Exciting phrases, easy acronyms, and memorable lists formed from dense works of systematic theology can be helpful for the everyday Christian. While these reductions of God’s Word and His nature help us understand general frameworks, they are unable to help us understand everything the Bible teaches. It is one thing...
“If only” are two of the deadliest words in a Christian’s vocabulary. If only I looked like her. If only I had as much money as him. If only my kids were as well-behaved as theirs. If only I could speak, work, cook, travel, think, do, be like someone else.
We are plagued by comparison.
We compare our bodies, our jobs, our families, our skills, our stuff, our intellects, in an ever-increasing desire for complete satisfaction. We want to be attractive, successful, and happy. So we measure ourselves against the people around us. But instead of resulting in contentment, our comparison delivers compulsive jealousy, pride, and shame.
We envy those who are “better” than us, and we look down on those who are “worse” than us. And once we’ve started comparing ourselves, we slide into a bitterly insatiable cycle. The more we compare ourselves, the more we need to compare ourselves. It’s an addiction. We’re on a quest for acceptance and joy, but are paralyzed by the pressure to look, do, and be better than the people around us.
Because of this, we are distracted from our purpose, mission, and need to pursue holiness. This is why comparison is so deadly.
Comparison Is Anti-Gospel
But comparison isn’t just unhealthy for Christians; it’s downright antithetical to the faith we profess. The gospel is a message of radical acceptance—but it starts with recognizing we are not okay. We’re not beautiful, worthy, successful, perfect, or better than anyone else. We’re all sinners, every one of us. But in Christ, God has accepted us. He cleansed us, clothed us, saved us, changed us, loved us, adopted us—and he fulfills us.
As Tim Keller famously said,
The gospel is the good news of gracious acceptance…Christians who trust in Christ for their acceptance with God, rather than in their own moral character, commitment, or performance, are simul iustus et peccator – simultaneously sinful yet accepted. We are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe, yet we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope at the same time.
The God of the universe has accepted us! Why would we try to find our value in being better than another human? I believe the search for acceptance is ultimately at the root of our comparison. We want to be better than others so we can be loved more. We think, “If I was prettier, smarter, wealthier, a better parent, spouse, employee, I would be loved.”
But we have been accepted, and nothing we do can change that. Yet comparison rejects the humble glory of the gospel and says, “No, that’s untrue. I need to work harder.”
Seven Habits to Help You Fight Comparison
So how do we get out of this self-destructive trap? How do we break the cycle? Ultimately, we embrace our identity as children of God, wholly accepted and loved. But how do we get to that place?
First, we have to recognize that it’s not an overnight cure or a magical mental shift. Instead, change comes from intentionally cultivating holy habits that fight the lure of comparison.
Here are seven of these holy habits to pursue:
1. Feast on gospel-truth.
Get in God’s Word and marinate your mind in gospel-truth. Read and reflect on and apply what you read. Get your strength and sustenance for each day from this living, active book.
2. Look for your comparison, and confess it.
Start intentionally looking for what triggers your comparison. Are there regular rhythms or moments when you struggle with it? Identify them, notice them, and repent of them. Recognize comparison for the sin it is, and run from it.
3. Surround yourself with humble teachers.
Listen to the people who are not marked by insecurity, comparison, and envy. Take counsel from the humble. Surround yourself with those who are generous and big-hearted and who love others deeply.
4. Read books that challenge your self-focus.
As I’ve struggled with my tendency to compare myself to others, two books (after the Word of God) have hugely helped me. The first is New Morning Mercies, a daily gospel devotional by Paul Tripp, and the second is The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller. Both of these books recognize that we humans have a self-focus problem and seek to re-orient our perspectives by giving us practical (and kind) help in pursuing humility.
5. Train yourself to love better.
Instead of using people as measuring sticks against yourself, take steps to treat them as image-bearing individuals. Serve them. Pray for them. Do good to them. Encourage them. Give to them. Sacrifice for them. And see your attitude toward them change.
6. Cultivate gratitude.
We compare ourselves because we are discontent. Fight comparison by nurturing daily thankfulness. Start noticing small mercies. Include specific times of gratitude in your prayer time. Pay attention to all the ways God is showing his grace to you.
7. Remind yourself of your identity in Christ.
In other words, preach the gospel of acceptance in Christ to yourself. You are fully known and fully loved by your Creator God, and nothing can change that. As you seek to combat comparison, rejoice in the gospel. This is the only thing that has the power to break the chains of jealousy, pride, shame, and self-focus, and free us to live satisfied, content, and happy in Jesus.