By Whose Standards?

Who sets your standards? Your God? Your peers? Your relatives? Your past? By what, or by whom do you determine whether your actions are acceptable or unacceptable?

Most of us who are adults are aware of these peer pressures. We do not readily yield to them. Yet we yield to pressure from within. Often these pressures originate in our past. For example, if a person has failed at something in the past, he is hesitant to attempt that thing again. One who has been told that he is a failure, or of little worth may, as an adult, think of himself as a failure or of little worth. Sometimes a parent may cause a child to determine that he is a failure, not by saying so, but rather by setting standards so high that the child just never seems to reach them. Consequently, the child may think of himself as a failure. He may carry this self-evaluation on into adulthood. He may think of himself as a failure even when he is viewed by others as quite successful. He is letting those from his past determine that his actions of today are failures. He is letting others set his standards.

Thus we have seen how some of our standards may have been acquired. But what or whose standard shall we accept? Shall we adhere to the standards others have set for us? Shall traditions set our standards? Shall our conscience set our standards? Or could we let the voices of the past, traditions, and our conscience all set our standards?

Ideally, we should adhere to the highest standards of our religious faith. Often, however, we adhere only loosely to religious tenets held by others rather than to our own personal faith. Is this sufficient? Should we not establish our own faith? Will not the truth of one's faith bear investigation and proving? Did not God, himself, say through Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, "Prove all things?" And in 2 Corinthians 13:5, "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves." Then, when one has investigated and proved his faith, should he not adhere to its highest standards?

But what about the person who does not believe in any religion? By what does he set his standards? If a person thinks, "I have no belief," should not his disbelief also be investigated and proven? Everyone believes something! The person who says, "There is no God," if he is honest, believes that proposition. Upon what does he base his belief that there is no God? The behavior of "believers" in God? An unwillingness in himself or in others to adhere faithfully to the tenets of some system of faith? Or on carefully investigated and proven evidence?

Should we let traditions set our standards? It was traditionally taught that the earth was flat. Preachers and priests found scriptures upon which they based their belief. That is, they thought those scriptures upheld their conclusions. Now we have proven the earth to be round -- or approximately so. So the tradition was proven to be wrong. But is all tradition wrong? Did not Paul say in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, "Hold fast the traditions which ye have been taught?" When does one leave old traditions? The Greek word, paradosis, from which the word is translated simply means, "that which is given over or handed down." Should one hold to a tradition when it is proven to his satisfaction that it is only handed down from previous generations and is not an eternal truth, handed down from God? Should one let tradition or truth be his standard? Jesus said, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).

What about our past experiences? Shall they be our standard? If we have thought we were of little worth as a child, shall we continue to think that way as adults? When Jesus said we were of much more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31) was he not simply saying in a different way that each of us is really worth more than the whole world? (Mark 8:36). When we let childhood experiences set our standards, are we not still acting immaturely, like children? Yet are not children expected to grow into adulthood? Does this not include the putting away of childish standards concerning our own worth? (1 Corinthians 13:11). But what if we have failed since becoming adults? Should we let failure set our standards? Is this not permitting the dead past to be in control of us who are alive? Is this reasonable?

And what about our own conscience? Shall it set our standards? Was not our conscience clear when we believed a lie? For example, when we believed in Santa Claus, or when we held erroneous beliefs about where babies came from? Have we not done things in all good conscience and later found out we had done the wrong thing? Paul was not unusual in this respect. He said, "I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day" (Acts 23:1) although he had been persecuting Christians unto death. Can we trust our conscience to set our standards?

Having examined various standards, we find that often they prove to be insufficient. Does that mean we should disregard all standards? Can we not learn from our past experiences? Are there not many traditions to which we may still hold? Does not our conscience play a vital role in setting, or helping us to meet, our standards? Can we not, as adults, critically examine the standards by which we evaluate our actions? Can we not discard those which prove to be insufficient, measuring all of them by the guidelines of Him who said, "All authority is given unto me" (Matthew 28:18)? Can we not then do what Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, "Hold fast that which is good"?

Let us carefully examine our standards, not only to see what they are, but upon what they are based. Then let us walk according to the highest standards of which we are capable.

Sandra F. Cobble

Published in The Old Paths Archive