Frequently in the Bible, and especially in the letters of the Apostle Paul, we come across the expression “in the Spirit” — or similar such expressions. This kind of expression is used in various ways in the Bible, but the one I’m drawn to today is when people do things “in the Spirit.” What kinds of activities do God’s people do in the Spirit? They:

  • Live in righteousness, peace and joy in the Spirit (Rom. 14:17; cf. 15:13; 1 Thess. 1:6).

  • Grow in love and unity toward each other in the Spirit (Acts 9:31; Eph. 2:22; Col. 1:8; cf. Eph. 4:3; Phil. 2:1-2).

  • Proclaim the gospel in the Spirit (1 Thess. 1:5; cf. Mark 13:11; Acts 1:8; Rom. 15:19; 1 Cor. 2:4, 13).

  • See visions or are “carried” somewhere in the Spirit (Ezek. 37:1; Rev. 1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10; cf. Ezek. 11:24).

  • Are led or hindered from going somewhere by the Spirit (Luke 2:27; 4:1; Acts 16:6-7; 19:21).

  • Prophesy in the Spirit (Matt. 22:43/Mark 12:36; Luke 2:27-35; Acts 11:28; Eph. 3:5; cf. Joel 2:28-29/Acts 2:17-18; 21:4; Acts 20:23; 21:11; 1 Tim. 4:1).

  • Praise or worship in the Spirit (1 Cor. 14:16; Luke 2:27-28; Phil. 3:3; John 4:23).

  • Rejoice in the Spirit (Luke 2:27-28; 10:21).

  • Pray in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18; Jude 20; cf. Rom. 8:26-27).

What, then, does it mean to do things in the Spirit? Observe once again the list above. That list suggests that there is a broad focus and a narrow focus for the expression “in the Spirit” when applied to things that God’s people do.

  1. Broad focus: We are to live our lives in general under the Spirit’s ongoing support and guidance. From the list above, we observe that the way we develop in righteousness, peace, and joy is through a work of the Spirit. Furthermore, in our interactions with one another, we grow in love and unity because the Holy Spirit causes relational growth to take place. The Spirit is the source and sustenance of all Christian activity.

  2. Narrow focus: In the moment-by-moment particulars of our lives we need to depend upon the Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit to give us confidence and sensitivity as we share the good news with people who need forgiveness through Christ. We should stay sensitive to the Spirit to lead us to go somewhere — or to avoid going somewhere. We need to stay open to the possibility that the Spirit might want to do something more miraculous, like giving a vision or a prophecy, though always in accordance with his own purposes. When we praise, or rejoice or pray, we shouldn’t simply say random words that come to mind; we need to lift our voices to God as we consciously and intentionally ask the Holy Spirit to guide and empower our prayers.

So, what does it mean to do things in the Spirit? Sometimes it means living life in general under the superintendence of the Spirit, and sometimes it entails particular responsiveness to whatever the Spirit might be prompting in a given moment.

Note: The initial list above was adapted from chapter 7 of my book, Walking in the Spirit (Crossway). Read that chapter if you’d like to learn more about what it means to pray in the Spirit.

This post and other resources are available at Kindle Afresh: The Blog and Website of Kenneth Berding.