (Isaiah 63). It is only because Christ drank our cup of wrath in His death–having been poured out as a drink offering (Luke 22:20; John 19:34)--that we can drink the fruit of the Vine in His resurrection (John 4:14).
We also see that wine is given as a drink offering alongside the burnt offering of a lamb in the Old Covenant (Numbers 15:5). Christ’s Blood initiated the New Covenant, in which we who partake will also share in His suffering (1 Peter 4:13). This is clearly made evident in Paul in the New Testament, as Scripture says, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.” 2 Timothy 4:6 (BSB) and Philippians 2:17.
The Winepress of Suffering
Christ wept and sweated blood while in Gethsemane, and His soul was “very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38). Sanctification–which produces momentary suffering in the spirit because of God's chastening (Hebrews 12:6; Hebrews 12:11; Deuteronomy 8:5)--occurs in the spiritual and reveals the suffering found in the world. Christ was perfect, thus His suffering was absolute, and, therefore, so too was His joy (Hebrews 12:2). For we know the flesh wars against the Spirit (Galatians 5:17), and the fullness of God dwelled in a body of flesh, being Jesus (Colossians 2:9)--but it wasn’t Christ’s nature as man that got Him crucified. The body of Jesus was tortured and beaten, but it was the holiness of Christ that led Him to Golgotha. Nonetheless, as we are conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), we will also be glorified by God through Him (Romans 8:30), which involves persecution and sharing in Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 4:12-19).
As a result of spiritual oppression, the necessity to bear one another's burdens is made evident. We can bear each other's burdens through the Spirit because of Christ who bore it both physically and spiritually. The passing of a loved one is a prime example of a pain we cannot physically bear, though it can manifest physically–a form of suffering that is purely relational. We can bear the burdens of others and empathize with them spiritually because of love, which comforts and connects us at the heart level, which is spiritual. Even so, just as Christ is truly man and truly God, the distinction between body and spirit was never meant to exist and is but a deception of the fallenness of this world. This is why Paul writes, "So will it be with the resurrection of the dead: What is sown is perishable; it is raised imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body." 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 (BSB).
It is because of spiritual darkness (Ephesians 6:12) manifesting itself in the material that we suffer because the natural has not yet been redeemed in the same way our souls have through Christ’s cross (John 19:30). This is why those who are in Christ are fully redeemed from sin (supernatural/spiritual), yet war against their flesh (natural/material). Moreover, this is also why creation groans for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19), because the children of God shine the light of Christ into the darkness–the darkness being what produces suffering. The Holy Spirit brings forth what is from heaven into the material, and shines His light as the Spirit of revelation and wisdom (Ephesians 1:17).
It’s in Romans 8:19 that Paul is writing of a future hope of revelation, which ultimately points to the final apocalypse that will be heralded in by Christ’s return and thereby the revealing of the sons and daughters of God in glory (1 Thessalonians 4:17; Philippians 3:21)–at which point all of creation will be redeemed, and there will be no more darkness, and therefore, no more suffering. It is then that every tear will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4).
However, since we still exist in this present darkness (Ephesians 6:12), it is out of Christ’s heart that we weep and long to see His kingdom invade every shadow and hidden place in this world and in our lives (John 11:35). Because of the knowledge that we carry, we know that sin and death are an affront to the Lord and are present realities that slander the truth of God’s heavenly design, despite His sovereignty that is reconciling it all for His purpose (Colossians 1:20; Genesis 50:20).
Knowledge of the holy requires us to wait eagerly for Christ’s return–which will swallow up death forever (1 Corinthians 15:54)--while being relentlessly active and vigilant in showing love at every moment through the Holy Spirit. Thus, by the Spirit, we will see our mourning turn into dancing (Psalm 30:11), and our tears become tears of joy (1 Peter 5:10). “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18 (NASB), and, “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.” Psalm 126:5 (NKJV). A present help, but also a future hope.
The Tears of Christ's Heart
Therefore, the only pleasing aroma to God is a heart positioned in the manner of Christ's--this is possible because of the heart of Christ we have been given (Ezekiel 36:26). The Lamb of God is the perfect sacrifice, and when we sow the tears of His heart and allow God's grace to refine us in righteousness, the aroma of the Lord permeates our lives.
Christians are living sacrifices because Christ’s fire burns upon the altar of our hearts; a fire that is sustained through faith and fed by worship. The truth of the cross should rend our hearts every time we present the Lamb’s beaten body onto the altar of our souls. We should welcome the worship offered through our tears with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28).
We know that Christ died once for everyone (Romans 6:9-10) out of love (John 3:16), laying down His own eternal life (Hebrews 7:27), and then taking it up again (John 10:18). Thus, Jesus does not die anymore (Romans 6:9), for He was raised on the third day and is now seated in power at the right hand of the Father. But, if a person who does not know Christ has their eyes opened by the Holy Spirit, did Christ die again at that moment? No, rather, the person was given grace and received the revelation of Christ’s sacrifice by faith–thus, the Son is glorified by the Holy Spirit.
It is through faith that we look upon Christ’s sacrifice, something we are called to walk in (2 Corinthians 5:7), and thereby fulfill the Scripture: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” Colossians 2:6 (ESV); may we never abandon the depth and humility of the broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17). And this is not a walk of continual re-justification, for we know those who are in Christ are justified the moment they truly believe in their heart through repentance and are saved through their confession (Romans 10:10).
