If you struggle with peer pressure, know that you are certainly not the first Christian to do so. Peter and Barnabas were good Christians whom God used to spread the gospel among Gentiles. When they visited Gentile Christians in Antioch, they enjoyed that fellowship. However, some Jewish visitors arrived from Jerusalem who did not approve of eating with Gentiles. They cast a disapproving glance toward Peter and Barnabas. One couldn’t expect to be accepted in Jerusalem, after all, if one (gasp!) ate with Gentiles. Peter and Barnabas felt the pressure, and they buckled. The fear of men ensnared them, and led them to deny their oneness with other Christians. In separating themselves from the Gentile Christians, they gained the approval of their friends from Jerusalem, but they also obtained a rebuke from the apostle Paul (Gal 2:11-14). Peter and Barnabas did what they knew was wrong in order to satisfy the eye of man. That is the effect of peer pressure.
Peer pressure illustrates Proverbs 29:25. “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe” (ESV). When you put your faith in Christ, you were set free. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36, ESV). When you understand what Christ has done for you and who you are in Christ, you are delivered from the trap of fearing and pleasing men. Allowing your actions to be determined by the opinions of your peers is a self-imposed bondage. Your peers are not the ultimate judge; God is. “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom 14:12, KJV). Your peers are of infinitesimal status in comparison to God. If you have faith in Christ, you are already accepted in God’s eyes. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1, KJV). God’s evaluation overrides the puny opinions of men, and in Christ, you are already accepted with God. Never forget that! The God of heaven and earth has accepted you.
Defining the Challenge
While you know that God is far greater, and His judgment is more important, you aren’t going to physically see God at school today. You are going to see your peers. Your peers are the people of similar age to you or of the same social group. They are the people who are often around you. Peer pressure is when your peers attempt to influence the way you act. You may feel the need to be like them or to behave in a way that you know is acceptable to them. You are going to observe their cliques, see their clothes, listen to their conversations, hear their laughter, and sometimes you are going to wish you could be more accepted by them. Why is it so hard? What would it take for you to fit in better? Why do you feel so different?
The Reason for the Pressure
The reason you sometimes feel so different from so many of your peers is that you are different. You are a follower of Christ. They are “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2, ESV). You are led by the Holy Spirit. They are living “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph 2:3, ESV). You have put on the new man, “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24, ESV). They are still marked by the old man, which is “corrupt through deceitful desires” (Eph 4:18, 22, ESV). Salvation has made a massive difference. The Word of God presents a vast, spiritual chasm between those who are saved and those who are lost. This is why you will feel different at times. God’s salvation has created that difference.
Your peers won’t really understand the difference, nor should you expect them to. The world is not content to let you be different. Even if you never say a word, your refusal to adopt their behaviors sends a message to them that their behaviors are wrong. If they can convince you to live like them, then maybe your Savior isn’t so special after all, and maybe your faith isn’t real, then maybe their behaviors aren’t wrong. There’s a lot at stake for the world in swaying you to think and be like them. That’s why there is pressure. As you withstand the pressure, you implicitly tell the world that Christ is better than what they have. The Lord Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:19-20, ESV).
The pressure will not always stem from such evil motives. Some may think they are doing you a favor by merely helping you to fit in. If the things they want to fit you into are not good and healthy for a Christian, then it may simply be a subtle trap set, not by your well-intentioned peers, but by the enemy of your soul. He is anti-Christ and anti-Christian. He is “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31, ESV), and is behind the pressure to pour you into the mold of this world and have you adopt the thinking of the age. The Lord Jesus Christ, “gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (Gal 1:4, ESV). There will be pressure to blur the lines, but don’t forget what God’s grace has done and is still able to do in your life and testimony.
