Why Christians Do Not Ever Pray to or for the Dead
Prayer is a wonderful grace provided to God’s people. When God causes one of His elect, redeemed children to be born again of the Spirit (1 Pet 1:3), the new creature begins to call upon the name of the Lord (Joel 2:32; Rom 10:13). This means he or she begins to pray.
Prayer is a direct line of communication between the indwelling Holy Spirit and God the Father, mediated through Christ, the Son of God. The Spirit of Christ teaches us to pray, and our examples for prayer are on the pages of Holy Scripture.
The Bible gives us an entire book of prayers in the Psalms. People throughout the Bible pray to God, with Christ (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25) and the Holy Spirit working intercession (Rom 8:26–27). Even when we have no words to express, the Holy Spirit groans on our behalf (Rom 8:26).
With this kind of intimacy with the Triune God, there is nothing biblical to warrant praying to demons, angels, or dead saints who have gone before us into glory.
First, no one in the Bible prays to any other entity than God Himself. The regulative principle (what the Bible teaches us about Christian practice) informs our worship, including prayer. For us to speak with God is our great privilege, as His adopted children (Rom 8:15, 23; Eph 1:4–5), who call Him, “Abba, Father.”
Second, we follow in the role of priests. Every Christian is a believer-priest. The Apostle Peter helps us with our identity in Christ, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him, who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet 2:9).”
Royalty was through David of Judah. Priesthood was through Aaron of Levi. In Christ, the priesthood changed to the order of Melchizedek (Heb 5:6, 10, 6:20). It was a better priesthood because it was permanent (Heb 8:1), whereas Aaron’s was temporary, as was the temple at Jerusalem. As our great high priest, Jesus, the Son of God passed through the heavens (Heb 4:14), having entered through the great and more perfect tabernacle (Heb 9:11).
It has always been the role of the priest to be positioned as a mediator between God and man. Enmity needed reconciliation for effective propitiation. In other words, the wrath of God against sinners needed to be appeased, in order for there to be peace with God. This was the purpose of animal sacrifice, a substitute system for repentant sinners in covenant with God. Blood was shed, and the mercy of forgiveness was granted by God. The people of God were set free from bondage to sin and death.
Under the new covenant, Jesus Christ served as the faithful covenant partner, the Israel of God (Is 49:3). Jesus, our priest, offered Himself as the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29), a permanent priesthood (Heb 7:24) and a one time, once for all, substitutionary atonement.
Having taken His seat in the heavens, the resurrected, glorified God-man is seated at the center of the throne of God (Rev 7:17) at the right hand of Majesty. As the one Mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5), He ever lives to intercede for us. Therefore, our prayers are Trinitarian in every way.
Like Jesus, we pray to God the Father, which was also His instruction to His disciples, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” We pray in the Spirit because the Holy Spirit has baptized, regenerated (made alive), indwelt, and sealed every saint. By His permanent abiding, we are “holy ones,” who love Him because He first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).
The Spirit teaches the Christian to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17), giving thanks in everything (1 Thess 5:18). As noted, when we do not know how or what to pray, the Spirit is our Helper (Jn 14:26). In the Spirit, there are formal and informal prayers. Regardless, Christian prayers go through the Mediator, to the Father, for apart from Christ, we can do nothing (Jn 15:5).
Our prayers to God through the “One” Mediator are filled with praise, adoration, confessions, thanksgiving, and supplication. We make our request known to God, who answers the prayers of His people, according to His will.
Misguided prayers to Mary, dead saints, angels, or demons are unholy. They do not follow the Bible, which is the Christian’s one source for instruction in godliness, and which provides ample examples for prayer. To ignore the Bible, in this matter of prayer, is disobedience to God because it is disobedience to His Word, revealed to us by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20–21).
Christians pray. The indwelling Spirit, God’s token of love for His beloved (2 Cor 5:5) constrains us to call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ because we belong to Him (1 Cor 3:23). When uttering our words in worship, we must ensure they are not to one who is not worthy of our worship.
Proper prayers, formal or informal, in the gathering of the saints or alone in one’s prayer closet, are to the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. This is the biblical model, based on instruction and by example, in accordance with each role and function of our Triune God.
Who is it that hears and answers our prayers? It is the Lord Himself, who cares for us, as we cast all our cares upon Him (1 Pet 5:7). Rejoice, dear saint, in such privileged access to the throne of grace.
January 9, 2021