The Grace of Confession
I often wonder how many people are stuck in their relationships in a cycle of repeating the same things over and over again. They repeat the same misunderstandings. They rehearse and re-rehearse the same arguments. They repeat the same wrongs. Again and again things aren't resolved. Night after night they end the day with nothing reconciled; they awake with memories of another bad moment with a friend, spouse, neighbor, co-worker or family member and they march toward the next time when the cycle will be repeated. It all becomes predictable and discouraging. They hate the cycle. They wish things were what they once were. Their minds swing between nostalgia and disappointment. They want things to be different, but they don’t seem to know how to break free, and they don’t seem willing to do the one thing that makes change possible—confess.
They tell themselves they'll do better. They promise they’ll deal with their issues. They promise they’ll seek God's help. They decide to invest more time and energy in the relationship. They promise they‘ll talk more. But its not long before all the promises fade away. It’s not long before they’re in the same place again. All their commitments to change have been subverted by the one thing they seem unwilling to do: take the focus off the other and put it on themselves. Here's the point: no change takes place in a relationship that doesn't begin with confession. The problem for many of us is that we look at confession as a burden, when it’s actually a grace.
THE GRACE OF CONFESSION
1) Its a grace to know right from wrong. Change is all about measuring yourself against a standard, being dissatisfied with where you are because you see that you’ve fallen short of the standard, and seeking the grace to close the gap from where you are to where you need to be. James likened the Word of God to a mirror (James 1:22–25) into which we can look and see ourselves as we actually are. It’s impossible to overstate how important this is. Accurate diagnosis always precedes effective cure. You only know that the board is too short because you can place it against a measuring instrument. You only know that the temperature in your house is too hot because you have a measuring instrument in your house (called a thermostat). The Bible is God’s ultimate measuring instrument. Its meant to function in each of our lives as a spiritual tape measure. We can place ourselves and our relationships next to it and see if we measure up to God’s standard. God’s Word is one of his sweetest gifts of grace, and open eyes to see it clearly, and an open heart to receive it willingly, are sure signs of God’s grace as well.
2) It’s a grace to understand the concept of indwelling sin. One of the most tempting fallacies for us—and for every human being in this fallen world, is to believe that our greatest problems exist outside us rather than inside us. Despite this, the Bible calls us to humbly confess that the greatest, deepest, most abiding problem each of us faces is inside, not outside of us. The Bible names that problem — sin. Because sin is self-focused and self-serving, it is antisocial and destructive to our relationships. Here’s where this goes: it requires each of us to say that our greatest relational problems exist inside us, not outside us.
You know that you’ve been gifted with grace when you’re able to say, “My greatest relationship problems are inside me not outside me”
3) It is a grace to have a properly functioning conscience. Many relationships travel a one-way road in the wrong direction. It’s the direction of a hardened heart. Let me explain. In the early days of a relationship we’re very concerned with winning the other person, so we work to be loving, kind, serving, respectful, giving, forgiving, and patient. But before long we begin to let down our guard. We quit being so solicitous. Selfishness begins to replace service. In small ways at first, we allow ourselves to do and say things that we’d never have thought of doing and saying in the beginning. We become progressively less giving, less patient, and less forgiving. We begin to look out for ourselves more than we do for the other. At first, when we do these rude and selfish things our conscience bothers us, but it won’t be long before our heart gets hard and our conscience doesn’t bother us anymore. Its a perverse ability that all sinners have — to become progressively more comfortable with things that should shock, grieve, and embarrass us.
It’s a sign of God’s grace when our consciences are sensitive and our hearts are grieved, not at what the other person is doing, but at what we’ve become. That sensitivity is the doorway to real and lasting change.
4) Its only grace that protects us from self-righteousness. This is the other side of the coin. Its important to understand the dynamic that operates so subtly, yet so destructively, in our relationships. Because we all suffer from some degree of personal spiritual blindness — that is, we don’t see ourselves with accuracy—and because we tend to see the weaknesses and failures of the other person with greater accuracy, we begin to think of ourselves as more righteous than the other person. When we do this, and in some way we all do, it makes it hard for us to think we're part of the problem; and it makes it difficult to embrace the loving criticism and correction from the other person. This means that its not only blindness that prevents us from change, but assessments of personal righteousness as well. If we’re convinced that we’re righteous, we desire neither change nor the help that can make it happen.
When both people in a relationship think they’re righteous and the other person isn’t, each becomes more dissatisfied, impatient, and bitter, while the condition of the relationship worsens. But there’s hope! Grace decimates self-righteousness. Grace opens our eyes and softens our hearts. Grace deepens our sense of need. Grace faces us with our poverty and weakness. Grace causes us to run after help and welcomes us with open arms when we come. In any relationship, when we quit arguing about who’s the more righteous and begin to be grieved over our respective sins, we can know for sure that grace has visited us and will work change in our relationship.
You see, confession shouldn’t be this scary thing we do our best to avoid; and sin, weakness, and failure shouldn’t be the constant elephant in the room that we all know is there but can’t talk about. Confession should be seen as a wonderful gift that every relationship needs. It should be liberating. It should be freeing. It shouldn’t be seen as a moment of personal loss but as an opportunity for personal and relational gain. Our confession should be propelled by deep appreciation and gratitude toward God, who has made it possible for us not to be afraid any longer of being exposed. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we don‘t have to hide or excuse our wrongs. We’re freed from posing as if we’re perfect, when in our heart of hearts we know we’re not. We can stare problems in the face with hope and courage, because Christ has made real, lasting, personal, and relational change possible.