Thursday, October 10, 2013

Book Review: Grow in Grace

While hunting through my library for some holiday reading back in the summer, I came across this little book on growing in grace by Sinclair Ferguson, and so it made it into my case. I've benefited from Ferguson's ministry for a while - through podcasts, books and his appearance at NIMA. This wee book was no exception - for something so small it packs quite a punch, with lots of helpful advice.

This is, as Ferguson states early on, 'a book about the way we develop and mature as Christians.' He writes about babies being born, but for them, 'birth is only the beginning.' They need to grow, and 'so it is in the Christian life as well.' But rather than focusing on the how-to aspects of prayer and Bible study (important as they are), Ferguson chooses to focus instead on God who gives the growth.

The opening section, 'Christ our life' emphasises that 'everything we need... is to be found exclusively in Jesus.' He is the pioneer, and it is God's purpose to make all his children to be like his Son Jesus - our older brother in the family of God. 'Growing in grace means becoming like Jesus.' As you would expect with Ferguson, he's quickly into doctrine: good, solid, healthy doctrine on the nature of Jesus (fully God and fully man) and why this matters for our growth spiritually. We are reminded of the way in which Jesus grew spiritually, in constant obedience despite temptation. This is then developed in the following chapter on How Jesus Grew, seen in four areas: 1. In the fruit of the Spirit - which is really a picture of Jesus 2. Through the disciplines of life 3. In obedience 4. Through experience. Ferguson also identifies three means of growth, channels of help and blessing - searching the scriptures, finding fellowship with God in prayer, and looking for fellowship with God's people.

Section 2 moves on to consider some 'Basic Principles'. The first is in the wisdom which is the fear of the Lord. A helpful discussion on what is meant by the fear of the Lord follows, in which Ferguson identifies two kinds of fear - servile or filial. Filial - the child's loving fear of the father - is what the Bible refers to, and what we see in Jesus. 'One of the reasons why we know so little of such filial fear today is that we do not appreciate the glory of the gospel!' When motivated by godly fear, 'evangelism is not merely a privilege; it is a debt.' [Which was the second time such a thought had arisen in my holiday reading]

The section continues with a look at spiritual appetite, and specifically what Psalms 42&43 teach us about hunger and thirst for God. Sometimes, as he says, God uses isolation to reach us things we couldn't learn in fellowship. From there, he then moves on to consider a matter of life and death - as seen in many of the New Testament letters written to churches in trouble. 'They were being tempted to look for something extra... in every case it involved the teaching that Christ himself was not enough... Paul's answer was to emphasise the meaning and message of the cross.' The grace of the cross is shown in the demonstration of: 1. the love of God; 2. the justice of God; and 3. the wisdom of God.

The next section concentrates on life together. Firstly, the principle is applied postively - because Jesus died for a people, we have been given gifts in order to love others, not just for ourselves to feel special. Gifts should issue in service. But then there's a whole chapter on the negative aspect of life together, because 'being together causes as many problems as it seems to solve.' There is much practical wisdom in this chapter on how to resolve problems and show Christlike openhearted compassion to restore, rather than being vinegar-hardened conkers intent on smashing others to smithereens.

The closing section is a case study of the lives of three of God's people in the Bible - Daniel who grows faithfully, Simon Peter who moves in fits and starts, and Timothy coping with yourself. There are great insights from these men which are applied carefully, in Ferguson's pastoral manner.

All in all, this is an excellent little book. It would be especially good for new Christians, but Christians of any age or stage will profit from the helpful reminders and gentle nudges towards growing in grace. Published in 1981, this would be a great book for a publisher to re-release for a new generation seeking to grow. Grow in Grace is available from Amazon.

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