Last week I suggested that data transmission alone does not create disciples. Rather, we must focus upon the heart’s inclinations in order to shape one’s behavior.
With the limits of data transmission in mind, what will it take, then to nurture true discipleship? If cultivating holy behavior requires influencing the heart’s inclinations, how does this take place?
First, we must recognize that there is a difference between what we might call higher and lower inclinations. The lower inclinations—or passions—are those impulses that respond primarily to physical appetites. Paul describes those who live according to these lower appetites: “their god is their belly” (Phil 3:19). When set in conflict with the mind, these lower appetites will always win since, as I have already claimed, we act primarily on the basis of inclination. Thankfully, there is a second aspect to our inclinations, the higher inclinations—or affections—of the soul. When the affections are cultivated toward what is right and good, we act accordingly. Notice that we still nevertheless act according to out inclinations, but as C. S. Lewis so famously stated, “The head rules the belly through the chest.”1 Therefore, if we want to produce disciples characterized by holy behavior, then we must give attention to cultivating noble inclinations for what is true and good. Peter tells us to “put on affections of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Yet the question still remains, how is this accomplished? How do we teach people’s affections?
Let us return to the earlier analogy of skill development. Developing a good golf swing, or learning to play the piano requires knowing the right information, but it also requires rehearsing those skills learned in a book over and over and over again. Skill development requires doing, not just data transmission. It requires the cultivation of habits that become second nature. The same is true for cultivating noble affections that will produce holy behavior; it takes training. Holiness, according to Hebrews 12:14, is something a Christian must “strive for.” Paul told Timothy to discipline himself for the purpose of godliness. Holy behavior takes practice. Once again, Lewis is helpful. He describes the “chest”—the higher inclinations—as “emotions organized by trained habits into stable sentiments.”2 Mark Noll describes Jonathans Edwards’s view of the affections as “habitual inclinations at the core of a person’s being.”3 The disciplined formation of habits is essential for the formation of holy living because habit is what trains the affections.
So the fourth peg of my argument is that cultivating holy behavior involves shaping the affections through habitual practices.