A properly functioning conscience is a grace
Many relationships travel a one-way road in the wrong direction—the direction of a hardened heart. In the early days of the relationship we’re concerned with winning the other person, being loving, kind, serving, respectful, giving, forgiving, and patient.
But before long we let down our guard. We quit being so solicitous. Selfishness replaces service. We do and say things we would have never thought of at the relationship’s beginning. We become progressively less giving, patient, and forgiving. We look out for ourselves more than for the other person.
At first, our conscience bothers us. Eventually our heart hardens and our conscience doesn’t bother us anymore. It’s a perverse ability that all sinners have: becoming progressively 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, focusing not on what the other person’s wrongs, but at what we have become. This sensitivity is the doorway to real and lasting change.
It’s only grace that protects us from self-righteousness
This is the other side of the coin. We must understand the dynamic that operates so subtly, yet so destructively, in our relationships. Because we all suffer from some degree of personal spiritual blindness—and because we tend to see the weaknesses and failures of the other person with greater accuracy—we begin thinking of ourselves as more righteous than the other person. When we do this, it becomes difficult for us to think we’re part of the problem, and it makes it difficult to embrace the loving criticism and correction of the other person.
This means that it is not only blindness that prevents us from change, but also assessments of personal righteousness. If we’re convinced that we’re righteous, we desire neither change (nor the help that can make change) happen.
When both people in a relationship think they are righteous and the other person isn't, each person becomes more dissatisfied, impatient, and bitter. Meanwhile. the condition of the relationship worsens.
But there is 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 quit arguing about who’s more righteous and instead grieve over our respective sins, we can know that grace has visited us and that it will work change in our lives.
Confession shouldn’t be this scary thing we do our best to avoid. Sin, weakness, and failure shouldn’t be the constant elephant in the room that we all know is there but can’t (or won’t) talk about. Instead, confession is a wonderful gift that every relationship needs. It should be liberating, not understood as a moment of personal and relational loss. Our confession should be propelled by deep appreciation and gratitude toward God, who has made it possible for us to no longer fear being exposed.
Because of what Jesus has done for us, we do not have to hide or excuse our wrongs. We’re freed from posing as if we’re perfect. In our heart of hearts we know we're not. We can stare our problems in the face with hope and courage because Christ has made possible real, lasting, personal, change in our relationships.