What is the “spirit” referenced in the passage? “Spirit” in the Greek is “pneuma.” Strong’s Concordance defines it broadly: “a current of air, breath, mental disposition or an angel, demon.” Throughout Romans, the Apostle Paul also used “pneuma” in different contexts with a variety of meanings. Some verses in Romans do not refer to God’s holy spirit. For example, Paul wrote, “I serve with my spirit” (1:9), “spirit of bondage” (8:15), “spirit of slumber” (11:8) and “fervent in spirit” (12:11). Spirit in these scriptures would mean a person’s mental disposition or attitude.
Romans 8:16-27 explains that God’s spirit bears testimony with our spirit. When we become Christians, our attitude is to have God’s will done in own lives. This new desire in the heart is the New Creature. (2 Corinthians 5:17) The New Creature is the spirit in this verse. Our inner thoughts and desires are what God can know. Romans 8:27 “He that searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit [our New Creature].” He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our needs better than we can adequately express.
In verses 19-22, Paul writes about the groaning of the creation (mistranslated creature) waiting for deliverance. In verse 22, he says that saints also groan. The groaning of the world and the groaning of believers are two different Greek words. For non-believers it means “to moan,” but for believers, it can also mean to “pray inaudibly.” For example, Jesus had an inaudible prayer recorded in Mark 7:34: “Looking up to heaven [as if offering a prayer], he sighed [same word as groan in Romans 8:23], and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.” Jesus’ heart/spirit was deeply touched by the deafness and impaired speech of the one he healed.
For believers, we know our groaning over sin and suffering will be relieved at our redemption (verse 23). Verses 24 and 25 are a further explanation of the hope of believers.
Paul goes back to discussing the believer’s groaning or inaudible prayer in verse 26 when he says “likewise.” “Likewise the spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought.” As humans, our words may not express what we feel. Words can be so inadequate especially when Old Creature emotions are strong. God can read our New Creature thoughts and not our fleshly, worldly thoughts. That is how our spirit (our heart attitude) intercedes on our behalf. Like any good parent with a little child, God knows our heart’s desire – however poorly we word it.
How important it is to keep our hearts humble, honest and teachable before our God. We want Him to read only good, holy thoughts in our hearts. Then verse 28 applies: “And we know all things work together for good to them that love God.”