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Virtue Signaling When Only One is Virtuous

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? Romans 2:1-4

I have always appreciated this reminder of yet another practice of God's ways not being my natural ways. When I am angry with someone, I repeatedly, despite all evidence to the contrary, believe that shaming or bullying or wrath in some form will lead that person to repentance and change. Just scroll through Facebook and it will be difficult to avoid friends lecturing one another on the ways they should change, the things they should feel terrible about, and all the while with the assumption that the person who is posting has knowledge to drop that they came upon first, before their readers/"friends" and are therefore a step ahead in the game of most virtuous.

There is an inherent self-righteousness in judgment, as assumptions that I the judge have a clear, unbiased, and unobstructed view while at the same time a full understanding of motive, shaping influences, and a perfectly pure assessment of all the mitigating factors. On top of this self-righteous judgment is the implication that self-righteousness is possible: if they would do as I am doing/suggesting, they would not be under judgment any more...just correct your behavior/perspective/attitude/words/understanding in this prescribed way and then you will no longer be under judgment. There is no need for the Holy Spirit's power nor the completed law-fulfilling work of Jesus on the sinner's behalf as the only hope in life and death.

They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:5-12

We currently call it "virtue signaling" when people do things to be seen by others as "the good one." But God has always called it self-righteousness. We put signs in our yard, bumper stickers on our cars, slogans on our t-shirts so that we can show others we are the better ones, according to the particular law we think we are fulfilling: caring for the poor, fighting injustice, advocating for the unborn, blue lives/black lives, stewarding God's creation through environmental policies, orphan care, widow care, healthcare, education, physical beauty, family first, neighbor first, and on and on...

Because we think we can fulfill the law by our own strength and striving, we demand it of others. Because we believe the particular law of righteousness that we are focused upon is the most urgent one, we neglect the vastness of the entirety of the Law, shouldering as much guilt as we throw on the shoulders of others. It is to this exhausting, life-sucking, impossible pursuit and pounding that God explains His way of righteousness: kindness. It is His kindness that leads us to repentance so maybe we should experiment with that for others?

Oh but 400 years in America of kindness has not dismantled white supremacy, so it isn't working! Kindness doesn't cure addiction or abuse! Kindness is slow and subtle and its work isn't often evident or immediate. Kindness isn't the justice demanded of the wickedness of men!!!

No, it is not. And isn't that God's point? And shouldn't I be grateful for that?

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Galatians 2:19-21


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