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Habit Formation

The Christian worldview starts with the proposition that something has gone wrong with Man and change is needed. That change begins with redemption, but does not end there: while a person can be redeemed in a moment in time, the process of being conformed into the image of Christ continues for a lifetime. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a Christian is empowered to change who they are, a process theologians call “sanctification.” But what does sanctification look like in a persons life? How does a person change who they are?

Classical Christian education attempts to answer this question by leaning on the wisdom of the ages. In summarizing the philosophy of Aristotle, philosopher Will Durant emphasized the importance of habits when he said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit;” that is to say a person can change who they are by changing what they do. This idea is known as virtue ethics, but it is incomplete in understanding the totality of Man; it is made complete by adding Augustine’s definition of virtue as “rightly ordered loves.” Augustine’s idea is that the path to virtue is to love the right things to the right degree; Man is made complete and sanctified when he comes to love what God loves and similarly to hate what God hates.

There is a great “secret” linking acting and loving; the human machine is made so that we often can alter what we love by what we do. C.S. Lewis said it beautifully in Mere Christianity when he wrote:

“The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”


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In summary, classical Christian education understands that all Christians are called to be Christ-like, and that requires that a change is made to our nature and our loves. That change comes about through the process of forming habits that then form our loves. Here is an example of what habit formation looks like at GFA. We have determined that we want our students to be respectful, so we have constructed opportunities for students to practice being respectful. If you visit one of our Grammar School classrooms, when you enter you will be greeted by the class pausing their lesson, standing and greeting you with something like, “Good morning, Mrs. White.” This practice of stopping what they are doing and acknowledging a visitor is a very important part of our curriculum; it is one of a handful of ways in which we are trying to cultivate in our students the habit of being respectful. We hope that by doing so students will ultimately over time come to love being respectful to others.