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Gospel-Centered Accountability: Why Some Christians Object to Using Accountability Software (Part 1 of 2)

Last Updated: November 3, 2020

Luke Gilkerson
Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Your Brain on Porn and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

Several months ago I received an e-mail from a gentleman who works at a large church near Washington, DC. The subject line of his e-mail caught my attention immediately: “Respectfully: Why Covenant Eyes is a waste of money.”

There was nothing unfriendly or volatile about his e-mail. He had himself been a Covenant Eyes user for six years. He thought the quality of our services was very good. He believed people who use Covenant Eyes likely view less pornography as a result of using it. So what was his issue?

His e-mail was a well-written theological treatise explaining why people who are empowered by the gospel of Christ shouldn’t need a service like Covenant Eyes. His comments were lengthy, so I’ll paraphrase his argument:

Ultimately, we sin because of our sinful desires. We sin because we perceive a payoff of pleasure. Putting external blockades in place to keep sinful activities out of reach might change our outward behavior, but it does not mean our hearts have changed. So, as far as Covenant Eyes is concerned, if someone holds you accountable to your Internet use, this might keep you from looking at pornography, but it will not change your desires to look at pornography.

This is Paul’s point in Colossians 2:20-23, “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—’Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

Paul’s point is that it makes no sense for a Christian to submit to human techniques for curbing sin. There are many external mechanisms we try to use to prevent us from looking at porn: cold showers, bouncing the eyes, the fear of public shame, fasting, accountability partnerships, distractions, Internet filters, personal rules and regulations. But Paul says “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

So, what motivates a Christian to resist sin? The only way to fight sinful desires is for holy desires to trump them. This is what some have called “the expulsive power of a higher affection.” Paul’s next statement in Colossians 3:1-4 shows us this. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Paul is urging his readers to not submit to human regulations, but rather set their affections on “things above.” Doing this will expel the desire for sin, because the pleasures of God are far greater.

Therefore, minsters of the gospel should not weigh people down with unnecessary and impotent regulations. Covenant Eyes and all similar forms of restraint are a waste of money and effort. Instead, a minister should say to himself: “I should think myself in the way of my duty, to raise the affections of my hearers as high as I possibly can” (Jonathan Edwards). Ministers should proclaim the value and sufficiency of Christ, helping hearers set their hearts on things above. This is what truly changes hearts, not software.

This is the gist of his argument. What are your thoughts about this?

Tomorrow I’ll present my reply to him…

  • Comments on: Gospel-Centered Accountability: Why Some Christians Object to Using Accountability Software (Part 1 of 2)
    1. Some guy

      As a guy who has struggled with pornography, but is now living in freedom, I’ve tried that route before. “If only I pray hard enough, I will overcome this”.

      In some regards, he is right, that our heart will not change. But I see it as someone who overcomes alcoholism – sure, getting rid of the alcohol in your house won’t change your heart, but any sensible person would do it.

      As far as human regulations, the key is our relationship with Christ (and from that, our relationship with others). No, God doesn’t give us a long list of regulations to follow, but at the same time, we should impose certain things on ourselves if it helps our relationship with Christ. Is there a rule in the Bible that says to install accountability software? Not exactly, but God does establish the importance of accountability, and the software is a way to do that. Is there a rule saying I have to go to church every Sunday? No, but I find it is a way to stay connected with other Christians and hear God’s word from someone who studies it as a full-time job. Is it a rule to read the Bible every day? No, but it’s a good way to stay connected with God and start my day off right (still working on this one).

      It’s the same as a relationship with a person. If I find I’m neglecting my kids or my wife, I’ll establish routines or a schedule to make sure that happens. It’s not because my relationships are all about routines and rules, but I may do those things with the ultimate goal of helping the relationship.

      • Some guy

        FYI, I’m not saying alcohol is a sin, but that alcoholics should abstain.

    2. I agree with him in part: things like accountability software are certainly not, in themselves, sufficient to produce victory. There are many legalistic approaches to sexual integrity, and as far as I can see they don’t work. Many Christian approaches to pornography are legalistic to the core, including the top selling books in this field. They focus on “stop it” theology, and not on a heart changed by the gospel, or as you say, the expulsive power of a new affection (gleaned from Thomas Chalmers).

      Only a changed heart can find freedom. This is the point that Harry Schaumberg makes in his most recent book, Undefiled.

      “When you change the inside of your life through sexual redemption, the outside will change, too, but it is the fruit of real change on the inside. Sexual redemption is a deeper work because it installs a righteousness of the heart rather than a successful averting of the eyes, a good accountability partner, having a plan of protection, or escaping a dysfunctional family. ” (p.77)

      Real change comes from within, not from behavioral management, so what is the role of these external things? I consider them necessary, but not sufficient measures that men take to change. The point of accountability is relationship, not behavior management. It provides a touchstone for conversation with a friend. It allows my friend to see trends in my online activities, so that we can talk about it. This relational component is part of the inner transformation that we need. It provides a catalyst for what Hebrews 3:13 describes.

      I don’t consider Covenant Eyes an “unnecessary and impotent regulation”, because I don’t ascribe any power to the software. All the power of change comes through the cross of Christ and his high priestly work on our behalf. Covenant Eyes is simply a tool that helps me as I seek the things above.


