Q. Thank you for your website. It is a daily source of spiritual encouragement. One of the best on the Internet. My question is, what is meant by the phrase “in the spirit” or “in the Spirit”? Is it a state we should try to attain or something that just happens when God wants it to? If it is a state we should attain, how does one do it?
A. The phrase “in the spirit” is used 7 times in the New Testament in 3 different ways.
In Luke 1:17 we’re told that John the Baptist would minister in the spirit and power of Elijah. This meant that Elijah’s spirit would be contained within John’s body. This is why Jesus said that Elijah had already come (Matt. 17:12-13)
In Ephesians 6:18 Paul admonished believers to pray in the Spirit, and Colossians 1:18 said that he had heard of their love in the spirit. He was giving examples of believers yielding to the leading of the Holy Spirit within them in doing these things. We do this by learning to quiet our own spirits down through worship and prayer to the point where the Holy Spirit can guide our thoughts.
The other 4 times are in the Book of Revelation. They can be found in 1:10, 4:2, 17:3 and 21:10. In these cases John is describing something we would call an “out of body” experience where his spirit was transported to the End of the Age to be an eye witness to events of that time. Physical entities are bound by the constraints of time, but spiritual entities are not. Paul spoke of a similar experience in 2 Cor. 12:2-4. Only God can do that for you.