You have almost certainly heard the term “virtue signaling” by now; it is a term that has received quite a bit of attention in the media as of late. According to Wikipedia, the term was coined by James Bartholomew, a British journalist, who defines virtue signaling as a “public act with very little associated cost that is intended to inform others of one’s socially acceptable alignment on an issue.” In today’s tumultuous social environment, we may see corporations, public figures, and even individuals noted for various acts of virtue signaling.
Running parallel to virtue signaling, and possibly even more notorious, is the term “cancel culture”. This is the practice of thrusting someone out of social acceptance because of some negative action or statement, that may be either current or deep in one’s past. The cancel culture hit close to home for me recently when a group of individuals decided my old high school should be renamed because something negative was discovered in the history of its namesake. Apparently, if someone discovers anything untoward about your past, it can negate all the good one may have also accomplished.
So what are we to make of all this? Do we fall in line with popular culture and engage in virtue signaling of our own? Do we look for reasons to cancel someone or something so as to purify our surroundings? What if someone discovers something in our past and makes a public spectacle of it? Could that ever happen?
As with all questions we may have, the first place we turn is to the Bible. In regards to virtue signaling and the cancel culture, we shall see that God has much to say! Let us start with this verse: “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.” (1 John 1:8) Also, the Bible explicitly tells us: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23) So, we see, that no one is perfect. Each and every person has something in their past (and/or present) that could be brought into the public eye at any time.
Let’s take a look at the capitol city in my home state as an example. St. Paul is named after a seemingly exemplary individual (the Apostle Paul) who wrote most of the New Testament and helped start the Christian church at great personal cost. Surely if there is a man worthy of having a city named after himself, it would be the Apostle Paul, right? Or could Paul be canceled?
If we go by the modern cancel culture, I think the Apostle Paul would definitely have a high potential for cancellation. Paul referred to himself as “the worst of sinners” in 1 Timothy 1:16. Prior to his conversion to Christianity, Paul was a persecutor of the church. He pulled people out of their homes and had them arrested for no reason other than their religious beliefs. Many of these people were beaten, tortured, or even killed. Paul stood by and watched while Stephen was stoned to death in complete agreement with the proceedings. Should a modern city, a capitol city no less, carry his name with a track record like this?
If the standard is perfection, then we need to recognize that the only perfect person to ever live on this earth was Jesus Christ. The rest of us, all of us, have sin in our history. So if we are going to start canceling people because of their past, we MUST cancel everyone not named Jesus Christ!
But in God’s economy, sin does not have the last word. He sent his only Son to live among us, to teach us, to heal us, to die for us, and to rise again that we can be forgiven. And when we accept God’s free gift, then, like the Apostle Paul, we become new creations. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) And in Romans 8:1 we read, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”
Before we can participate in canceling others, we first must look at ourselves. Realizing we, too, are imperfect and sinful before a Holy God, we can understand that even our heroes were sinful, too. We never forget what Jesus taught us, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-4)
And with this in mind, rather than canceling others, let us share the Good News of the Gospel with them in hopes that they, too, might be saved. In the process we shouldn’t shy away from sharing our own personal failures in the hopes of leading another to salvation. Because, rather than signaling our virtue to others, we boast in the Lord, the only perfect One. “Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31) Remember, Christians aren’t perfect, they are forgiven!
The Apostle Paul, when he shared with Timothy that he considered himself the worst of sinners, said this, “But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16) This should also be our attitude! For “If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am” (2 Corinthians 11:30) and how gracious our Lord God is!
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