What does it mean to be “in the Holy Spirit?”

Some time ago Mark got stuck on the harmless little phrase “in the Spirit” as it appears in the lives of Jesus and the writers of the New Testament. They seemed to throw the term around without ever defining it. To them it seemed self-explanatory. So, he decided to look up all the places where the term is found and do a word-study on the word “in.” We know, it sounds pointless, studying the word “in”, but what he found surprised him and gave us an understanding of the Holy Spirit that brought clarity both to our own experiences and to our understanding of scripture. Let’s take a closer look.

The phrase, “in the Holy Spirit” appears several times in the New Testament. Here are most of those verses that refer to someone being or doing something in the Holy Spirit:

1] Luke 10:21: Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.”

2] Jude 1:20: “… pray in the Holy Spirit.”

3] Rev. 1:10: “On the Lord’s day I was in the Spirit and I heard behind me a loud voice …” 

4] Rom. 14:17: “… the Kingdom of God is about peace righteousness and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

5] John 4:23: “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

In each of these passages something is happening; rejoicing, prayer, a vision, the experience of peace, the experience of knowing our righteousness and finally worship. Something is happening through people and to people and it is somehow “in” the Holy Spirit.

The key to what “in the Holy Spirit” means lies in the word “in.”  In each verse we’ve listed, the same Greek word for “in “is used. Here is how this word may be translated; “in, on, at, near, by, before, among, with, within, and into.”

Here are the three definitions that best describe an activity or experience happening “in” the Holy Spirit;

  1. a marker of a state or condition e.g. “in torment”,
  2. a marker of close personal association, e.g. “one with”, “in union with” “joined closely to”
  3. a marker of the means by which one event makes another event possible, e.g. “by means of” or “through.”

If we put all these definitions together we get this definition of the phrase “in the Holy Spirit”: “a state or condition of close personal association or union or joining with the Holy Spirit by which another state or condition, event or activity, is made possible.”

By way of example, what is made possible in John 4:23-24 is worship. What this means is that worship “in the Holy Spirit” is a condition or state which happens to us through the power and enabling of the Holy Spirit. It is not something that we can make happen. It comes about by union with or joining closely to the Holy Spirit. It is a different state or condition from that which we were in before we entered into “worship in the Holy Spirit.”

The same thing is happening to Jesus when He was filled with joy in the Holy Spirit. It means that something happened to him through the Holy Spirit which was different from what He was experiencing before the Holy Spirit brought the joy. Similarly, praying in the Holy Spirit is a different state from what may be prayed apart from the Holy Spirit.

When we are “in the Spirit” we are moved from one state of being to another which result in a union with Him which is not theoretical but experiential.

In all these events, there is an increase in the “personal closeness or association” with the Holy Spirit. There is an increase in intimacy and an increase in communication between us and Him. And finally, He [by His power] makes something happen which could not happen without His intervention [with spiritual power].

We really are carried away in the godly sense of the word. We are moved from one state of being to another which result in a union with Him, which is not theoretical, but experiential. And finally, some activity or experience is made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit which could not have been possible without His power. In every case such an experience leaves us with a greater understanding of the nature of God, not because we read it or heard it in a sermon, but because we experienced it/Him.

Check back for the next blog post for Mark’s first such experience of his spiritual gift of teaching.

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