We live in a culture that loves to virtue signal, and we, as Christians, are not immune. “Virtue signaling” is a pejorative term applied to people who say or do things with the primary motive of making themselves look virtuous. The person who does so is attempting to increase their social status. They try to conceal the fact they are virtue signaling while doing it, but the disguise fails all too often. It has always been this way, but social media has provided us with a virtue-signaling megaphone.
An excellent example of virtue signaling on social media involves using specific profile pictures or filters to identify with a particular cause. Some people might use them authentically. They are involved in the cause, so they apply the badge to their page when the opportunity arises. However, countless others who do so have never given a thought to the cause until it became popular. They are serving themselves more than others. They are jumping on the bandwagon to lend credibility to their character to a group of people they want to impress.
There is a tendency in all of us to want others to see our good works so they will think highly of us, and we often try to make our good works look better than they are. This sinful tendency reveals itself every time the boss walks by while we are loafing, and we immediately begin to look busy.
Pretending to be something we are not by projecting an image to the world that makes us appear better than we are is nothing new. Spiritually, we do the same thing. When we pray, we want people to know about it, and we like to show the world how committed we are by announcing the time we spend in Scripture. Social media is often the tool of choice. We love to post pictures of our bible open next to a cup of coffee, but our quiet times are rarely as quiet as we portray them because we desire the world to crowd in and watch.
Not all these posts are motivated by showiness or sin, but it often has the same effect. It tends to corrupt our good work. Though the term virtue signaling did not exist at the time, Jesus once spoke directly to people who were doing something similar. Here is what he said about our acts of righteousness.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1
There are spiritual rewards for our devotion to Christ. Jesus tells us when we pray in private, the Father who sees will reward us, but when we parade it around so others will know, we lose the reward. The only benefit we receive is an earthly one that is corruptible (Matthew 6:6). In doing this, we have perverted our good work and turned it into something sinful. We have virtue signaled our spirituality, making it no longer spiritual.
In considering this topic, it is good to ask ourselves which rewards we prefer; the earthly or the spiritual? What we treasure is an indication of where our heart is (Matthew 6:21), and acts of righteousness completed by hearts that cherish the world over the glory of God are no longer acts of righteousness. It is like having a profile filter of Godliness but denying its power. Always choose the spiritual rewards over the earthly ones. It will keep the spiritual spiritual, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you with treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust can destroy (Matthew 6:20).