A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness Through Abiding In Christ (Review)

"The Vine-Ripened Life" is a much more rich and edifying alternative to a book like "Jesus Calling"

“A Vine-Ripened Life is a pastoral book. Gale writes with a gentle tone, using personal examples and practical illustrations to accompany his teaching. The focus of each chapter isn’t primarily the fruits of the Christian life, but the Vine, Jesus Christ. In his first chapter Gale asserts, “If we come away from this study without a deeper knowledge of Christ and more profound dependence upon Him, we have missed the point”. And this is what he delivers.”

 

How does one abide in Christ? We read a passage like John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing,” and our desire is to bear much fruit as one who abides in Christ.

While this is God’s will for every Christian, I am afraid that many have gotten the wrong idea about what that looks like. The popularity of the book Jesus Calling suggests that numerous Christians believe that our abiding involves receiving a special message from Jesus and feeling his presence, which leads to experiencing his peace. But is this what Scripture teaches?

I mention this because Stanley Gale’s book, A Vine-Ripened Life is a great book to recommend in place of Jesus Calling. Identifying bad doctrine is important, but we also need to be able to offer something better to people who are attracted to such books.

We have a pretty personal message from Jesus in John 15. And there is some good news here. Those who abide in Christ will bear much fruit. One of these fruits is the peace that many who read Jesus Calling are after. But Gale doesn’t need extra messages from Jesus to learn about abiding in him. He goes straight to the Word already given to us, and shares all of the rich teaching about the fruit that we will bear as we abide in Christ.

A Vine-Ripened Life is a pastoral book. Gale writes with a gentle tone, using personal examples and practical illustrations to accompany his teaching. The focus of each chapter isn’t primarily the fruits of the Christian life, but the Vine, Jesus Christ. In his first chapter Gale asserts, “If we come away from this study without a deeper knowledge of Christ and more profound dependence upon Him, we have missed the point” (6). And this is what he delivers.

Gale begins by discussing this fruit that we are to produce and how it is that we actually grow. The fruit of the Spirit that we find in Scripture is presented as both a noun and a verb. “For each of the nouns listed in Galatians 5:22-23, we can find corresponding verbs elsewhere: to love, to rejoice, to exercise peace, to be patient, and to be kind and forgiving” (8). And yet we cannot produce our own fruit. “’Fruit of the Spirit’ is shorthand for God’s handiwork of grace to conform us to Christ” (5). This business of living and walking “in the Spirit” is not about taking a stroll and receiving private messages from Jesus. But we do pursue Christ in his Word and in prayer, and as we abide in this way, fruit is cultivated in the community of God’s people.

My favorite chapter was the one on the fruit of patience. This is a fruit that I feel all too often that I’m lacking. I benefited greatly from Gale’s definition, which like the other chapters of fruit, pointed me straight to Christ: “The heart of patience is not tolerance, not even perseverance. It is just what we see in our Lord Jesus, who regarded others more important than Himself” (72). The fruit of patience is the Christ-like attribute of humility, “driven by love.” As I read Gale’s contrasts between patience and impatience, I was both seriously convicted of my own selfishness and happily encouraged for what I am becoming. I now have a much better biblical understanding of how I grow in patience. Gale leveled it out for me when he gave the bottom line that “the nature patience is a willingness to suffer” (74).

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