Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Vine-Ripened Life

A Vine-Ripened Life seeks to show that spiritual fruitfulness is a result of connection to the vine; that bearing Christian fruit is inextricably linked to our abiding in Christ.  Adding humility as the “chlorophyll” of “the garden of Galatians 5” and seeing the grace of Christ as central to all production, Gale leads the reader in understanding how love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and humility are results of the presence of God’s Spirit in the believer and one’s abiding in the Savior.

     This is radical love, the sort that distinguishes Christian love from the world’s notions of love. It is impossible to grasp the full extent of Christian love apart from the transaction of the cross. Such love defies all sensibilities. It exceeds all expectations.
     God’s love is the starting point for the fruit of the Spirit we are called to demonstrate. Jesus is our exemplar. We are to love as we have been loved. We emulate the illustration held up for us. We cannot exhibit such love in our natural strength. Love is a catalyst of abiding for the formation of greater love

Joy:  "Joy is nurtured through the exercise of faith in communing with our Lord Jesus."

     The fruit of peace is grounded in the fact of peace. Without that reality of union with Christ, peace is presumptuous. It is no more real or enduring than the relief given through pharmaceutical painkillers that treat the symptoms but not the cause.     When Paul addresses the Philippian church in the salutation of his epistle, he greets them with “grace…and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). Those words are not empty sentiment or mere formality. They are rich with meaning. They communicate a reality, the reality of redemptive, reconciled relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ as Lord.      From that foundational reality flows the fountain of tranquility.

Patience:  "One of our challenges in understanding patience is to see its potency and potential as a deal breaker for cultivation of the other fruit of the Spirit: little patience, little rest of the fruit…Patience is not merely a social grace. It is a driving force for growing us in the character of the Vine."

Kindness:  “(S)ensitivity to need and practical expression to meet it is what kindness is all about.”        
“The fruit of kindness not only adorns our lives with Christlikeness; it also sweetens a world reeling under the effects of sin. It introduces this world to the age to come. It carries an agenda, taking into account a need and acting to meet that need. Our Father Himself sets the bar for us in the kindness He has shown us by meeting our deepest need through the giving of His Son, that we might not perish but have everlasting life.”

Goodness:  “Paul is not bidding us to put on tights and a cape and embark on a quest of good works. He is describing ordinary life lived for Jesus Christ, life expressive of the Vine into which we have been grafted by God’s grace. As such, our lives are fragrant to God, ourselves, and others with the aroma of grace.”

Faithfulness:  “Like a skeleton of steel rebar reinforces concrete, so the faithfulness of God upholds us in our lives as Christians.”

Gentleness:  "The fruit of meekness/gentleness is anything but. As we look at Jesus, we see gentle strength. It is power and authority restrained with love and grace. Gentleness does not use its strength or authority to crush, but to handle with care."

     Self-control is more than an internal police force(willpower). It manages the operation center of the believer’s heart… As citizens of heaven, those in the world but not of it, we are to seek the kingdom of God in all we do. That speaks to our ethics, our values, our priorities, our ambitions, our actions, our words—even our thought life. The twists and dangers of the path before us require that we make constant choices in which we are called to deny self and follow Christ. Self-control relates not just to the denying of self but also to the following of Christ.

Gale also devotes a chapter to humility, and he gives a compelling reason to do so:

     Humility acts as chlorophyll to a plant. Chlorophyll serves two primary purposes. One, it gives the plant its distinctive green color. Two, it enables the absorption of light and conversion of that light into energy, a process called photosynthesis.

     As chlorophyll works in a plant to give it its distinctive color and allow it to grow and function in God’s design, so humility gives believers their distinctive hue and helps them to thrive in the Vine. Every fruit of the Spirit is touched by humility. It is an essential element necessary for the production of the fruit of new life in Christ. Humility enables our abiding, drawing us to Christ, driving us to prayer, and drawing on the word of Christ to dwell in us richly. In that sense, it is not numbered among the listed fruit of Galatians 5, but it is present as a nutrient to all.

Many books that address this topic just make you feel bad.  You are left defeated and deflated, with little-to-no desire to grow in these areas.  “I am not patient, I am often unkind. Does ‘goodness’ describe me? Usually not…not to that degree, at least.  Why even try? I’ll never measure up.”  I guess that would be ok if the passage on fruit of the Spirit were a passage of law, designed to show you your failures and drive you to the Lord as Savior.  But it is not. 

It is a declaration.  “These are the Fruit of the Spirit.”  And a promise.  “This is what you will bear if you are united to me, filled by my Spirit.”  So it was encouraging to see these fruit addressed in a manner that left the reader hopeful and excited, rather that overcome with guilt or despair.  Convicted about areas of life that were hindering healthy, proper fruit-bearing, yes.  Guilted to the point of despair over not producing fruit in the manner the author or the reader or whoever feels is appropriate, no.

      To the degree we are negligent in prayer, we are derelict as students of grace. Either we don’t show up, or we show up unprepared and unreceptive. Without prayer, we see ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word, but we quickly forget what He has shown us of ourselves in it. If prayer is not a tool of our learning, the doctrine we learn becomes cold, dry, insipid, and irrelevant. We have left our first love. We may be attached to the Vine, but we are not abiding in it for the fruitfulness our Father desires.
       Prayer reminds us that abiding is not merely connecting to a source of power, like a plug to an outlet. Abiding is more than drawing upon resources outside of ourselves. To abide is to commune with our personal, living Lord. Without ceasing, we seek His care and wisdom and strength in the trenches of life. We engage Him in sweet fellowship, expressing to Him our fears and failures and frustrations. We cry out to Him and hear the assurances of His presence and peace and provision, as He reminds us that He is the Vine in whom we have been grafted by grace.

This is a work that strikes a difficult, but necessary balance.  Gale writes in a manner that encourages a pruning and cultivation that leads to a greater relationship with the vine and that produces more and healthier fruit.  But it does so in a way that does not lead to despair in “failure” or self-congratulatory arrogance in “successes.”  We bear fruit when we are attached to the vine.  Gale encourages us to abide in that Vine.  This is a helpful book.

I received a review copy of this book.