Discipleship 101: Biblical Accountability

Discipleship is more than having a traditional “accountability group.” The word “accountability” appears nowhere in the Bible, but it is a term used by many churches to encapsulate a whole host of ideals God has for relationships in the church.

Biblical Accountability

If we are going to disciple others and be discipled, we need to have a biblical vision for discipleship community. What is it supposed to look like? To answer this, let’s turn to a few key Bible texts. The Bible is filled with teaching about the kinds of relationships we are to have in the church—how we are to relate to one another.

As you read each text, ask yourself: What would your life be like, and how would it be different, if you intentionally and regularly obeyed the “one anothers” of the Bible?

James 5:16 – Mutual Confession and Energetic Prayer

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

This text is the classic creed of accountability groups. In this passage James is urging his readers to regularly confess their faults to one another and pray for each other. The incentive offered is tremendous: “that you may be healed.”

Our lives are filled with all sorts of ailments, troubles, and hardships. We all experience punctuated times when it seems our feebleness is highlighted: times of physical sickness, poverty, or emotional trouble. It is at these times that James tells his readers to call for the elders of the church so they might be physically and spiritually mended (James 1:13-15). If personal sin is lurking beneath the surface, somehow contributing to the suffering (as sin many times does), then those sins can be unearthed, explored, confessed, and forgiven.

In light of this valuable ministry of the church’s elders, James calls the church at large to practice a form of “preventative spiritual medicine.” Instead of merely waiting for the times when we hit rock bottom, we are to have regular check-ups with each other, rich face-to-face relationships of confession and prayer.

What would happen if we lived this out? What would happen if you intentionally and repeatedly gathered with just a few other believers to confess sin and pray for each one another? What would happen if we lived this way with our spouses, our Christian friends, or our mentors? James had a vision of a community of mature believers who prayed prayers of “great power,” that is, earnest, fervent prayer. Pastor John MacArthur translates this phrase: “energetic empowered prayer.” If we lived in this sort of confession-prayer community, would we not see more healing and health in our hearts and bodies? Would we not see more answered prayer?

Hebrews 10:23-25 – Motivating Others to Radical Love and Hope

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

The primary concern of the author is to see his readers persevere in their faith right up to the end of their lives—to hold on to the hope they have in Christ. Instead of shrinking back in our faith, we are called to move forward. God has called his people to display Christlike tenderness and affection, to do good works that bless the world, and to long for the Day when Christ will come and make the whole world new.

The author believes our relationships are crucial to our perseverance and growth. He offers three relational commands in this text: (1) meet together, (2) stir up one another, and (3) encourage one another. We are called to meet together in settings where we can easily stir up and encourage each other.

  • The word “stir up” can be translated urge, spur on, or motivate. It has also been translated “provoke,” and can even carry the meaning “irritate.”
  • The word “encourage” means to call someone to your side in order to strengthen them with your words; it can refer to a variety of encouraging speech: instructing, comforting, admonishing, warning, urging, begging, and consoling. In the context of this verse, it refers to Christians coming together to strengthen each other with an eternal perspective—helping each other to set our hope fully on the coming Day of Christ.

How many of us can say we regularly get together with other brothers and sisters where we think of creative ways to “provoke” one another to show radial love and good deeds? How many of us meet regularly to help one another set our sites on the coming kingdom of God? What would change if we pursued these sorts of relationships?

Hebrews 3:13 – Unearthing Secret Sin

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Again, the main concern of the author here is seeing his readers persevere and grow in their faith. To do this he calls his readers to “exhort” one another—the same word translated as “encourage” in Hebrews 10 above.

Moreover, this isn’t merely a general encouragement. He is calling us to speak and listen to one another in such a way that we help one another see how sin is operating at the heart level. What does this look like?

This verse means we must dig beneath the surface in our accountability relationships. We must go beyond mere behavior and look at motivations.

  • Behavioral accountability is choosing to be honest with another person or group of people about our obvious habits or tendencies. Are we easily given to lust in specific settings? Do we overspend or blow our budget? Are we lazy at our jobs? Do we gossip or slander someone’s reputation? Do we lose our temper with our spouses or children? Are we addicted to anything? Is technology or work stealing attention from our families? Do we lack spiritual discipline? Do we neglect making opportunities to share our faith? Confessing these sorts of struggles is very important: it stops bad habits from festering into deeper issues. But it is only the beginning of helpful accountability.
  • Motivational accountability is choosing to be honest with another person or group of people about the desires and thoughts that truly drive and move us. This is about getting to the “sin beneath the sin.” It may not even be sin of which we are consciously aware, so we need another set of eyes to help us see what we cannot. Motivational accountability requires really knowing one another and asking the hard heart questions. Are we fascinated with Christ and the gospel? Do I find great joy in God? What do we desire more than anything else? What do we find ourselves daydreaming or fantasizing about? Do we covet anything? Do we think more about how we can serve ourselves or how we can boast in Christ and serve others? Are we holding on to bitterness? Where do our thoughts drift to when we enter social settings? Where do our thoughts take us when we are all alone? What lies do we believe that continually drive us to disobey God? Do we love anything more than God?

Sin works at the deepest levels of our personality, thoughts, and desires. Perhaps we don’t experience deep and profound change because we neglect the sort of mutual exhortation this text promotes. How would our lives be different if we chose to live this out?

Group Activity

Get into groups of 2 or 3 and talk about how your lives would be different if we regularly met with fellow believers to intentionally live out the “one anothers” and “each others” of the Bible.

Romans 12:9-13
1 Corinthians 12:12-26
Galatians 5:13-14
Galatians 6:1-2
Colossians 3:12-17
1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
Hebrews 13:1-3
1 Peter 4:7-11
1 John 1:5-10

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