While the grumpy Christian may seem to be in greater need of grace, Lewis warned that nice Christians are in greater peril. Where there is no perceived need, we depend less on God. If niceness comes naturally to us, and niceness is the goal, then we are less desperate for God.
That is a great danger. Given that people-pleasing is a form of idolatry, it can be easily hidden within the realm of the Christian community. It can be passed off as Christ-likeness when it is, in fact, sin. That is not to say that being kind to others is wrong, but that we must scrutinize our motives. On this front, Jesus offered some helpful words in Luke 6:32–36:
"If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.
"Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate."
Even in loving my enemies there is a temptation to people-please because I cannot stand the thought of someone disliking me. Yet admitting that temptation is the first step toward loving my neighbors and enemies for the right reason: by the grace of God for the glory of God.
At the heart of people-pleasing and a Christianity measured by niceness is a works righteousness that is antithetical to the gospel. The ultimate cure for this tendency is total dependence on God. Those for whom friendliness is harder are more likely to depend on God in this area; the rest of us are less so. That's why it is crucial to remember the final aim of the Christian life is not niceness but complete and total transformation, as Lewis wrote: "God became man to turn creatures into sons; not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man."
That is a work that God alone is capable of achieving.
Sharon Hodde Miller is a blogger, freelance writer, and PhD candidate who lives in the Chicago area. You can find her at her blog, She Worships.