I found Jerry Bridges’ book The Fruitful Life much more rewarding than The Discipline of Grace, my last foray with Jerry Bridges. The Discipline of Grace was by no means a bad book, but The Fruitful Life is more compelling, more thought-provoking, and the insights more heartfelt.
The point of the book is to address the “Fruit of the Spirit”, classically those found in Galatians 5:22-23. But Bridges is wise to point out that this is not meant as an exhaustive list. He actually begins with two non-standard fruits – devotion and humility – and these lay a framework for the other gifts to operate within. The point being, the fruits are not reason to boast in our spiritual position. They are reason to be thankful and continue in our progress towards Christ-likeness.
When dealing with humility, he makes the following observation:
While writing this chapter, I had the occasion to express appreciation to a fellow church member for a job well done. I liked his simple, humble response: “It was the Lord who did it.” Humility with regard to ourselves, then, consists in ascribing all that we are, all that we have, and all that we have accomplished to the God who gives us grace.
While that made his point well, I find myself a little turned off by this sort of “simple, humble response”. It is right to recognize in humility that our very life is a gift that we cannot take credit for. At the same time, I have seen this used as false modesty, when people were noticeably seeking attention, and the “the Lord did it” was just the “Christian” way of going about it. (I might add that there is no dishonesty in accepting a compliment for a job well done. This is just as likely to be misunderstood as a lack of modesty as the latter is to be misunderstood as an abundance of it.)
His coverage of love spoke to me very powerfully, especially page 68:
I recall a personal struggle a number of years ago in loving one of my brothers in Christ. One evening, the Holy Spirit addressed to my mind the rather startling question, “Do you believe I love him just as he is?” I hadn’t thought of that before, but I did concede that surely God must love him just as he was, faults and all. And then God pressed this question to my mind, “If I can love him, can you?” God was teaching me to love as He loves, to forgive as he forgives.
I was also very pleased by the execution of some repeating themes. When addressing peace, the subject continually turned to promise. When the subject was patience, it repeatedly turned to forgiveness. In each case the pairing was insightful and helped cement the concept under study.
But I think Bridges makes a number of statements that are projections of his place in the Christian culture of the developed world, and should be considered carefully before trusting their conclusions. On page 91 he offers, “Proverbs 16:7 tells us that He even promises to make our enemies live at peace with us.” While certainly a nice thought, I have trouble with it on a number of levels. We should carefully consider whether turning the book of Proverbs into “promises” is reasonable, in general or in specific. Paul was certainly not met with peace on every side. Many Christians have not found their societies, governments, even families to be peaceable audiences to their faith.
Similarly he offers, “One of the thoughts that most disturbs a suffering Christian who has not learned patience is the issue of justice. He is concerned that the tormentor will escape justice.” I just think this is an over-generalization, and may not reflect the suffering experienced by those who live in Africa, or East Asia undergoing religious persecution – or even those nearer to home facing economic hardship. While we certainly need to grow in patience, I cannot just take at face value that the issue of justice is the thing most disturbing to those undergoing suffering. I worry it has much more to do with our Western sense of entitlement and “rights” than with a general rule about the nature of suffering and patience.
Overall, I think this book is well worth the read, and will help young believers as they strive to become like Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. More mature Christians will find this a welcome reminder to bear fruit, and under what source. I give this book ★★★★☆.
The Fruitful Life
The Overflow Of God’s Love Through You
Author: Jerry Bridges
Soft Cover, 192 pages
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”