Monday, July 13, 2015


I’ve come to realize the truth in what John Ortberg says: Most of the time our behavior is governed by habit.  Most of the time, a change of behavior requires the acquisition of new habits.  A habit is a relatively permanent pattern of behavior that allows you to navigate life.  The capacity for habitual behavior is indispensable.  When you first learn to drive a car there are so many steps to remember.  But after you learn, it becomes habitual.  That means it is literally "in your body" (or "muscle memory").  It’s at the level of your neural pathways.  

Neurologists call this process where the brain converts a sequence of actions into routine activity "chunking."  Chunking turns out to be one of the most important dynamics in terms of sin and spiritual maturity.  Following Jesus is, to a large degree, allowing the Holy Spirit to "re-chunk" our lives. This is a physical description of the Apostle Paul's command to the Romans: " … but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom. 12:2).  Habits are extremely freeing.  They are what allow my body to be driving my car while my mind is sifting through the priorities of my day.

But sin gets into our habits.  This is what Paul was talking about when he talked about sin being “in our members.” “… the sinful passions … were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death … I see a … law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:5, 23 NAS). 

He was talking about human beings as embodied creatures.  Sin is in the habitual patterns that govern what our hands do and where our eyes look and words our mouths say.  Habits are in our neural pathways.  And sin gets in our habits.  So sin gets in our neurons.  And our way of thinking is altered.  Like so much else, our neurons are fallen, and can't get up.  They need redemption.  We need a transformation. 

But we’ll not be transformed by simply having more Biblical information poured into us.  The information has to be embodied.  It has to become habituated into attitudes, patterns of response, and reflexive action.  Call it the practice of spiritual disciplines or holy habits.  Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matt. 7:24-27).

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