Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Review: A Vine-Ripened Life

In his book A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ, Stanley Gale explores the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23.  His goal is to have the reader come away from this study with a deeper knowledge of Christ and more profound dependence upon Him (Kindle location 141).

Mr. Gale begins his book by looking at the sanctification process.  He then devotes a full chapter to each fruit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The book ends with an inspection of humility and grace.  I found the author's chapter on peace very helpful.  He states that "it is clear that the battleground for the prize of peace is the mind," (Kindle location 833).  I was spurred to memorize Philippians 4:4-8 as a reminder to rest in God and trust His providence in all areas of my life.  The author's call to apply God's Word to our lives is a good, daily reminder for all Christians.

In addition, I found Mr. Gale's chapter on goodness to be edifying.  He notes that Christians do not gain goodness by meritorious works, but by emptying themselves and finding goodness in God alone.  He adds a very convicting quote by Charles Spurgeon:  "Our imaginary goodness is harder to conquer than our actual sin," (Kindle location 1212).  

In spite of the plethora of biblical references and personal anecdotes, Mr. Gale also uses many worldly examples when explaining the different aspects of the fruit of the Spirit.  Even though the contrasting works of the flesh are specifically listed in Galatians 5:19-21, the author does not address these verses, but looks to the world for illustrations.  I found his secular references, which include The Far Side comic strip, the Pink Panther films, Greek mythology, The Wizard of Oz, The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, and even the vague reference to Miley Cyrus, to be extremely distracting and not helpful to his overall goal of helping the reader to know Christ more deeply.  Christians are not be conformed to this world (Rom. 12:2), but they are to come out and be separate (2 Cor. 6:17).

While Mr. Gale's worldly references might help explain a particular virtue, the presence of morality in a person does not indicate that the person is a Christian.  For example, the author talks about the gentleness exhibited by his dentist (Kindle location 1584), but he does not state whether or not his dentist is a Christian.  Just because his dentist is gentle, does not mean that he is a person to be emulated by all Christians; and while the author does not specifically state this, the inference is there.  Christians are to look to Christ alone as the role model and example of godly behavior that we are to imitate.  Paul encourages Christians to follow him as he follows Christ (1 Cor. 11:1), and Matthew Henry warns that "We should follow no leader further than he follows Christ."  There are many moral, lost people in the world, such as the Mormons; they make great neighbors, but they are not a model for Christians to follow regardless of how virtuous they look.  The danger of holding the things of this world up as good examples of virtue is that it may lead Christians away from Christ, not toward Him.

In cultivating the fruit of the Spirit in my life, I am encouraged by Mr. Gale's reminder that "Our standing is in Christ, and our strength is in Christ...One of the primary ways by which we abide in Christ for the bearing of fruit is prayer," (Kindle location 1887).  Therefore, I recommend this book for all Christians because it is helpful in the on-going process of Christian sanctification.  Christians living in the Spirit should also walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25), and as the author notes, "The fruit that proceeds from a new heart is manifold.  It brings glory to God," (Kindle location 1936).

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.