Reshaping Christian Habits

June 28, 2011 — 4 Comments

9780061730559[This post is part of the Reshaping Christian Habits series]

As part of my 90-day challenge, I am trying to refocus on habit building. Most of this actually ends up focusing on habit deconstruction before reconstruction. Since most of the 90-day challenge hinges on this basic activity, I thought I’d post on it a few times this week.

For a general overview of habits and how they can be changed and shaped, I would highly recommend you picking up in either the print or eBook form of Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect. If you want some immediate, constructive steps on how to re-tool your habits for maximum long term effectiveness, Hardy’s book is a must read.

What I found interesting is that Hardy is essentially offering a concrete how-to on habit building that resonates with the goals and standards articulated in N. T. Wright’s After You Believe. As the subtitle suggests, Wright’s book is focusing on character or virtue. Wright, writing as he is from a Christian perspective, is trying to rescue virtue ethics by grounding it in the goals of character development set in the New Testament.

Ethical or character development must move forward with a sound goal, motive, and standard. Most everyone clearly sees the standard set by Scripture (do this, don’t do that). Wright is helping us regain perspective on the goal for living by that standard. The Spirit gives us the proper motivation, but without a view of the telos, the Christian life might start feeling inauthentic because you’re merely living out a standard that you have disconnected from an ultimate goal.

Or worse, you misconstrue the goal and begin to see your work in character development as growing your own righteousness that somehow makes you more acceptable to God. This is most certainly not the case, but the prevalence of legalistic Christians and professional weaker brothers suggests that many people fall into this trap.

To help, Wright wants to present a “gateway to a fresh reading of the moral thrust of the New Testament.” A 3 point summary captures the heart of his book (p. 67):

  1. The goal is the new heaven and the new earth, with human beings raised from the dead to be the renewed world’s rulers and priests.
  2. This goal is achieved through the kingdom-establishing work of Jesus and the Spirit, which we grasp by faith, participate in by baptism, and live out in love.
  3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating this ultimate reality through the Spirit-led, habit-forming, truly human practice of faith, hope, and love, sustaining Christians in their calling to worship God and reflect his glory into the world.

If this captures your attention and you think a transformative summer sounds like a good idea right about now, then keep following my lead. If you want help restructuring your habits, pick up Hardy’s book, or for a cheaper option go here and print off the worksheets. Pick up a book like Wright’s or another similar book aimed at guiding you in Christian character development. Let me know if you decide to do something and we can sharpen each other in the process.

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

4 responses to Reshaping Christian Habits

  1. Bro I know this post was Jun 28, and that is a long habbit-forming-time ago. But seriously, the pragmatism is killing me. Even Hollywood spoofs pragmatic love, e.g., in spoofing pragmatic marriage, as was done so well in a movie whose name is the name of the kind of year this is, which has 366 days. 😉

    We wouldn’t dare approach even our human loved ones and say “our goal is our new property shared together, with ourselves in charge of it and representatives of it to others. This goal will be achieved by the work of Somebody Else and By the Somebody Else Besides Him, whom He sends, but will be lived out by us. by the use of love, after we have grasped and participated in their achievement using this methodology and that ceremony.

    Brother the “goal of the new heavens and the new earth” is so … atheistic! Need I go on! What happened to … God?

    • Let me spoof this a little bit so you can see my desire to be edifying, brother.

      Have you ever been back-packing? I’m not a lifelong jock, but I was in pretty good shape once, having run all summer about eight miles per day, and at the end, went to a Christian week-long guided backpack trip. My best friend in another part of the country came that year, and he was the lifelong jock, having surfed every day since he was a kid in Hermosa Beach, CA and basically got better at everything since then. He was about 30 at the time, and I was 31.

      So I didn’t have jock “habits,” but he “did.” But he hadn’t been on a backpack trip, and neither had I. Well, since this is supposed to illustrate my point, I’d better get to it. My friend didn’t know what to do: he knew that he was excellent at something very much related to this (athletic skill), and felt compelled to test his progress and ours by the measures he knew about. His measures fit, but didn’t fit. For example, when we stopped to take a break, and he wasn’t tired, it was like we were all wimps. If we stopped to look at a map, he started laughing, as if, how could they not know where to go next, a real guide would do it intuitively, etc.

      His “habits” were like exercises of the wrong muscles at the wrong time. His enemy was his pride in thinking that his “natural” desires were what was correct, and the guides wrong.

      It ended well, with him being proved wrong enough times and early enough, that he caught on.

      So, my analogy is this. Christian life … Christ! Christian life … habits! Related, but not the same! Christian life … “to live is Christ” — We have a person to follow, and our muscular development while helpful is not the be-all.

    • You’re speaking of Leap Year perhaps? Good movie (at least we thought so).

      This may not help much, but think of the qualifier that Wright gives: the goals summarize the moral thrust of the NT. The moral thrust of the NT is only one aspect of the NT, or if you use Frame’s triperspectivalism, it’s only one perspective out of the three.

      If the only goal is the new heavens and the new earth, then that might be a problem, but Wright isn’t talking only goal here, and even then, it’s not strictly atheistic just for not mentioning God.

      It may helpful to read the Change series before this, since much of what I say here presupposes my thoughts there.

      As for the analogy you’re using here, I think it actually helps make my point better rather than disagreeing with it.

      The way I’m conceiving of Christ’s relationship to the Christian life is that Christ is the muscle implanted by the Spirit in those who believe. Our union with Christ entails an overhaul of our muscular system (among other things). Christ is now in us, the hope of glory, or as Edwards put it, Christ is conceived in the heart of the believer by the Spirit just as he was physically conceived in the womb of Mary by the same Spirit.

      Now, when it comes to habits, in real life, and in this analogy, I can’t directly cause muscle development. I go to the gym regularly and I work out, but depending on what I do there, I may or may not see any muscle definition accrue. The problem could either be my habits aren’t developed (the person who doesn’t exercise or go to the gym). Or I could go the gym regularly, but not really workout well, or just spend all my time working out one muscle group. Or I could go to the gym, do a good workout, yet come home and eat burgers and wings and pizza all the time, and not give my body the proper fuel to rebuild the muscles.

      Crossing over to the Christian life, you can’t directly form Christ in you since that is a work of grace by the Spirit. You can however develop habits that are conducive to “muscle” growth. Just like my workouts at the gym do not directly cause muscle development, my development of Christian habits do not directly cause spiritual development. It’s also true that the goal in going to the gym is for my muscles to be more defined. The goal is not to get really good at doing pull ups and arm curls. So in the Christian life, the goal isn’t really to just form good habits, the goal is for Christ to be more visible in my life (“muscle definition”). This is another way of looking at how Wright expressed the goal, which for Him, seeing Christ in your life here and now is an evidence of the new creation breaking into the old.

      In that way, Wright has a more eschatological focus, but I don’t think it strictly contradicts or is mutually exclusive to what I’ve said above. Maybe its just I have the epistemological framework to hold several things in tension at once, but I don’t see too much of an issue with what I’ve said in the post and what you’ve said in reply.

      But then again, I could always be wrong.

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