Social comparison is a term that emerged from the study of social psychology in the 1950’s. Social comparison is what we do when are trying to get some sort of evaluation of our station in life. We compare ourselves to others to see how we “stack up.” Should we do this? Probably not. When it happens, we discover there are always people who doing more than we are doing, accomplishing more than we are accomplishing, or we think they are more gifted than we are, so why go through all the frustration of comparing ourselves to the “more” people? Conversely there are always people who are doing less than we are doing. I used to joke that when I am having a “down day,” I would turn on the Jerry Springer Show where I could find Mr. Springer shining the light on folks who were having a difficult time in their lives [unsure about the paternity of their child, involved with an unfaithful significant other, indulging in some sexual orientation other than heterosexual]. Let’s go no further. You get the picture. My joke was at least I was not one of Jerry Springer’s people! Why be elated because we are above the “low bar” that some people set.
Do Christians indulge in this social comparison thing with other Christians?
You bet they do…
Here is how it works.
“Am I where I should be in my walk with Jesus?”
We compare ourselves to people we admire, people who seem to have it all together, people who say they read the Bible all the time, never miss Sunday school or church, volunteer for everything going on at church, are reputed to tithe large amounts of money and most importantly they have a “pious” attitude when they are in the presence of others. We think they are “super Christians.” We think we pale in comparison to them and it causes us to question our qualification for even referring to ourselves as Christian.
Then we look around and see individuals who are struggling; they don’t darken the door of church much at all and their problems are well known. Maybe they have a family member who is dealing with substance abuse. Maybe they have been accused of criminal activity or possibly they just don’t have enough acting ability to fake “pious.” They just seem weak in their faith. So we fall into the trap of judging them as “less than” us. I once heard a self-righteous friend refer to this “type” of Christian as a CINO [Christian in name only].
Social comparison is very real. It keeps us from searching for an authentic version of ourselves. We think we have to copy someone else in order to be real. We measure our own effectiveness by looking at the accomplishments of others. If we are capable of buying what others buy, eating what others eat, wearing what others wear, we are ok. All of us have holes in our soul and instead of trying to be authentic with God, we play games with the many others around us and we copy what they do, even in our walk of faith.
This is such a waste of time. Only God knows our hearts, and only He knows whether a person has sincerely put their faith in Christ as their Lord and Savior. Jesus warned, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” [Matthew 7:1]. All human beings are capable of doing great good in this world but they are also capable of doing great evil. Judging others (in my mind) is a great evil.
Regarding where we are in our walk, since October of 2020 St. John Studies has been a study in extremes. Beginning in October of 2020, I began commenting on one of my favorite writers John R. W. Stott. Early in my life as a Christian, I discovered his book Basic Christianity; depending on where a person is in their life, Basic may be perfect for them. The Cross of Christ is a different matter. That book is dense with theological discussion as Stott explores the many meanings of the cross for the life of the Christian. Needless to say, it is not a book that I would have appreciated in my early life as a Christian. I would have not understood it or appreciated it.
This brings me to this point: what can the readers of this blog get from this discussion of extremes?
Some readers will enjoy the straightforward discussion of the fundamental ideas of the faith that can be seen in Basic Christianity. I needed that information when I was a seeker. As a new Christian, I entered a different world and I did not understand all that was happening. I had little idea about my new commitment and how to move forward with my life. I was confused about where I was going to get the power to be the person I felt I needed to be. John Stott broke all of this down in his little book.
Other readers have known The Lord for many years. They are beyond the beginning stages of their faith commitment. As the Apostle Paul says, they began with a diet of milk but now they are ready for meat. They realize that the cross is a multifaceted symbol that is the most significant sign of an ancient act and is relevant today in contemporary faith. As I am challenged to discuss The Cross of Christ, they are ready for consideration of Stott’s topics and they are ready to understand the book and also my comments. It really does not matter to me; it is just my prayer that you get something you need, wherever you are.
We are all on the “pathway” of the Christian life and wherever we are, the main point is we are hopefully trying to grow in righteousness. I use the word righteousness to mean the state of life where we have faith in Jesus Christ and we are growing through that faith. We cannot be righteous on our own. The Apostle Paul states “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin” [Romans 3: 20].
As I wrote above about social comparison, I alluded to how we compare ourselves to others in the secular realm and in the realm of faith. In either area, it can be a fruitless exercise as we come to realize that it does not matter where another person is in their walk of faith. God knows how authentic a person really is; no one else can know. We only make guesses.
But I also want to point out that as we move from The Cross to Basic, we move from Chapter Seven of The Cross that is entitled “The Salvation of Sinners,” summing up what Christ accomplished by His self-sacrifice. I wrote about Stott’s ideas on reconciliation, that man needed to be reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. In Basic we are in Chapter Six entitled “The Consequences of Sin.” In upcoming weeks, we will explore the price we have to pay when we stray away from God for we know that God takes sin seriously.
There are consequences for our sinning and they are very real. Are they any other person’s business? Not really. They are between you and God. We are human. We know we will sin. When we do, we know we need to turn to God and confess our sin. We know He will restore our souls and bring peace and joy into our lives.
As we accept His gracious mercy, we move forward in life, trying not to repeat our sinful acts.
That is growth in Christ [not social comparison].
It is between you and God, not you and other humans.
You and God…
That is all…