By: Gary Hutchens
A number of descriptive expressions are used by a lot of people, not always accurately, in regards to the Holy Spirit. One such expression is “in the Spirit.” Many seem to use this phrase to describe a person who is supposedly overwhelmed, overcome or taken over by the Holy Spirit. In some cases, such a person supposedly no longer has control of himself, but the Spirit temporarily takes control and basically manipulates him to do what the Spirit wants him to do. At times, the person may appear to be in something of a trance-like state.
Such an understanding would appear to be largely a product of misguided imagination and/or very narrow application. It is an interpretation that seems to be a product of a seemingly predisposed tendency on the part of many to associate almost all things related to the Holy Spirit with the realm of the miraculous. There are many references in scripture that include the phrase “in the Spirit.” Most of them do not indicate a state wherein the individual does not have control over himself. The most common sense of what is meant by being “in the Spirit” has nothing at all to do with being taken over by the Holy Spirit, nor does it have anything to do with the miraculous.
In Rom. 8:1-14 the apostle Paul uses all of the following expressions: “walk…according to the Spirit” (vs. 1, 4), “live according to the Spirit” (vs. 5), “set their minds on…the things of the Spirit” (vs. 5), “to be spiritually minded” (vs. 6), “you are…in the Spirit” (vs. 9), “as many as are led by the Spirit of God” (vs. 14).
Paul uses all of these various expressions interchangeably in this context to express the same basic understanding. While using a little different wording, all of the expressions mean essentially the same thing. He is clearly talking about the direction by which an individual lives his life, his mind-set. Paul expresses the same basic understanding in his letter to the Colossians when he instructs them to “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2).
A person sets “his mind on things above” by focusing on living his life according to God’s teachings communicated in God’s word. God’s word, scripture, was written by men who were guided by the Holy Spirit to write what they wrote (2 Pet. 1:19-21). So, a person who faithfully lives his life by the teachings of God’s word is a person who walks, who lives his life, “according to the Spirit.” The way he lives demonstrates that he has set his mind “on…the things of the Spirit,” that he is “spiritually minded.” In living by the Spirit-guided word of God, he is a person who is “led by the Spirit of God.” As such, he is truly “in the Spirit.”
Nothing miraculous, nothing supernatural. Nothing seized control of his life. When a person makes up his mind to truly live by God’s word, he lives his life “in the Spirit”…
Gary L. Hutchens