Wanted – Non-conformists
Have you ever felt under pressure from others to do something, go somewhere, or say things outside of your normal pattern of behaviour?
If you have, you have experienced ‘peer pressure’. It has been defined as ‘the influence that a peer group or individual exerts, encouraging others to change their attitudes, values or behaviours and conform to group norms.’ In simpler terms, it’s when we feel compelled to do something because we want to fit in and be accepted by certain people. By the way, pressure from peers is experienced by people of all ages. A teenager might feel pressurised to have the newest smartphone or the latest designer clothes or shoes, but adults too are pressed to conform whether it’s about the furnishing of their homes or the standards to which they adhere.
We succumb to peer pressure because society has programmed us to think that if we are different we will not be accepted by others. If we want to be liked, to have friends, to be popular, society tells us that we need to throw away Bible-based convictions to fit in with the crowd. How sad to see young people yield to such pressure, forsaking the teachings of Scripture and living lives out of step with God and His Word!
So how can we deal with peer pressure? To help in this battle, here are some things God would have you remember.
Remember who you are
The first thing that will help you to deal with peer pressure is to remember who you are. The desire to be accepted by others is one of the main reasons why we succumb to peer pressure. But when you remember that you have been chosen and accepted by God, then what does it matter what others think? The thought of being chosen and accepted by God was what Paul focused on when writing to believers at Ephesus. That city was morally corrupt and given over to superstition and idolatry. The people of God were under constant pressure to conform to the norms of a pagan society. Yet Paul reminds them that though they stood out from others because of their allegiance to Christ, and were ostracised by family and friends, they they were ‘chosen’ in Christ ‘before the foundation of the world’ and through Him they were ‘accepted in the beloved’ (Ephesians 1:3+6). You may not be accepted by your peers, but if you know Christ as Saviour, you are accepted by Him. That is all that matters.
Remember what God has said
The second thing is to remember what God has said. Conformity to social norms when those norms are out of step with the standards of Scripture is not acceptable, 1 John 2:15 challenges us to ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him’. John then presents two reasons why we are not to love the world, firstly because, ‘all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world’; and secondly, because, ‘the world passeth away, and the lust thereof’ ( v16-17). James reminds us that ‘friendship of the world is enmity with God’ (4:4), while Paul warns the Christians to ‘be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God’ (Romans 12:2). Conformity to the world’s standards is not what God desires of His children. Instead He expects us to be different in our deeds, dialect, dress and desires. God speaks of His children as being ‘pilgrims’ and ‘strangers’ (Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 2:11). We are quickly passing through this world to the next. Fitting into this world is not to be our goal in life, but living a life glorifying to God. If we live with that goal in view, we will soon be out of step with the world. But better to walk with God and have His favour, than walk with the world and have God’s frown.
Remember that others have experienced peer pressure
Thirdly, you must remember that others have experienced peer pressure but have refused to yield to it. One of the most notable examples in the Bible is found in the lives of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, better known to us as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The royal edict required them to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s image, but these young men refused to disobey the first and second commandments in order to obey the king’s diktat. The pressure to conform was immense, and others of their peers had no difficulty in bowing down, but these young men chose to obey God rather than men. In doing so, they found that God blessed them and promoted them. Think of others like Joseph, Esther, Daniel, and John the Baptist, all of whom refused to yield to the pressure and conform to the world. And so, you are in good company when you stand up for God and His truth. The heroes and heroines of the faith would encourage us today to ‘Stand up, Stand up for Jesus’, even when such a stand flouts popular opinion.
Remember that you will stand before God alone someday
Finally, it is important to remember that you will stand before God alone someday. Paul reminds us that, ‘we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ’ and that, ‘every one of us shall give account of himself to God’ (Romans 14: 10, 12). Our lives are to be lived in light of that inevitable meeting with God. Our peers will not accompany us to the judgment seat of Christ, we ourselves will give an account of our lives to God. How sad to meet the Saviour and say we did not do those things we should have done, and we did those things that we should not have done, only because of pressure from our peers! To avoid that scenario, let us surround ourselves with friends who encourage us to do the will of God.
Refusing to yield to peer pressure may well involve a lonely stand. But remember, God has promised that He ‘will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’ (Hebrews 13:5) In Him, there is a friend who sticks closer to us than any earthly brother.
Rev. David Stewart.