There are three basic ways we learn to become good or evil.
1. By Teaching "Learning what's good and bad"
2. By example "Having Moral Heroes"
3. By practice “Forming virtuous habits.”
The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Philippi, “What you have learned and received and heard (by teaching) and seen in me (by example)—practice these things (by practice), and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9, ESV)
Therefore, becoming a virtuous person is an all encompassing affair. It requires our minds to be filled with good content and our intellects challenged by good teachers. We need to be taught what is good. We need to learn what it means to be virtuous people and we need to teach our children words like patience, self-control, justice, and courage. If we can, we should wax eloquently about such topics.
But the development of virtue isn't isolated to the mind. It is also cultivated in our hearts, where our desires and imaginations pull us along and move us toward what ever it is that is capturing them at the moment. This is why we need good examples. We need heroes whose moral courage captures our imaginations and create in us a desire to emulate them. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien knew this, that is why their stories are full of heroes who inspire us to live for something greater than our own comfort and security. Now this is where we often fail as parents. Do you know who is capturing your child's imagination right now? Who are they looking up to and wanting to emulate? Is it a braggadocious professional athlete? Is it a sexually provocative entertainer? Is it a snarky teenager on some Disney show? You might be spending a lot of time teaching your kids the difference between good and bad but if you are letting them be influenced by immoral heroes you are going to miss their heart from which the rest of their life flows. Proverbs 4:23 "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." Parents that aim only at the head through teaching or lecturing, will miss their kids heart and wonder why they aren’t growing in virtue and seem to be so attracted to vice. Now listen, the "tee-totaling" parent will simply try to take away all of the immoral heroes and think their job is done. But that is not enough, As virtuous parents it is also our job to fill our kids lives with appropriate heroes. Read epic books to them. Watch epic movies. Tell epic stories. Capture your child's imagination with the wonder of God and the Epic story of the gospel. One of the things that I have done in the past is watch Dispatches from the front, with my children. These are video stories of current missionaries doing great work for God and the good of people in some of the most difficult places on earth. It is always inspiring and starts a great conversation with my kids.
But Tolkien and Lewis also understood that virtue needed to be practiced. No one is born virtuous, and no one becomes virtuous without a lot of conflict. Even our Lord Jesus Christ needed to be "made perfect through suffering" (Heb. 2:10). Both Lord of the Rings and Narnia are based around unlikely characters, who are lacking in many virtues and possess more than a few vices, being drug along into some epic story where they learn how to do extremely difficult things that require a great amount of self-sacrifice. It is here where we see the third way we learn to become good or evil. We practice it. We practice it on the playground and in the home. We practice it when we would rather sleep in but we still set our alarm and arise to read our devotions or make it to church on time. We practice it by telling the truth when we would rather tell the lie. We practice it by putting limits on our technology when we would rather scrub through Instagram or hand our kids the iPad to watch YouTube videos. We practice it by serving the poor and standing by someone who is being bullied at school. No one learns to be patient, just, courageous, or temperate without the habitual practice of virtuous behavior in all of life.
And this leads me to my last point, Paul says, as we are developing virtue, "The God of peace will be with you." Doing a virtuous act, and becoming a virtuous person are two separate things. The former can happen by chance, the latter comes only through a lifetime of effort, failure, grace, repentance, forgiveness, and the Spirit infused courage to saddle back up and try again knowing that the God of peace will be with you in this endeavor.