Over the last few weeks, we’ve discussed the dangers of “perceived peer pressure”. We’ve spent some time discussing why we sometimes feel pressured to conform, even when no actual pressure exists. We’ve talked about the origins of this internal conflict and examined the importance of accepting ourselves for who we are.
All that said, there is another form of “perceived pressure” which most of us encounter. This variety, unlike that quiet gnawing sense that we’re different (and thus, somehow unacceptable), is hidden in the vocal, but not necessarily ill-intended, encouragement of others.
Consider the following illustration: one year, while discussing my upcoming birthday with my coworkers, one of them suggested that I should go “all out” – go to a bar, get drunk, and pick up a guy for the night. Obviously, the suggestion was offensive to my way of thinking and I might easily have seen this particular employee as “pressuring” me to reject my beliefs. Yet that was the farthest thing from his mind. Unlike those who egg us on, lying in wait to catch us in sin, my friend genuinely believed that such behavior did make for a good time… and he earnestly wanted me to have some fun.
This is where our ability to recognize the difference between ill-informed suggestions and actual pressure is important. In this particular case, I laughed, thanked him for his wishes, and told him about my other plans. While this might seem like glossing over the issue, it led to a cemented relationship in which I was later able to present the Gospel message. Why? Because he realized that I wasn’t going to condemn him for his own ideas of right and wrong or, worse yet, try to pressure him into accepting mine.
This stance can be difficult for many believers simply because we’ve been raised in a church culture which teaches that any failure to point out sin is a sin in and of itself. Yet nowhere does Scripture actually teach this concept. Instead, we are to be careful about when, where, and how we point out the faults of others. Matthew 7:1-6 warns us, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
The truth is that most of the people we encounter (Christians or non-Christians) are already aware of their sinfulness. We as Christians, then, are charged not with beating them over the head with the evil they’ve done (or to judge them as though we are somehow better than they are). Instead, we are to present them with a living, working image of the Christ who died to save them from the penalty of that sin.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t call sin “sin,” but it does mean that we don’t engage in the same sort of “enforced pressure” tactics used by the Enemy. Changes in behavior don’t necessarily equal a change of heart. Only if the change begins with Jesus will there ever be any real change at all.