Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Fruit of the Spirit - Book Review

This book by J.V. Fesko is small in size (only 80 pages) but large in food for thought. Dr. Fesko is the Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary, California. His writing style is clear and simple, yet meaty. The book deals chiefly with the subject of sanctification; that the Christian has been saved not only from the penalty of sin but also from its power. "God breaks the power of Satan, sin and death by redeeming us from the kingdom of darkness, the fallen reign of Adam. He indwells us with his Holy Spirit and produces this fruit of righteousness in us" (p. 64).

Fesco does a wonderful job of drawing from the Old Testament in describing the work of the Holy Spirit in the sanctification of the believer. He makes the connection of Israel's exodus with the Christian's journey in grace. Israel suffered under the cruel bondage of the Egyptians until God freed them by His mighty power. He sent forth Moses to lead them out of their bondage and then manifested His presence as He led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. This redemption event served as a foreshadow of God's greater redemption of His people from their sin. He sent forth a greater Deliverer than Moses in the person of Christ and then leads us by the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. The prophet Haggai writes, "Work for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not" (Haggai 2:4b-5 ESV). In describing the work of the Holy Spirit Fesco writes, "we must follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, and if we do so, then we will not desire to satisfy and gratify the wicked desires of the flesh" (pp 33-34).

Fesco, however, goes beyond the Exodus account to demonstrate that the "fruit of the Spirit" so familiar to us in Galatians 5 is actually the ongoing fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. For example, in Isaiah 5 the prophet likens Israel to a vineyard which God carefully nurtures and cultivates with expectation of fruitfulness. Instead of a rich crop of grapes suitable for fine wine the vineyard yielded wild grapes. What would be done with such a vineyard but destruction. "I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but their shall come forth briars and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it" (Isaiah 5:1-7). Israel was fruitless and suffered God's judgment but God promised to rebuild His vineyard through His fruitful Servant (Isaiah 11:1-5). Fesko writes of the fruitfulness of God promised in Isaiah 27:6, "The fruit of which Isaiah writes is not literal -- Isaiah is not referring to bananas and mangos! Rather, he is referring to the fruit of righteousness and justice" (p 46).

Following the methodology of John Owen, this book is not only rich in laying the theological foundations, it is also rich in application. For example Fesko writes, "When you respond to your children in patience, even though they have tested you and you have every right to be angry, the long-promised Spirit is producing his fruit in you. You resign your desire to respond in anger and instead rely upon the power of the Spirit to respond in patience. To act in such a manner is to walk in the Spirit; it is to pursue righteousness--to deny ourselves and follow Christ" (p. 52).

In Chapter 6 Fesko gets to the heart of the Galatians 5:22 text, examining the "fruit of the Spirit." He is wonderfully Christological in his analysis of the text. He writes, "We must not idealize these moral qualities in an abstract manner but rather define them in terms of God's revelation in Christ. By so doing, we hopefully realize that God is forming Christ in us, as we begin to see our need to reflect Christ's righteousness in every word, thought, and deed" (p. 57).

The whole of the book flows powerfully to the final chapter which asks the question, "How do I obtain this fruit?" This is the million dollar question that Fesko answers well, "We must never forget that godliness and the fruit of the Spirit cannot be found within ourselves. Rather, we must look to Christ by faith alone, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and trust in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension on our behalf to save us from our sins. Only Christ's life of perfect obedience can fulfil the law's demands for sinless perfection" (p. 67). He then skillfully describes the importance of the use of means in bringing about our sanctification. These include God's Word, the sacraments, and prayer. "One day, all of God's people will cross the threshold of the celestial city, the New Jerusalem, and never struggle with the desire to return to Egypt, to the bondage of the law. Until that day, seek Christ in the visible word and invisible word, Word and sacrament, and cry out in prayer that Christ would conform us to his holy and righteous image" (p. 80).

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