As the owner of several energy-efficient light bulbs and a recycled umbrella, I'm familiar with the critiques of "ethical consumption." In some cases, it's not clear that ostensibly green products are better for the environment. There's also the risk that these lifestyle choices will make us complacent, sapping the drive to call senators and chain ourselves to coal plants. Tweaking your shopping list, the argument goes, is at best woefully insufficient and maybe even counterproductive.
But new research by Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong at the University of Toronto levels an even graver charge: that virtuous shopping can actually lead to immoral behavior. In their study (described in a paper now in press at Psychological Science), subjects who made simulated eco-friendly purchases ended up less likely to exhibit altruism in a laboratory game and more likely to cheat and steal.
See, the thing is, this is really a form of legalism. People mentally get on board a mindset that makes them "good," and so they don't have to extend that "goodness" to all aspects of their lives.
Just like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, these people take on an outer righteousness which has nothing to do with their actual character or spiritual maturity. I can understand this; after all, following a set of rules can be very easy, and you don't have to think too much or really examine yourself to see if you're a "good" person.
True character and true spiritual maturity are much harder. One must always question motives and actions, and be held up to a higher standard. For the Christian, that standard is Jesus - and we know we never can attain that standard of perfection in word, thought or deed while we are here on earth.
Thank God that Jesus didn't just come to show us the standard! He also died and rose again to clothe us in His righteous perfection and to empower us to be conformed to His image. One day, we will be in Heaven with Him, we will see Him face to face, and we will finally be perfected and forever freed from legalism, self-righteousness, and pharisaic actions. We will shine forth with His glory... and finally be able to get it absolutely right!
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.(Romans 8:22-25, ESV)
May God grant that we soon see our hope and faith revealed in full!