Peers, Pressure, and Ego

Theme: How Do I Live in This Mess?

by John M. Kilgore

I recently read of groups of ten teenagers brought into a room to ostensibly test their vision by asking them in a show of hands to identify the longest of three lines. Nine were secretly told to always vote for the second longest line. The results were that 75% of the time the one joined the nine and said shorter was longer. Most would simply not go against the group even when they were obviously wrong. Being right was not worth being different.

But then again they were just teenagers and everyone knows peer pressure is a teen phenomenon. Right? Then why is this 40-year-old so nervous about whether you are going to like this article? From Adam who caved in to Eve (Genesis 3:6,12; 1 Timothy 2:14), to Peter and Barnabas who withdrew from Gentile Christians (Galatians 2:11-14), to the last silent saint in the office, school, or family — peer pressure is for everyone.

But how is it that peers can pressure in the first place? It’s because they are at least peers (one regarded as having equal standing) and the nature of man. God made man a social creature, not a loner (Genesis 2:18). Therefore he needs another to be fully complete himself. This complement could not be found in the animal world, for nowhere was there found “a helper suitable for him” or, literally, “a helper corresponding to him” (Genesis 2:20, NAS). He needed a peer, not a puppy. And a peer is just what he got—one with the capacity to fulfill his social needs and at the same time enable him to perpetuate society itself (Genesis 1:28; 2:21-24).

Thus, society was born with all the capacity for acceptance, approval, and love that man needs as a social creature. As Adam had approved of Eve on the basis that she was like him so Eve as a peer could now return the favor. Man now had a way to bolster his ego other than through a hollow echo. (Ego for our purposes is not used to mean arrogance but self-worth.) It is natural for man to love his own flesh (Ephesians 5:28-29) and to love a consenting opinion from those of like flesh. We love to be thought lovely by the lovely.

But lovely is a relative term — lovely by what standard? Since God made man with a desire for social approval, He also gave man the standard upon which to tender that approval. As long as society gives and withholds approval based upon Gods approval, the innate societal needs of man serve him well. But as with all God – given human desires, man can choose to fulfill that desire to his hurt. By refusing to fully accept God’s standard of “good”  Eve sinned and then exerting the inevitable pressure as a peer, invited Adam to become like her, Sadly, he chose her approval rather than God’s, thus beginning a societal pressure which works contrary to the good of man. Sin is never satisfied with itself. It always loves company and the greater the company the greater the pressure,

How do we as Christians deal with this danger of a nature that yearns for approval while living in a blackmailing society that would destroy us?

First, we can start by recognizing and accepting that as long as we live in this world its pressure will be upon us. Further, it will never extend its approval until we agree to become like it. If we refuse, it will actively hate and persecute us (1 John 3;13; 1 Peter 4:4).

Second, we can recognize and accept our innate need for approval and begin to look for sanctified ways of receiving it. The best defense for the siren call of the crowd is a strong and secure ego, a transformed and renewed mind (Romans 12:2), which has anchored our value and worth in God. Insecurity here is disastrous.

Ego from God

God has provided for the secure ego we need by continually reminding us that He made us in His image, And even when this image was enslaved by sin, God in His love redeemed and renewed it. Seeking Him as our highest good, we now are His children. He calls us holy ones, He allows us into His very presence. We confidently shout, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31).

Ego from Others

Although in our allegiance to Him each of us stands alone, we are not lonely, for there are others who also seek first His approval. They are truly “helpers suitable” who tender their approval upon God’s standards and even lovingly withhold it to bring us back to safety, Within this company, peer pressure finds its finest purpose, the ultimate salvation of our souls (1 Corinthians 5). We must fortify ourselves with this companionship.

Ego from Work

God has also given us purposeful work, Our ego humbly swells with the knowledge that we are the salt and light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). We alone have been honored with this great task, for we alone were made able. Therefore we turn to the world with all of its pressure to victoriously overcome with a greater pressure (Romans 12:21: Ephesians 5:11). Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

CHRISTIANITY MAGAZINE  FEBRUARY, 1984