Peer Pressure

by Jeff Thompson

Peer pressure is the persuasive influence exerted by one’s peers or equals to cause certain actions or behaviors, usually negative. Peer pressure is a very strong form of influence. When considering such influence on the spiritual lives of individuals the effects can be devastating. Peer pressure works in two ways. First, it may encourage an individual to perform some specific act that he or she normally would not do or it may gradually erode one’s values over time. This gradual process starts by taking away our courage to confront error and then reduces our strength and resolve to stand for the right. Our tolerance for sin increases. Soon, we give in to certain practices we once opposed. Statements like “thus saith the Lord” are replaced with “What’s wrong with it?” as we attempt to justify our conscience. Then finally, over time, our very faith dissolves. Peer pressure is usually associated with young people but that is an oversimplification. People of all ages and all walks of life are susceptible. The key term is “peer” meaning equal. Peers may be but are not necessarily our friends. Those whom we see as being our equals or our betters have more influence on us than those to whom we feel superior. Also when we feel weak and insignificant, we are particularly susceptible to the influences of those around us. Consider Lot and his family (Genesis chapters11-19). As the scriptures first introduce him he is associated with Abraham, God’s chosen patriarch, and he is righteous and successful. At a moment of choice, he chooses carnally, instinctively, and fleshly and ends up in Sodom. The next we read of him, he was no longer successful nor was he very righteous. There is no more mention of his vast wealth and he offered his virgin daughters to evil men for immoral purposes. Upon his deliverance from the condemned city he got drunk and unwittingly impregnated both of his daughters. What caused such degradation of his morals? One reason was that he was no longer associated with righteous men but was associated with evil men with sinful characters. It is foolish to think we can surround ourselves and bombard our senses with sin and immorality and not suffer from spiritual erosion. “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) The lesson here is clear: we must choose very carefully those with whom we associate and to what degree we associate with them. We are in the world and therefore must interact with worldly people, even Jesus did that, but we must know when and how to limit that association. We must maintain control of ourselves; for we alone will give an account for our life and face the consequences of our actions. Consider also the case of John the Baptist. As he saw Jesus coming to him to be baptized, he exclaimed “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). But when he was held in prison awaiting his execution, he sent his disciples to Jesus to find out if Jesus really was the Messiah (Matthew 11:3). What a difference in these two portraits of the man! In the latter case, John was in surroundings and with associates not of his choosing and he found himself in an extreme situation. He did not deny his faith, but the extreme circumstances did cause him to question. We must prepare ourselves for such trials of our faith having been forewarned that “... all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy3:12) The Bible contains many warnings and examples of circumstances and challenges that may confront the believer. We must be vigilant and prepare ourselves for when trials arise. Why does it seem that peer pressure often works negatively? Why do negative behaviors gain so much popularity with people today? Why is it so much easier to cause people to give up a good behavior for a bad one than it is to get people to give up bad behaviors for good ones? In Luke 15 we read of a “prodigal son” who returned home after figuratively falling away in sin; but experience tells us that such cases are the exception rather than the rule. In most cases, Christians who yield to peer-pressure and leave the Church and the doctrine of Christ never return. Every congregation has members who are out of duty and some congregations have more delinquent members than faithful ones. It seems that people struggle against sin before obeying the gospel and afterwards continue to struggle in some form or other to remain faithful. Why it is such a struggle to do what is right? Why does the Bible refer to Christians as “soldiers” and use terms such as “fight, war, and adversary” and other combative terms? One reason is because it is our nature to do that which is sinful. Immoral and lewd behaviors, emotional responses and reactions, physical indulgences all are part of our baser selves. Such responses are carnal, not spiritual. All men are carnal by nature and only become spiritual by choice. For mankind sin is not difficult, instead it is righteousness that is a struggle. Temptations to sin actually come from physical desires within us. They may be latent desires, but when they are aroused a struggle within ensues to determine our actions. Things that we have no interest in do not tempt us and are easy to avoid. From man’s early days in the Garden of Eden he was drawn to the only prohibition there and by yielding to it brought death upon all men. (Romans 5:12) What strange attraction made that fruit more desirable than all the others of the garden? What attribute did it possess that caused it to be perceived to be able to satisfy a hunger not satisfied by all the other produce of the garden? Perhaps it was not the fruit at all but man’s desire to have that which was forbidden that was the temptation. Sinfulness is a condition of mankind. All people are not tempted by the same things, but all are tempted and all yield. (Isaiah 53:6, Rom 3:23) Man left to his own devices will have no difficulty in finding, even creating opportunities to sin, but he will find it impossible to create or develop righteousness on his own. (Jeremiah 4:22, Jeremiah 10:23) Typical human responses to things are carnal, rather than spiritual. While man is carnal, God is a spirit (John 4:24) and therefore we must be taught to be spiritual. We have to be taught what is right and how to do it. We need both sound doctrine and the things that are becoming to sound doctrine. (Titus 2) In order to gain this essential knowledge, we must read, study, and learn the Bible. Knowledge is the first step in walking by faith. The Bible reveals not only what to do, but how to do it. It is this characteristic need of man that makes it impossible for us to save ourselves and makes us totally dependent on obeying a merciful God and a loving Savior. After a person learns of righteousness and obeys the gospel, why is there still a constant battle to remain faithful to that which we know is good and to avoid that which we know is evil? Even for those who know the truth it is very easy to slip back into Old sinful habits and practices. (Jeremiah 13:23, 2 Peter 2:22) Old habits are familiar and comfortable. They are easy; and even though they sometimes have negative consequences, it requires much less effort to continue in them than to replace them with righteousness. After all, if it was easier to do righteousness, that would be our natural inclination rather than sin. There would be no need for a plan of salvation or a savior. But the reality is we need to be saved from ourselves, and from our own evil appetites and desires. There is deceitfulness in temptation. It promises instant gratification but in the long term it actually yields destruction. This destruction is usually perceived as distant and therefore is not a strong deterrent. In short, to the mind of a sinner, these are acceptable risks. Some think they can indulge their sinful appetites without suffering eternal consequences. They think they can sin willfully, make a confession later, and be safe. Solomon declared that such self indulgences led to an empty unsatisfied feeling with many regrets. (Ecclesiastes 2) If we diligently seek to increase our spiritual knowledge and to grow, we develop strength and increase our faith. (Romans 10:17) We can become strong enough in our faith to overcome sin and temptation. When we expend our energies in the pursuit of spiritual knowledge and service, it will prepare us to encounter these challenges and to understand spiritual questions. Hebrews 5:14 declares “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Our carnal or natural instincts and responses can also be controlled. We must train ourselves to behave spiritually. We do this by insisting on Bible teaching for our practices. We act and react as Christ and his apostles taught. We begin our efforts by imitating our Master, Jesus Christ, until it becomes second nature. We follow his precepts about dealing with others, about morality and duty to God. When we exercise our senses to the point that we become what he wants us to be, we need never fall (2 Peter 1: 5-10) When we reach this stage of spiritual development, we can say, as did Paul “Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) Such a change is not miraculous or instantaneous. It is a gradual process that comes about by diligent effort on the part of the Christian. It is this diligent pursuit of righteousness through obedience that God will reward (Hebrews 11:6). Peer pressure appeals to the baser part of us; a part of us that we cannot get rid of as long as we are alive. We can train ourselves spiritually to control that part of our being but it is always there. The Bible is replete with examples and warnings of this. When this life is over and only our spiritual life remains, the carnal man with its desires will be gone, the struggle will be over, and those who are faithful will enter into the joy of the Lord. (Matthew 25:23)