One of the great deficiencies of the modern education machine is that it treats learning as a mechanistic exercise in which information is fed to a student’s mind where it is processed, stored, and used as needed, almost as if the student were a computer grinding all the data that it receives from the outside. In this model, the computer itself (i.e. the student) does not really change, it just continues to store and use more information.
In the Christian worldview, however, learning is a spiritual exercise, not a mechanistic one. Education is the process of forming a student into what she was created to be, and that means a reshaping of her spirit into the image of God. As Christians, we do not often think of our schooling as part of our sanctification. However, I think that is because we have too narrow a view of what sanctification entails. It is perhaps more expansive of a concept than we realize.
If our sanctification is the process of being formed more and more into the likeness of God, then that must include every area of our life and involve every aspect of the universe with which we interact. It is the process of forming in us a total worldview and not just a pietistic way of thinking about God. It includes how we understand the entire created order, from mathematics and science to history, aesthetics, literature and every other discipline available to study. We do not undertake these studies simply to store information that we can use later, in the manner of the material/computer model. We study them so our minds, hearts and spirits will understand them and be shaped more like the Creator of those things.
In Galatians 3, Paul is giving counsel on the process of sanctification, encouraging us to avoid the legalistic/mechanistic approach to learning. “Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (v.3) The mechanistic model of the flesh comes in various forms, but none of them work. The Christian life does not grow within by simply inputting information to store in our brains to use later. If it were, then indoctrination camps would be the most effective way to form mature followers of Christ. We could simply feed a continuous stream of truths to the “learner” and make certain they retain it through whatever practices we found effective.
However, Paul is clear that this is not how sanctification works. Remember, in the mechanistic model the one receiving the information (i.e. the computer) does not change. It just stores and processes the information. In a spiritual model, the one receiving information is constantly being changed by it. Here, the learner receives knowledge because she recognizes her old way of thinking was deformed and a harmful vestige of her old self. Her new self is being renewed and transformed by her learning. Her spirit is changed.
Rather than indoctrination, this kind of learning is an invitation to the learner’s soul to engage with the fullness of life-giving knowledge. It engages the will of the learner, placing herself as a subject in the learning process rather than simply an object into which things are input. This is how God shapes people. There is so much in the world that is good, true, and beautiful. It is filled with visible and invisible things that reveal a life in Christ because his presence fills everything in every way. His salvation is an invitation to put away the old self and find ourselves in a new life of discovery about Him and all He has made.