The Biblical Charge
“If sinners entice you, do not consent” (Prov 1:10, ESV). In light of the separation that God has created by delivering you in His mercy, He calls on you to live differently. It is a call to not give in to peer pressure. “Do not become partners with them,” and “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph 5:7, 11, ESV). Ephesians 5 refers to your speech, what you joke about, your sexual morality, and your attitude to alcohol, as areas where you are called to be different. Other Scriptures speak of your view of money, your dress, and your acceptance of truth in the face of pressure to tolerate false ideas. Often, it is not your peers who are pushing the values of the world upon you, but they are all being carried along by the tsunami of influences from media and marketing. Don’t be carried away by the torrent of the world with its consumerism, short term gratification, sexual immorality, and idolatry. Swim against the tide. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2, ESV).
The young Christian who steps up to this challenge, in devotion to God, “is not a leaf blown along with the wind of cultural trends. He is not a jellyfish floating with the current of the times. He is a tree that stands firm in the strongest storms. He is a dolphin who slices the waves against the tide. He is going somewhere. Dream of being the kind of teenager that the world cannot explain.”
Keys to Withstand the Pressure
It isn’t always going to be easy to stand tall when the winds of pressure are causing everyone around you to bend. Remember that there are shepherds who care for you, who have been where you are, and are praying for you. They are on your side in your battle to withstand the pressure to conform to the world around you. With the Spirit of God helping you, you need to take responsibility for coping with the pressure that is sure to come.
Early on in a new group setting, make value statements that quickly establish who you are and what you value. When asked what you did on Sunday, don’t just say “not much.” Tell them you went to a meeting of your church. Make it clear from the outset that you are not going to laugh at the dirty jokes. Speak up to defend God. Doing this early on will sometimes preserve you from awkward situations later. Your peers will already know where you stand, and will sometimes respect you for it.
Second, when it comes to withstanding pressure and doing right in the face of opposition, there is strength in numbers. Maximize your time with Christians as opposed to unbelievers. God’s design is for His people to be part of a local church and to genuinely participate in fellowship with Christians. The church is a body, and just as you are to play a role in supporting others, you need the support of others also. Choose your friends carefully, as they are a huge influence on your perspectives and decisions. “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals” (1Cor 15:33, ESV). So many young believers have stumbled as a result of gradually decreasing time in the company of Christians, and increasing time in the company of unbelievers. Purposefully arrange your schedule to enable you to be with Christians.
There will be times, though, when you won’t have any Christians around you to support you when the test comes, but the Lord is with you, and He delights to help His children. Depend upon Him. Cry to Him for strength and wisdom. “Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!” (Psa 105:4, ESV).
Remember that the pressure, however strong, is brief in comparison with the age to come. “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2Cor 4:17-18, ESV). Keep that eternal perspective. What seems cool and trendy today may be gone tomorrow. You should, then, value what lasts through all of life and into the kingdom that will soon dawn.
You will likely face mockery at times when honoring Christ. Bear in mind that there is a blessing in suffering reproach for Christ. You are experiencing a little of what your Lord experienced. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18, ESV). The Lord also said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:10-12, ESV). Heavenly rewards – the smile of your Lord, being counted with Christ – these are worth suffering for. Proper perspectives obviously require faith, but this is what will enable you to endure the pressure. “This is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith” (1John 5:4, ESV).
Poring Over the Scriptures
In order for a tree to stand strong when the hurricane force winds of peer pressure start to blow, that tree needs to have strong roots. In order to be strong, roots need nourishment. It is interesting that the Bible compares an individual who does not fall victim to peer pressure to a tree. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water” (Psa 1:1-3, ESV). In contrast, note that verse 4 says the wicked “are like chaff that the wind drives away.” Your strength is utterly dependent upon being firmly planted in the Scriptures. The Bible will give you proper perspectives. Its words will encourage you and strengthen you. It is an essential part of your armor for spiritual battles.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Eph 6:10-18, ESV).
It is also the Scriptures that establish what we considered at the beginning of our article. Christ has set you free to live a life unto God. Don’t allow men to constrain and trap you. Dream of being the kind of teenager the world cannot explain. You don’t need their approval. In Christ, you are already accepted with God, and it is His eye that matters most.
 John Piper, A Call to Teenagers to Be Free (desiringGod.org, 2015).