The confession of Christ that flows from our hearts, however, will be evidenced by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life. If we are temples of the living God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), then the sacrifice upon the altar of our souls is the righteous Lamb; “Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out.” Leviticus 6:13 (ESV). And the fire of Christ burns with a deep longing for the reconciliation of humanity, that all may come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9) and know Him (John 17:3). Christ's longing becomes our own.
The truth of the Gospel is what softens our hearts, both for God and for others. Whenever we look upon Christ’s hallowed cross in Spirit and in truth, our hearts will be softened. If we detach ourselves from the weeping, then our hearts will harden and we will become too familiar with God’s goodness and grace, leading us into a love that runs cold. And a love that is cold is hardly love at all, “‘For our God is a consuming fire.’” Hebrews 12:29 (BSB).
Christ wept and was a man of sorrows (Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Isaiah 53:3).
He wept for those He longed to save (Luke 13:34)
He wept for a suffering world, defiant to His design (John 11:33-35)
He wept out of a longing to see all things made new (Revelation 21:5)
He wept out of a conviction and a call from the Father to save His people (Exodus 3:7)
It is from the tears of Christ’s heart that we enter into the groan of the Holy Spirit, who prays only according to the will of the Father–"And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:27 (BSB). And it is the Father who sent His Son to save us, out of compassion and love for a broken and lost people; Jesus did not come to do His own will, but to eagerly carry out His Father’s (John 6:35-40).
We have Christ’s mind (1 Corinthians 2:16), and just as Jesus was sent by the Father, so are we sent by Jesus (John 20:21). Therefore, it is out of Christ’s hunger for justice–the same hunger that proceeds forth from the Father–that we willingly proclaim to God, “Here am I, send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). The heart cry that proceeds forth from God is the Holy Spirit, and His yearning for justice will transform us into reflections of Christ.
Deep Calls to Deep
Consequently, the depth that we reach within our spirit isn’t predicated upon our own suffering–either physical or spiritual. The deep that now resides within our hearts is reliant entirely upon the depth of Christ’s suffering. This is not to say that God does not empathize with our pain–on the contrary entirely, for He is able to perfectly sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:15), and is our comforter and advocate (John 14:26). Correspondingly, it is through Christ's heart that we now suffer, and no longer in vain like the world but in the light of the hope of the Gospel (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). However, there is no way we could ever suffer in the fullness that Christ did–He bore the entire penalty of sin upon Himself. But, because the Holy Spirit resides within those who believe, the groan of Christ’s suffering–and, consequently, the eternal reward of joy–is ours to access. It is when we access the riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19) that we are breaking up the fallow ground and sowing in righteousness, from which we will reap mercy (Hosea 10:12).
If our entrance into the groan of the Holy Spirit is not producing mercy, then we have abandoned the bleeding heart of Christ and clung solely to the joy that was set before Him. How can one be holy without hatred of sin? And how can a man be merciful without showing mercy? Our heart does not rend for the sake of tearing–such mourning only produces self-righteousness (Isaiah 58:3-5). Our hearts are cut for the sole purpose of producing love, which is an entrance into the bleeding heart of Christ, who wept for and forgave His enemies (Luke 23:34).
The living God prays for us in triune unity, and the words of eternal life are found in His intercession (John 17:9; John 17:20). God's thoughts for us are beyond the number of sand grains on the seashore (Psalm 139:17-18), and He is rejoicing over Zion, His people, with singing (Zephaniah 3:16-17). All Christ tells us to do is believe (Matthew 21:22). I want to hear the hymns of heaven, and the melodies that God is singing--what a beautiful and pure sound, indeed. What does God praying even look like? I believe God praying would look a lot like holy and tear-filled contractions of deep inaudible groaning, weeping, and gritting of teeth. If Christ is the One who empathizes with us and intercedes on our behalf, then, truly, the sight of Him praying would reflect a heart of both pain and joy. The glory of imagining such a thing is too deep to comprehend, yet it’s happening right now at all times. May we abide ceaselessly in the groan of the Spirit.
Assuredly, because Jesus is our teacher, He sets the example for us through His own life. Even so, we are past the simple acts of mere observance and works according to the flesh–we harbor the Holy Spirit. Christ now lives in us, and what we know He is doing in heaven we know He wants to be doing in and through us, which is unleashing the holy cry of God into the earth. Crucify the fear of man in me, O God--thank You, Jesus, that I have what I pray for (1 John 5:15).
Our words and wisdom will fail, but the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in our weakness (Romans 8:26). We know the Holy Spirit reveals to us the glory of Christ, and, because they are One, the Spirit's groan is in perfect unison with the intercession of Jesus. Because the Holy Spirit in us brings revelation and thereby reception of the truth–which is the intercession Christ is giving on our behalf–, in a way, the groan of the Spirit within us unites with the cry of Christ coming from heaven, all according to the will of the Father. This triune groan of the kingdom of God is longing to break out in and through us, on earth as it is in heaven.
Deep calls to deep at the roar of God’s waterfalls (Psalm 42:7), which crash and pour forth from the floodgates of heaven–the doors that Christ has thrown open (Malachi 3 [verse 10]; Isaiah 45:8). Intimacy with God through the Holy Spirit will bring us deeper into the depths of Christ’s heart, which will awaken the fruit of the kingdom of God within us (Matthew 21:43) as we walk under Christ's yoke (Matthew 11:29). May the soil of our hearts be good and soft ground so that, in season, we will return with sheaves in the harvest (Psalm 126:6).