Keep in Step with the Spirit – J.I. Packer
There are two ends to the spectrum when we think about the spiritual gifts and miraculous moves of God.
At the one end we have the faith healer waving his white besuited arms in order to distract our attention from his outrageous, gravity defying hair, his wild unsubstantiated claims and gross mangling of Scripture.
We are firmly in the land of green-prosperity-prayer-handkerchiefs, the exploitation of the desperate, gullible and misguided and the realm of manipulative exhortations to give financially in order to receive blessing/healing/prosperity.
At the other end of the spectrum sits the sneering sceptic, critical of any outward show of emotion, sniffily suspicious of any interest in the things of the Spirit and downright hostile towards any mention of the miraculous, denouncing such claims as either counterfeit or demonic.
Both extremes are tragic.
You see, at the heart of the debate is a person, the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead. It is crucial, therefore, that as Christians we arrive at a biblical understanding with regards to the person and work of God the Spirit.
The aim of Dr J.I. Packer’s Keep in Step with the Spirit is to help believers negotiate between extremes and arrive at a correct and biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit.
Dr Packer carefully unpacks weighty theological matters concerning the Holy Spirit. In the early chapters he explores what Scripture has to say with regards to the Trinity, the role of the Holy Spirit within the Godhead and, more specifically, the Spirit’s role in illuminating, mediating and magnifying Christ.
Such weighty truths are mind-boggling and mysterious; Dr Packer takes time to carefully unfold and clearly explain what Scripture has to say with regards to these matters.
More than this, Dr Packer intends Keep in Step with the Spirit to be immensely practical,
[This book] has been put together to help Christians who mean business with God and are prepared to be dealt with by him. […] Stuffing our head with idle thoughts, however true, puffs up, not builds up, and it is building up that we need.
Much of Keep in Step with the Spirit is focused on understanding what it means to be ‘Spirit-filled’. Dr Packer rightly understands that the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is evidenced by progressive sanctification and fruit in keeping with righteousness. Dr Packer keeps Jesus Christ firmly in view throughout as the perfect and exemplary Spirit-filled man.
Having dealt with the fruit of the Spirit, Dr Packer then examines Spiritual gifts and here, on this most controversial of terrain, he is exceedingly persuasive. Although I disagree with his position concerning glossolalia and the gift of tongues as manifested in the church today, his treatment of spiritual gifts is otherwise measured, thorough and biblical.
In addressing charismatic movements historically and of his day (Keep in Step with the Spirit was first published in 1984) Dr Packer is both balanced and generous.
I truly believe that this generation’s obsession with spiritual ‘experience’ is grounded upon a great misunderstanding of what it means to be ‘spiritual’. This has led and will continue to lead to great confusion and greater manipulation and exploitation of the biblically naïve and spiritually immature. It feels as though we are back in Corinth, circa first century AD.
The church is blessed, therefore, that a book written some twenty years ago now feels so incredibly timely. Any understanding of the ‘spiritual’ must be rooted in what Scripture has to teach us about the Holy Spirit.
This is why Keep in Step with the Spirit is so helpful. Dr Packer writes clearly, sensitively and leads us back into the pages of Scripture. As he does so, he understands that to be ‘Spirit-filled’ is to be Christ-like, Christ-focused and Christ-exalting. The Church of Christ is in need of such clarity, for this reason I warmly recommend this book.