Saturday, December 4, 2010

‘The Fruitful Life: The Overflow of God’s Love Through You’ by Jerry Bridges – Book Review

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It is pretty obvious that if we all lived with our lives being led by the Spirit, as exemplified by its fruit, this world would not only be a better place, but we’d be happier and more God-honoring people. In his book, ‘The Fruitful Life: The Overflow of God’s Love Through You,’ Jerry Bridges takes a deep look at the qualities written about by the apostle Paul in the fifth chapter of the Book of Galatians.

Here is the synopsis of this book:

How can we put on the garment of grace? As we become serious followers of Christ, we want to live loving, joyful, anxiety-free lives. Yet loving our enemies seems impossible. Even being patient with our family is often difficult. How can we put on the gentle garments of grace when we’re so busy battling our odd behavior patterns?
In The Fruitful Life, beloved author Jerry Bridges explores the nine aspects of the “fruit of the Spirit” described in Galatians 5: 22-23; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He clarifies the cultivation process by showing us how to practice the fruit in real life.
Bridges says these qualities of character can truly mark our lives if we devote ourselves to a twofold pursuit: God-centeredness and God-likeness. This book will guide you on that quest by focusing on God’s nature as revealed in Scripture and by helping you cultivate the beautiful fruit given by the Holy Spirit.

Here is the biography of this author:

Dr. Jerry Bridges is an author and conference speaker. His most popular book, The Pursuit of Holiness, has sold over one million copies. He is also the author of Transforming Grace and The Practice of Godliness (from which this book is derived). Jerry has been on the staff of The Navigators for over fifty years, and currently serves in the Collegiate Mission where he is involved primarily in staff development, but also serves as a speaker resource to the campus ministries. A popular speaker known around the world, Jerry lives with his wife, Jane, in Colorado Springs.

Here is Dr. Bridges discussing Godliness:

Dr. Bridges explains why he thinks it’s important to take a look at the fruit of the Spirit in our day:

We should also notice that the fruit of the Spirit is both formational and relational – not just a matter for private experience. For example, “joy” is more accurately “joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17), “peace” is the peace Christ gives us (see John 14:27), and “love comes from God” (1 John 4:7). Further, several of these character qualities have a definite outward focus toward other people. They require practice in the midst of the world. As Jonathan Edwards said, “All true Christian grace tends to holy practice.”
Another reason for revisiting the fruit of the Spirit is that I often hear a certain possessiveness today about “my spiritual gifts.” Certainly, we can be thankful that in the last generation there has been a thriving literature on spiritual gifts. But again, sometimes there is a self-focus for the gifts. We use “assessment instruments” to nail down what our gifts are and seek to use them in a way that can tend toward personal fulfillment. The danger is that the gifts of the Spirit will be separate from the fruit of the Spirit. This can lead to prideful ambition rather than humble, loving service. Sinclair B. Ferguson writes that the fruit of the Spirit “should be distinguished from the gifts of the Spirit, but ought never to be absent in their exercise. For without love, and the humility which accompanies it…the purpose of the gifts of the Spirit is thwarted.” (pp. 8-9)

It is important that Christians are strongly devoted to God:

        The attitude of devotion to God is composed of three essential elements:

·         The fear of God
·         The love of God
·         The desire for God

From this godward attitude arises the character and conduct that we usually think of as godliness. So often we try to develop Christian character and conduct without taking the time to develop God-centered devotion. We try to please God without taking the time to walk with Him and develop a relationship with Him. This is impossible to do. (p. 30)

I will focus here on a couple of the fruits of the Spirit that are most meaningful to me at this point in my life – Joy and Peace.

In the chapter on Joy, Dr. Bridges points out that we have to make a decision:

So the choice is ours. We can be joyless Christians, or we can be joyful Christians. We can go through life bored, glum, and complaining, or we can rejoice in the Lord, in our names being written in heaven, in the hope of an eternal inheritance. It is both our privilege and our duty to be joyful. To be joyless is to dishonor God and to deny His love and His control over our lives. It is practical atheism. To be joyful is to experience the power of the Holy Spirit within us and to say to a watching world, “Our God reigns.” (pp. 85-86)

Wow – that paragraph is really convicting to me. I spend, and have spent, more time than I like to think about (or admit) focusing on the negative. I failed to consider the fact that that grieves the heart of God…

In the chapter on peace, Dr. Bridges admits that his mindset is similar to that of many of us:

I doubt that any Christian is more vulnerable to worry and fretfulness than I am. I sympathize with others who are also prone to anxiety. I am well aware that it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can experience His peace. But God tells in His Word that His peace is available, and we must not be content until we experience it (see Philippians 4:7). We must persevere in prayer until He answers. (p. 94)

Working on our relationship with God will bring positive results:

The practice of developing our relationship with God should never be thought of as drudgery. We are seeking to grow in our devotion to the most wonderful Person in all of the universe, the infinite glorious and loving God. Nothing can compare with the privilege of knowing Him in whose presence is fullness of joy and in whose hand there are pleasures forever (see Psalm 16:11, NASB). From this joyful relationship flows the rich harvest of our transformed character. (p. 178)

Each chapter ends with ‘Exercises for Practice and Discussion.’ I think this is a very biblically sound book, and think it would be a wonderful tool for personal or group study. I appreciate Dr. Bridges’ heart and intellect, and thank him for putting it down in print for the rest of us.

You can order this book here.

This book was published by NavPress and provided by them for review purposes.

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