It was as if I was Dr. Jekyll at one moment and Mr. Hyde the next. I was spending the summer teaching a group of college students how to live a disciplined Christian life. One moment I was the model of self-control and compassion. The next, I was aggressive and forceful, caring only about coming out on top. What caused the disturbing transformation? It was peer pressure. The afternoon had been planned as a chance to relax and enjoy one another as we played outdoor games. But as I observed others driving their athletic abilities, intent on winning, I began to try to prove myself as well. I found my competitive spirit becoming my master as I gave in to the influence of those about me. Whatever they did, I wanted to do one step better. In the process, I offended friends and tainted my witness. As I have looked back on that summer I have seen how easy it is for all of us to fall victim to the pressures of those around us. Sometimes the pressure is overt: “What’s the matter with you? Why don’t you go to R-rated movies?” Other times it can be far more subtle. When a whole group laughs at an off-color joke, it’s difficult not to compromise and join in. We may unwittingly give into society’s influence in how we think about our standard of living. What once seemed like a comfortable income can begin to seem inadequate when we look at our neighbor’s. It is easy to make decisions based on the values that surround us rather than on God’s Word. The opposite of courage is not cowardice but conformity. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Christ condemned the leaders of Israel who “loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (Jn. 12:43). How do we avoid the natural inclination to conform to the pressures the world puts on us? I have found seven guiding principles that will keep us from caving in under group pressure.
THE PRINCIPLE OF PRIOR CHOICE
Joshua told the Israelites, “…But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). Life is a series of choices. Whether we are aware of it or not, we choose before the fact whether we will be victorious or suffer defeat. When we do not decide how we will respond to temptation before it occurs, we are choosing defeat by default. I once worked for a company in which the union of truck drivers were known for violence. The union employees were eager to walk out and a meeting was called to discuss a possible strike. I knew that my conscience would not allow me to strike regardless of what everyone else chose to do. When the issue came to a vote that night in the union hall, all in favor of a strike were asked to stand. A wave of hot fear swept over me as I realized I was the only one in the hall who had remained seated. But I really had no choice. I made the decision before I entered the hall. When the pressure was on, I could respond properly. Think through the various situations in which you might be called upon to compromise and decide an appropriate response before you face them: How will you respond to unwelcome advances on a date? Will you ask to be taken home? Will you explain your convictions? If your boss pressures you to be unethical in reporting certain business expenses, what will you do? Will you refuse and quit? Will you appeal to your supervisor and try to reason with him? If someone pours you a drink at a party and you feel that it is wrong for you to drink, how will you react? What will you say? Decide your position on these issues before the heat of the moment. Otherwise you might begin to bend a little to avoid offending someone. There is a fact of life I call the temptation curve. It works like this. Imagine a graph with horizontal and vertical axes. The horizontal axis represents time and the vertical is victory or power in the Christian life. The line of resistance starts high on the vertical axis but drops very quickly with time. This illustration represents the fact that if a decision to resist sin or peer pressure is not made almost immediately the chances of being victorious drop to nil in no time.
THE PRINCIPLE OF CONFIDENCE
Christians often assume a defensive stance when they go against the grain of society. But consider a principle hidden in Mk. 6:20: “…Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man.” When we are righteous and obedient as John was, those around us develop a “fear” as we identify with Christ. We need never feel awkward or apologetic when we deviate from the norm. Others should be more afraid of us than we are of social rejection. We don’t have to explain ourselves when we take a stand for righteousness. If Satan can get us to believe that we must account for ourselves in the midst of resisting pressure from others, we will focus on our excuses instead of standing strong and we will lose our confidence. If we need to explain our convictions in order to help someone else, it is best to do so at a later time, away from the pressure of the moment. The immediate issue is resistance. Explanation or persuasion is secondary.
THE PRINCIPLE OF CONVICTION
We must base our decisions not on convenience but on what the Scriptures say. I will not be able to resist peer pressure consistently if I don’t have scriptural convictions. The strength to resist is drawn from the grace God makes available through obedience. “…God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). Many mistake cultural or personal preferences for convictions. I don’t like it when people smoke around me. But when I am honest, I have to say that my aversion does not come from convictions based on Scripture. I just don’t like smoke in my face. Convictions come through knowledge. therefore we must regularly spend time studying the Bible to develop those convictions. It’s very simple. A person may have many opinions, but apart from consistent time in the Bible, he will always be bankrupt of true convictions. Convictions become an anchor in the hurricanes of peer pressure.
