Review: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit

cultivating the fruit of the spirit

Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, Christopher J. H. Wright. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.

Summary: A study elaborating what it means to grow in Christlikeness looking at each of the nine fruit of the Spirit.

“Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.

Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.

Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

This is a portion of a prayer prayed by the late John R. W. Stott each morning. Perhaps, as author, and Stott’s successor in leading the Langham Partnership, Christopher J. H. Wright notes, it is no surprise that many who met Stott felt he was the most Christlike person they’d ever met.

This is a book about growing to be more like Christ through cultivating in one’s life the nine fruit of the Spirit the apostle Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23. Wright nicknames these the “9-A-Day” through which our character is formed to be like Christ. He begins this study by setting Paul’s list in its Galatian context. Paul argues for the gospel of being reckoned right with God by our faith alone apart from works. Then he addresses what may be a criticism–that in rejecting legalism, haven’t you opened the door to license? Rather, what comes through the Christ who indwells us by the Holy Spirit is freedom from slavery either to law or to licentious sin. This Spirit, as we root our lives to Him each day in prayer, study, and faithful obedience bears the fruit of Christ’s character in us over the course of our lives.

Wright goes on in the next nine chapters to consider each quality in Paul’s list. His approach is not to tell a lot of stories but to focus on the biblical material about each of these qualities, both how we see this quality in the character of God, and what this looks like in the life of a Christ-follower. Much like the teaching of John Stott, Christ gives is clear and memorable outlines to help us reflect on each of these qualities, and concludes with practical application to everyday life. For example, in the chapter on “kindness” his subheadings are “Kindness and the Character of God,” “Kindness as a Quality of Those Who Worship God,” “Kindness and the Example of Jesus,” and “Kindness as a Habit of Life.” He concludes this chapter with two questions that may help us in our practice of kindness:

  • What would I do for people if were the Christ?
  • What would I do for people if they were the Christ?

Wright concludes each chapter with a few reflection and application questions. An additional feature at the end of each chapter is a link to a video of Wright talking about the particular fruit of the Spirit. For a sample, here is a link in which Wright introduces the series.

This is a book I wish I had as a young Christian. I understood that I had become a Christian through the work of Christ. But I found little help in what it meant to be a Christian, to live a life marked increasingly by the character of the Christ I was following. This is such a helpful study that offers hope that God, through his Spirit will indeed work out his character in our lives as we root our lives in Christ, heeding his word, gathering with his people, yielding ourselves in prayer, and faithfully acting on what he says.

I also appreciated the combination of scripturally-based instruction, and thoughtful application throughout. This comment about patience is just one example:

“That kind of patience is sadly needed more than ever in Christian churches–and even (maybe especially) among Christian leaders. In the world of instant blogging and commenting (and comments on comments), patience seems to be a very neglected virtue. Some people simply can’t wait to put their word in, get their point across, speak their mind — however harmful and hurtful it may be. We have become very impatient — in attitudes, communication, and expectations” (p. 79).

This strikes me as a great book that one might use for personal reflection, for discussion with a younger believer, or in a group. In that context, using Wright’s videos to set up discussion of each chapter could work very well.

It also strikes me that this work, unassuming as it may seem, is vital in our day. I observe on one hand Christians bemoaning the flight of millenials from the church and at the same time grasping at power and influence in American culture. Wright’s quote of a Hindu professor points to why the Christlikeness of lives characterized by the fruit of the Spirit is so important:

“If you Christians lived like Jesus, India would be at your feet tomorrow.”

Dare we believe it could be so of our own country?

Review: To The Cross

To The Cross

To The Cross, Christopher J. H. Wright. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.

Summary: Transcripts of five expository messages on gospel passages pertaining to the passion and death of Christ.

In the season of Lent, one of the things I try to do along with some kind of fast is to read some kind of reflection on the death and resurrection of Christ. This collection of five messages drawn from five passages representing all four of the canonical gospels met this goal perfectly and brought fresh light to familiar passages. In this case, the table of contents is helpful for seeing the ground Wright covers:

Preface
1. The Last Supper: Matthew 26:17-30
2. Peter’s Denial: Matthew 26:69-75
3. Insults and Paradise: Luke 23:26-43
4. From Darkness to Light: Mark 15:33-39
5. It Is Finished: John 19:28-37
Appendix: Preparing to Proclaim
Acknowledgments
Notes

There were some fresh insights. Wright argues persuasively that Judas was probably seated in one of the two seats of honor, allowing John, in the other, to overhear the conversation Jesus has with him. It signifies the great love Jesus had for Judas, and the hope that even at this hour, Judas might be turned from betrayal

Wright summarizes Luke 23:26-43 in terms of “Four scenes full of scripture,” “Three last temptations full of irony,” and “Two last sayings full of hope” (“Father, forgive them” and “today you will be with me in paradise.”). One sees here the strong heritage of biblical exposition at All Souls, Langham Place, where Wright preached these messages. This was the parish long served by John R. W. Stott, and Wright carries on this tradition in messages like these, as well as his work with the Langham Partnership dedicated to carrying on the work of John Stott in training ministers in biblical preaching.

A message that connected with me and may for many is his study of Peter’s denial in Matthew 26:69-75. He helps us both see ourselves in Peter, and find hope. Here are a couple excerpts:

There, on the one hand, is Jesus—in danger of losing his life, and yet he stands firm under threats before the highest authorities in the land. And there, on the other hand, is Peter—in danger of probably not very much except embarrassment and possibly a bit of a beating, but he gives way in front of nothing more than a couple of servant girls.

There, on the one hand, is Jesus—put on oath to speak the truth about himself, and he does so. And there, on the other hand, is Peter—calling down oaths in order to deny the truth about himself and Jesus.

. . .

How do we respond, not only to what this story tells us about Peter, but also to what it tells us for ourselves? Why has Matthew reported it? Why have all the Gospels reported this story? I think it tells us three things, at the least: failure is a fact, failure is foreseen, and failure is forgiven.

There was one other insight that I had not thought about that Wright draws from the words of John 19:30, in the last message of this collection:

“John makes one last observation about the inner consciousness of Jesus: ‘With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.’ That is quite deliberate language. John means that Jesus did not just expire. He did not just lose consciousness. He did not even just lose his life. Jesus gave up his life. This was his moment, it was his active choice, and he was conscious of making that choice, finishing the task he had come to do.”

You might have noted in the table of contents that there is an Appendix on “Preparing to Proclaim.” In this section, Wright takes us into his study and shares both some general practices he uses in study and preparation of messages, and how he developed the outline and content of each particular message in this collection. Having prepared many messages, I enjoyed looking over the shoulder of another for what I could learn. Even if you do not preach, this will help you know something of the practices of any pastor who tries to carefully exposit scripture.

This is a great collection for personal reflection, group study, or for those who might give messages on some of these same texts. These messages take me from the last supper to the foot of the cross, and leave me in wonder and praise, saying, “Hallelujah, what a Savior!”

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.