Nearly sixty years ago the late Frank Pack encouraged Garth Black, then a young graduate student at Abilene Christian College, to write a master’s thesis on “The Holy Spirit in the Life of the Christian.” Dr. Pack and the late Dr. J. D. Thomas guided that study, which in turn has led the young student to a life-long passion to research Biblical concepts of the Holy Spirit’s work. Garth Black has served churches in Texas, Oklahoma, New York, Maryland, and California. For the past 37 years he and his wife, Doris, have lived in Bakersfield, California.
After receiving his master’s degree, Black wrote a book on the Holy Spirit which was widely used as resource material for adult Bible classes for more than thirty years. Garth’s friends have often asked, “Garth, when are you going to write more about the Holy Spirit?” Empowered by the Grace of God is his answer to that question.
The author makes his purpose clear from the outset. While he clearly expects his readers to engage in serious Bible study, Black is anxious to demonstrate the practical connection between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and spiritual growth.
He titled the opening chapter “Christianity 101.” When we become Christians, we are blessed with five gifts – the scriptures, the Son of God, the Holy Spirit, the church, and prayer. Unfortunately our ability to enjoy these gifts is impeded by the sin problem. He observes, “Even though we are Christians…we still sin.” We are also encouraged to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. The basic thesis of Garth Black’s book is the premise that the indwelling Holy Spirit enables us to overcome sin and live fruit-bearing lives.
In the middle chapters of the book, Black assists his reader in grasping the wide variety of actions that are attributed to the Holy Spirit in the Bible. He makes sure his readers understand that there’s no question in his mind that the Holy Spirit is the third person in the Godhead. He explores the activities of the Holy Spirit in both the Old and New Testaments. He discusses the Holy Spirit’s work in conversion, spiritual gifts, sanctification, inspiration of the scriptures, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the comforting work of the Spirit, and several other facets of the Spirit’s work.
The last three chapters lay heavy stress on practical application. Black wants us to understand how the Spirit strengthens the inward man. Our old habits are gradually “displaced by the fruit of the Spirit.” His discussion of Romans 7 and 8 at this particular point is especially helpful. Many Christians are discouraged about the quality of their prayers, but the author encourages us to appreciate the intercession of the Spirit. Throughout the book he keeps reminding us that we are saved by grace and that the Holy Spirit empowers us to live transformed lives – hence the title, Empowered by Grace.
When I first picked up the book, I wondered how a 162-page book could possibly present a comprehensive picture of what the Bible has to say about the Holy Spirit. Two things impress me about the author’s use of scripture. First, as far as I can tell, he’s brought every relevant passage to light in the book. Second, he has incredible powers of observation. In reading the book, I’m amazed at the number of times that he makes a comment on a text, and I find myself saying, “I didn’t know that was there.”
The book is readable and challenging. Like his earlier book, it will be great resource material for adult Bible classes.
About the Author:
Norman Bales is a graduate of Abilene Christian University and has preached for churches in Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, New York, Louisiana, and Texas. He currently serves in a part-time capacity as an Associate Minister at the Central Church of Christ in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He and his wife, Ann, live in Marion, Iowa.