Niceness: Virtue or Vice?
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
Eph. 4:15 ESV
I recently read Banner of Truth’s review of Phillip Yancey’s book, *What’s So Amazing About Grace?* The author, Greg Gilbert, is an associate of Mark Dever, a leading Reformed light in Baptist circles.
Gilbert picked up on a common theme in our secularist culture: pointing out sin makes a Christian ugly, intolerant, arrogant, and even hateful. A Christian who is loving and gracious is nice. Yes, nice. Niceness means being kind, supportive and never in the least way stating that someone or something might be wrong. “When you are told that because you say that certain behavior is wrong, you are not nice you are not displaying Christian love. If Christians are not nice, they are not really loving, and that means they are hypocrites” (D. A. Carson, Love in Hard Places, 12). On television and radio talk shows, the deepest, sharpest accusation a liberal thinks he or she can make against a conservative Christian is, “they are mean people.”
According to the post-modern culture, a Christian should encourage all sincere actions without calling into question their rightness or wrongness. In fact, there is no absolute standard, and to say there is an absolute standard is setting up yourself as the measure for all things. In their minds, self-measure is the worst sort of arrogance. To declare that a behavior or attitude is wrong is judgmental, prideful, and grossly unreasonable. They say, “Jesus would have never done such a thing.” Jesus was loving, uncritical, supportive and nurturing.
As a result, our culture throws together “God-words” like love, grace, and forgiveness, then shrinks their meaning down to “niceness.” Love is letting people be who they really are. Grace is overlooking any faults or failings on my part because I really did not mean it. Forgiveness is letting go of any judgmental thoughts you have toward me. It is wrong to condemn someone’s else’s behavior, let go of your condescending attitude. The postmodern agrees that God loves us unconditionally. Therefore, they say, “Spiritually, we can be who we are and stay where we are at –no need to change.”
However, God loves us too much to leave us as we are. Our behavior, attitudes, and actions bring destruction to ourselves and others. Our lives break the heart of God. God must oppose the destruction we are selfishly sowing. The nice thing for God to do is not to leave us there in our saddened and sickened condition. The nice thing to do is for the Holy Spirit to change us, transform us, and renew us. This heart-change work is painfully difficult and deeply unsettling. “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over” (John 12:24 ,The Message).
Its no wonder that young believers in the Lord get offended with God when he disciplines them. Young believers (not necessarily young in age) resent God allowing disturbances in their lives to expose the selfish attitudes in their hearts. The resentment becomes anger and a grumbling spirit often directed at the leadership of a church. Since God is invisible, I can’t blame him and be satisfied, so it must be the leadership’s fault. They misled me about this Christian thing. God loves me, therefore life should not be so difficult. My inconvenience must be someone’s else’s fault: those Christians they are just hypocrites.
The spirit of niceness is not so nice. It generates a passivity leads that leads to spiritual laziness. This spiritual laziness generates all kinds of anger and resentment. Unexpectedly and without warning, niceness has become a vice. A vice that destroys lives because it does not call sin, “sin.” A vice that ignores God’s holy standards and righteous judgments. A vice that avoids spiritual correction by God and others. After everything, this worldly vice is not so very nice.