Friday, June 1, 2007


Continuing with the spiritual formation posts: we're at the point now where one of the most important points must be made. At the basis of character lies habits. And if we are attempting to take on the character of Christ, we must take on his habits. Character is the long-term description of us--not individual actions, but over the long-haul how we tend to act.

We can learn much from the pagan, pre-Christian philosopher Aristotle in this regard. He claimed (almost paradoxically) that only a patient person can truly perform patient acts; but then that a person becomes patient by practicing acts of patience. In other words, much like I claimed last week about disciplines, you can force yourself to do some individual acts, and over a period of time those form in us certain skills or habits. The analogy again is easily seen in athletes or musicians training their muscles to work in certain ways.

OK, so just as I can train my fingers to switch between guitar chords smoothly and naturally, the claim here is that I can train my person, my soul, to do or react naturally in certain ways.

When Peter denied Christ, I'd like to claim that he wasn't exercising his free will. When they said to him, "You were with him," Peter didn't stop and consider his options and then decide what to say. Rather, he reacted: "No I wasn't!" Now this doesn't exculpate him; he is responsible for the way he reacts because his reactions are the result of habits that were allowed to form in his life. He had become the kind of person who would react that way in those circumstances.

The key, then, for being able to obey the commands of Jesus (like loving enemies, blessing those who curse us, etc.) is forming the right habits so that those things become the things we do naturally.

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