A recent study indicates most New Year’s resolutions last about one week. No big surprise there. Yet the headline serves to illustrate an important aspect of a Christian worldview, one with implications far beyond attrition rates at the gym.
To the degree that a people and nation practice internal self government they are free. When they fail, they are enslaved.
Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) Dutch theologian, lawyer, and educator, summarized the principle as well as anyone:
He knows not how to rule a kingdom, that cannot manage a Province; nor can he wield a Province, that cannot order a City; nor he order a City, that knows not how to regulate a Village. Nor he a Village, that cannot guide a Family; nor can that man Govern well a Family that knows not how to Govern himself; nor can he Govern himself unless his Reason be Lord, Will and Appetite be vassals; nor can Reason rule unless herself be ruled by God, and (wholly) be obedient to Him. (quoted by R. J. Slater in Teaching and Learning America’s Christian History)
Internal self-government includes virtue and habits. Virtue is voluntary obedience to truth, the very principle of internal self-government.
Our English word “habit” derives from the Latin habitus. James Davidson Hunter describes habitus as “… the continuity and stability of a culture … [that] organizes our actions and defines our way of being.” (The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil)
The habits of our heart establish the very internal frame of our lives. Do we function by faith or fear, thrift or waste, hard work or laziness? Are we compassionate or cruel, just, or corrupt? Do we trust or distrust? Do we create beauty or vulgarity? These are our habitus.
Whole cultures and nations are framed by habitus. How different is a nation built on thrift from one built on consumption! The United States became an economic powerhouse because of the virtues of hard work and thrift. Today the vices of laziness and consumption are growing and the United States is losing her historic global leadership.
Jesus Christ calls us to freely and internally govern ourselves according to “all that he has commanded” (see Matthew 28:19-20). Psalm 119 opens by extolling the wonder of God’s laws and the importance of our reflection on and obedience to these laws.Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways. You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands. I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me. – Gary Brumbelow, adapted from a forthcoming book by Darrow Miller