If you went through premarriage counseling, you may recall some of the subjects you discussed with your pastor or counselor—things like communication, personality differences, finances, and resolving conflict. But you probably didn’t hear your counselor say anything like this:

“Barbara, I want you to look at Dennis. Do you realize he’s a wretch? He’s selfish, and he’s potentially an adulterer and liar.”

“Dennis, look Barbara in the eyes. Do you realize who you are about to marry? Another wretch.”

These words obviously had an impact on Dennis Rainey, who told that story on FamilyLife Today®. And from my experience in marriage I have concluded that an honest discussion of our sinfulness ought to be part of any basic premarriage curriculum.

In recent years I’ve become more aware than ever that I face a never-ending battle against my natural sinfulness and selfishness. As I go through each day, my thoughts are often focused on what I want and what I need. I think about how I look … what I’m about to do … what I wish I was doing … what I will do after work … what I want to say and eat and watch and read. Life is all about Me! Me! Me!

And that makes marriage a challenge, because I married a woman who, for some strange reason, doesn’t always agree with what I want. She has Me! issues of her own.

We all do.

Some may think these words are a bit harsh. What good does it do to dwell on the fact that we are sinners?

I would agree—if that’s where I stopped. But there are a number of practical benefits to acknowledging that we are sinners. For one thing, only when we acknowledge our sin will we truly understand grace.

In his book, When Sinners Say ‘I Do,’ Dave Harvey writes:

To say “I am a sinner” is to stare boldly at a fundamental reality that many people don’t even want to glance at. But when we acknowledge that painful reality in our lives, several great things become clear. We find ourselves in good company—the heroes of our faith, from Old Testament times to the present, who experienced the battle with sin on the front lines. We also acknowledge what everybody around us already knows—particularly our spouses. 

But, by far the greatest benefit of acknowledging our sinfulness is that it makes Christ and his work precious to us. Like Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:31-32).”  Only sinners need a savior.

Acknowledging my sin helps me view myself honestly and without pretense. I know what I am and what I am capable of doing. And that makes Christ’s work on the cross all the sweeter.

And then consider that the relationship of a man and woman in marriage is a picture of Christ and His church.  When we demonstrate to our spouses the same grace that Christ demonstrated to us, we experience true oneness in marriage.

My wife loves me, forgives me, and remains committed to me in spite of all the times I’ve hurt her and failed her. And vice versa. As 1 John 4:19 tells us, “We love, because He first loved us.”

Marriage works when a husband and wife remember that they are two sinners living together in a state of grace. It stops working when either of them forgets.

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