Virtue signaling refers to the act of expressing opinions or taking actions that are meant to demonstrate one’s good character or moral correctness, rather than sincerely held beliefs. The concept has become more widely discussed in recent years, often carrying a negative connotation that virtue signaling is done primarily for appearances and to boost one’s social standing. From a Christian perspective, there are a few key considerations when examining the notion of virtue signaling:
1. Motivations matter
Several Bible verses address the importance of having the right motivations and intentions behind our words and deeds. Jesus warned against practicing righteousness “before other people in order to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1). Rather than seeking to impress others, believers are called to live with integrity and to please God even when no one is watching. The prophet Samuel stated that “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Simply appearing virtuous for show does not align with God’s priorities.
At the same time, we are also cautioned not to judge others’ motivations, as only God fully knows the heart (1 Corinthians 4:5). While certain actions may look like virtue signaling to us, we cannot know for sure why others say or do what they do. Our role is to examine our own hearts and live according to our convictions.
2. Righteousness vs. self-righteousness
There is a fine line between advocating for righteous causes on the one hand, and coming across as self-righteous on the other. Christians are called to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Standing up for biblical values can be a way to honor God and point people to Him. However, we must be careful that our tone and delivery does not inadvertently push people away due to coming across as superior, judgmental or lacking grace.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day fell into the trap of rigidly adhering to rules to make themselves look devout, while harboring pride and hypocrisy in their hearts (Luke 11:42-44). As we seek to live out our faith, it is critical that we cultivate humility, recognize our own shortcomings, and point to Christ rather than ourselves. Our advocacy should be characterized by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and seasoned with grace (Colossians 4:6).
3. Authenticity over appearances
Throughout Scripture, God is concerned with sincere devotion and living out our faith in authentic community, rather than empty displays of piety. The prophet Amos condemned the Israelites for their flashy yet hollow religious rituals, calling instead for “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). Similarly, Jesus saved some of His harshest rebukes for religious elites obsessed with outward appearances while neglecting inward transformation and justice (Matthew 23:25-28).
For Christians then, virtue signaling should never be a substitute for actually cultivating virtue and godly character. Our faith calls us to have integrity in public and private, to honor God with our whole lives. The apostle Paul instructs believers to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). It is through our daily thoughts, attitudes and actions—not occasional public displays—that we grow to become more like Christ.
4. True righteousness is humble
While showy displays of virtue can dangerously feed self-righteousness, the Bible calls Christians to a quiet humility and gentleness. Jesus exemplified this, boldly teaching God’s truth yet often avoiding fanfare and resisting those who wanted to force Him into roles of power or prestige (John 6:15). Even when defending or clarifying righteous beliefs, Scripture instructs us to do so gently: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
Our goal should not be to prove how virtuous we are, but to gently point people to the greatest source of hope—Christ. Paul also wrote of “the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11). True righteousness ultimately comes from abiding in Jesus, not ourselves. As we yield to the work of the Holy Spirit, we can walk humbly in God’s purposes without need for self-promotion.
5. Cancel culture vs. biblical remedy
In today’s highly politicized climate, there can be the temptation to join in public shaming or “canceling” of those deemed insufficiently virtuous. However, Christians are called to a different approach: “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15). Scripture lays out a process of gently confronting and restoring believers caught in sin, not instantly condemning them before the watching world.
Of course there are times for public rebuke, as seen when Paul called out Peter’s hypocrisy for refusing to eat with Gentile Christians (Galatians 2:11-14). Yet even this was an apostle addressing a fellow church leader’s conduct face-to-face, not an anonymous takedown before crowds. The goal was sincere restoration, not humiliation. Christians should speak out against injustice and unbiblical behaviors, but avoid virtue signaling that brings undue harm versus healing.
6. Personal holiness over legalism
Sincere faith leads to godly living, but even Jesus was falsely accused of sin due to overly rigid expectations (Matthew 9:3). Scripture warns about “teach[ing] as doctrines the commandments of men” rather than God’s truth (Matthew 15:9). While believers must call out clear-cut sins, we must be cautious about imposing subjective moral requirements on others that the Bible does not prescribe.
Virtue signaling can sometimes veer into straining at gnats and swallowing camels (Matthew 23:24)—harshly judging minor issues while ignoring weightier matters like justice, mercy and humility. Of course, holiness matters greatly to God. As His people however, we are to major on principles the Bible explicitly addresses, allow freedom in debatable matters (Romans 14:1-4) and focus chiefly on each believer’s personal walk with God.
7. Right heart behind the “right” positions
It is important for Christians to advocate for biblical values in the public square. However, such stands for righteousness mean little if our attitudes and responses to opponents are unchristian. Paul wrote, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).
Standing firm on moral issues is necessary but insufficient if not matched by compassion for those on the other side. Likewise, simply stating theologically correct positions is hollow without the Holy Spirit’s work to shape our affections, intents and demeanor to align with God’s truth. Virtue signaling tempts us to feel smug satisfaction from merely declaring the “right view” versus humbly nurturing Christlike virtue within.
8. Cultural conformity vs. countercultural witness
In a social media world heavily focused on image, Christians face temptation to project a “perfect” life or don the same self-righteous posturing seen in culture wars. Yet the Bible calls believers to a radically different way of living, pushing back on prideful human tendencies. Jesus taught that the first shall be last and reminded disciples that true leadership comes through servanthood (Mark 10:43-45). Scripture repeatedly elevates principles of meekness, delayed gratification and self-sacrifice that contradict the impulse to virtue signal.
Rather than chasing worldly measures of status or joining in partisan outrage cycles, Christians can offer a refreshing countercultural witness. This includes admitting faults, refusing to demonize opponents, caring for the poor and marginalized, and pointing to Christ as the source of our worth and righteousness. Our light shines brightest not through empty signaling but by reflecting God’s grace.
9. Eternity over applause
One driver of virtue signaling is seeking immediate validation through public displays. Yet the Bible exhorts believers to live for eternal, not ephemeral rewards: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2). The apostle Paul wrote that “If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” (1 Corinthians 15:32). A perspective rooted in eternity diminishes the temptation to pursue fleeting kudos.
Knowing we will one day stand before the perfect judgment seat of Christ helps focus us on pleasing God over anyone else’s approval (2 Corinthians 5:9-10). And an eternal outlook reminds us that investment in things of eternal significance—like people coming to know Jesus—vastly outweighs any earthly fame or validation. Keeping our eyes fixed on forever can free us from virtue signaling’s siren song.
10. Grace over self-righteousness
Perhaps most fundamentally, virtue signaling contradicts the gospel itself. Jesus harshly warned religious elites obsessed with signaling their own righteousness while failing to show grace. But Christ’s sacrificial death provides mercy freely to all who humbly acknowledge their need. Scripture reminds that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace” (Romans 3:23-24).
Boasting in our own virtue is incompatible with recognizing that no one is righteous before God except through Christ’s redemption. And the gospel calls us in turn to extend unmerited grace to others, just as it was given to us (Ephesians 2:8-9). Far from virtue signaling, our Christian faith centers on celebrating the righteousness of Christ and the undeserved favor and forgiveness God offers to all.