Peer pressure in legalistic circles is HUGE! It’s sly, it’s subtle, and it’s powerful!
But legalists misunderstand peer pressure. They think it is the way God keeps them on track. In fact, it’s hard for a legalist to discern that it’s peer pressure because it’s confused with the Holy Spirit’s inner working on our consciences.
Just as worldly peer pressure can be motivating to go in the wrong direction, Christian peer pressure isn’t seen for what it is: manipulative and binding. Here’s how: If peers are fearful of changing directions because of the risk of being condemned or ostracized by the others, the whole group is locked into an unchecked path.
If anyone breaks rank and begins to question the legitimacy of the group’s beliefs or direction, they are quickly classified as a compromiser or a liberal and immediately ceases to hold any influence on the rest of the group. Not only are they not given a sympathetic or attentive ear, but the group will refuse to associate with him, lest they also loose their acceptance in the group.
As a former legalist, I was also once influenced more by this undetected peer pressure than Spirit pressure. I was more committed to upholding legalistic standards and thereby my respect among my friends and family. I continued to preach man-made traditions that were extreme and legalistic, with a self-righteous and know-it-all attitude.
That kind of legalistic peer pressure is just as harmful and destructive as worldly peer pressure, since it locks you into a lifestyle governed by what others think of you rather than what is really Biblical.
See, as a legalist you desperately want others to think you are a godly Christian. Out loud, you will say you don’t care what anybody thinks of you. But what you mean is that you don’t care if lost people or liberal Christians think you are strange, weird, or whatever. But deep down you DO care what your legalist friends think of you.
The legalist responds by saying, “I want to have a godly testimony.” The truth is that if any legalist asks his lost neighbor whether it’s right for a Christian ought to watch movies, or listen to secular music, or if a woman should wear pants or makeup or have short hair or not, his neighbor won’t really care one way or another about those things. Only the legalists do.
But legalists tell themselves that these are the distinctives that set them apart from the world sufficiently to give them a “godly testimony.” Only, neither Scripture nor lost people recognize those things as being what makes our witness credible to the lost. It only makes us credible to other rule keepers. So, “having a godly testimony” is code language for “making sure my friends think I’m really godly” and “retaining my acceptance in the group.”
As a legalist you are not only a victim of this peer pressure, you exert it on others, often without thinking. You feel divinely obligated to speak your mind, to proclaim and uphold godly standards, no matter who it offends. That’s viewed as a praiseworthy act of boldness, instead of the obnoxious act that it is.
You desperately want to be respected by your fellow legalists, but you really fail to respect anyone else very much at all. They are not allowed to disagree or have different personal standards from you or your group. Instead, you just pour on the pressure for others to measure up, to “get right,” or to get out. So you are both the victim and the inflicter of this peer pressure. All because you think you’re right and it’s your job to keep everybody else right too (as you’ve defined it).
Once again Paul’s words apply: (2 Cor. 10:12) – For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.