THE PRINCIPLE OF RESTITUTION
Guilt over past failures can be deadly in breaking down resistance to peer pressure. If a person has compromised in the past, guilt can spell defeat in the future. Confession and restitution resolve that guilt. Before I was a Christian, I did many things that were wrong. Even after my conversion several habit patterns took a long time to be broken. I realized that I needed to go back to certain people whom God brought to mind and make restitution. I asked forgiveness from those I had hurt. I computed the value of things I had taken and paid back the people I had stolen from. That had several effects. First, it cleared my conscience. Second, it gave me an opportunity to share my new-found faith in Christ. But it also strengthened me for the future. No longer would I have to feel weak when I spoke to others about the areas in which I had fallen. When placed in the same situations again, I had power to resist because I had a clear conscience. I don’t believe a person is bound to go back and right every wrong he ever committed. But there are times when God will continually bring to a person’s attention a specific name and incident. It is those incidents that require restitution – otherwise a Christian may continue to feel weak in those areas until he finally agrees with God to clear his conscience. Paul strove to keep his conscience clear before God and man (Acts 24:16).
THE PRINCIPLE OF GEOGRAPHY
When I was a police officer, I often had to stop suspects on the street at night. As I called a name into headquarters for a records check, occasionally the radio operator would say, “He’s a rabbit.” That was police terminology for a suspect who had a history of running when stopped by the police. Good Christians should be “rabbits.” When we feel the temptation to compromise rising within us, we should move quickly away from the situation or place that is weakening us. “But you, man of God, flee from all this…” (1 Tim. 6:11). A. J. Gordon said, “Avoiding temptation is next in importance to resisting temptation.” Some temptations are best resisted with our heels. Because of my past, I have decided that I can’t go near certain areas in San Diego. To visit some sites would be to invite sin into my life. It is important for us to know ourselves and our patterns of weakness so we can be prudent and avoid being caught with our guards down.
THE PRINCIPLE OF COMPROMISE
Once we give into pressure from others a cycle of defeat is set up. As Francis Schaeffer said, “Accommodation leads to accommodation which leads to accommodation.” Sin always starts small and grows. A minimum lethal dose of botulism bacillus is .00003 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. That is almost the equivalent of a flea derailing a 100-mile freight train. If we yield to pressure in small areas, it can eventually derail us in big areas. When I replaced the starter motor on my car last week, I used a ratchet wrench to remove the old motor. A ratchet wrench only works in one direction. As pressure is applied, the wrench locks itself to keep it from rotating backwards. Once it is set it stays there. When we fall in a particular area and don’t confess it and make restitution when necessary, we get locked into failure. Apart from God’s grace we will continue our path fixed in the wrong direction. We need to recognize that if we begin to bend in some gray areas, before too long we will be broken in areas that are not so gray. Anyone who has committed adultery – or given into any sin – compromised in a little area first. That weakness multiplied like a deadly germ and ultimately brought about defeat. Compromise kills.
THE PRINCIPLE OF FELLOWSHIP
One of the greatest assets in helping to resist the world’s pressure is good fellowship. None of us has enough power on his own to stand firm day after day. God wants us to draw strength from those we have chosen to spend time with. In one sense our victory is determined by our friends. “He who walks with the wise grows wise…” (Prov. 13:20). It might also be said that he who walks with the strong grows strong. An important element in our walk has to be the wise choice of friends. “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Cor. 15:33). Even Solomon, who Scripture says was the wisest king on earth, sinned against God under the influence of people close to him. In later life his foreign wives “turned his heart after other gods” (1 Kings 11:4) and he built altars to their abominable gods. But as the wrong friends can steer us toward evil, godly companions can help us stay on the right path. Good friends will keep us turned towards God. One student I know was going to attend an important dance on campus and knew that he might give into temptation there. Aware of his potential weakness, he told me before he went to hold him accountable and ask him afterwards how he behaved. He knew that the mere prospect of my questions after the dance would strengthen him to resist the pressure to give into sin. Resistance to peer pressure is not an individual effort. It is a team effort. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up!” (Eccl. 4:9-10). Everywhere we turn we will be subjected to some form of peer pressure. The subtle influence of an ungodly world can easily nudge us off the course of obedience to Christ. Only as we understand our weaknesses and appropriate the power of God at work within us can we expect any degree of victory. Victory is more than a feeble hope, it is a promise. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).
Randy Raysbrook, Discipleship Journal