    3. I just preached a sermon that reference the Expulsive Power of A Higher Affection, and I agree that we can’t simply stop doing sinful behavior unless we replace it with a higher affection and love, that is Jesus and the beauty and power of the gospel. But I think it is a false dichotomy to say that is all we need and that our choice is only between two options. When I read Owen’s mortification of sin, I also understand that sin is aggressive and that we need to by God’s grace, to put it to death.

      Therefore I think there is room for accountability and tools like CovenantEyes. It brings sin in to the light…the light of relationship, conversation and the light of the gospel. And as we know the light is a powerful antiseptic.

      What is called for is to cut off sin and it’s opportunity and access to it at the root – i.e. CovenantEyes – also to build our lives around relationship, and positive accountability and not isolation, and to pursue the love and beauty of Jesus, the gospel and it’s expulsive power. These things held together are the tripple threat against the power and pervasiveness of pornography.

    4. zipporah

      I believe EVERY family should have this software if they could afford it. FOREWARNED is FOREARMED…its real easy to get into porn, especially kids. Also I like the ‘timer’ you have on the software so kids cant stay online longer that what YOU want them to.–The only thing iw would it censor certain sites that are not porn but speak about sex for a school project, et.

    5. Mother to struggling teen

      From the beginning God has established order in with His basic institution of the family. We struggle in sin from the day we are born and God uses our parents as “regulators” in our lives to bring us up “in the way we should go.” God has established government as “regulators” in our daily activities such as driving on the correct side of the road. If we are to use the logic laid out in this email these “regulators” should not be used either.

      The Bible says, “we must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine.” When men are struggling with porn they have yielded to the worlds idea that porn is perfectly acceptable and thus become “children” in need of restraint.

      In Paul’s time there was accountability in the form of human presence. There was no way a Believer could go into the wrong part of town without someone noticing him or her. For example, the woman caught in the act of adultery who was brought to Jesus by the Pharisees.

      Accountability in the form of Covenant Eyes is no different. The program is not zapping you by emitting electrical shocks to your eyes, it simply allows you to sin and tells the Body what you are doing. God Bless!

    6. Luke followed a pingback to an article that I had written on our ministry site that made a similar argument from Colossians 2. I, too, believe that we must be aware that erecting obstacles is not the same as “putting to death” what belongs to the earthly nature. We recommend Covenant Eyes to men and women we coach who are struggling the issues regarding the computer, but we also lead them to spiritual disciplines that lead to renewal of the mind. Jesus used hyperbole in the sermon on the mount to tell us to do anything necessary to keep our eyes and hands from sinning. A change of heart is certainly the ultimate goal, but while the Christian matures in that direction, accountability tools can play a crucial role in protecting him from unholy behavior.

      • Luke Gilkerson

        Thanks for your thoughts, Richard! Thanks for stopping by to comment.

    7. JP

      I agree in part with what he is saying. However I think he is overlooking a great benefit that this software can offer. Having used this in counseling and accountability I can say that the software will not change anyone’s heart. What it is capable of doing is exposing our hearts. People often admit to the tip of the iceburg when there is a massive chunk of ice underneath the surface, and even then they admit because they are often forced to. This software can give people the opportunity to bring things to the light so that they are out there and can be addressed. This better equips us to show them that Christ is the only One who will truely deliver on what our idols often promise us.

      • Luke Gilkerson

        Great point, JP!

    8. James Schroeder

      I am 58 years old. My son is 37 years old and mentors single men in a Bible School. He has repeatedly told me the following: “Dad, your generation doesn’t want accountability.” Unfortunately he has heard far too many stories of men of my generation and in ministry, that are enslaved to pornagraphy. This has had a devastating affect on their sons. It has been very interesting to hear him say that the few who come to the school without serious problems with pornography are the ones who early on were trained by their fathers in the use of Covenant Eyes. I’m very grateful for CE as it has been a vital part in helping myself and my sons to love Christ and seek to be men of integrity.

      • Lisa Eldred

        Thanks for sharing!

    9. Shane Bekker

      CE has helped me to get to a point of not desiring pornography anymore. I still keep it on my computer to help me continue to develop a discipline that is secure. Accountability is important but finding the right person to be accountable to is paramount to making accountability efective. The E-book, Christian Accoubtability – Discussion Guide, is a briliant resource from CE to help every struggling christian or not yet christian overcome the fear of being known. The question that needs to be asked is how much do you want to overcome fear?, fear of what others think by being accountable. The matter of costs is a challenge for every mind. The thinking is…it’s just a small amount and so I’d rather use a free site rather than waste $$$$. My motto is “If it doesn’t cost you something, it’s not worth doing.” However small or large the amount is, there is a cost. Christ’s death on the cross cost Jesus his life for us to be forgiven. So will we surrender a small cost to the value of others as much as ourselves to see addicted people set free? How much success do we really want to see? Resources like this aren’t cheap and are a necessary tool for the struggling addict. The christian habit of everything should be free is just plain unfeasable in todays world. You want prosperity, pay for it. You will see rich rewards. God bless all those who use CE t overcome.

      • Thanks for sharing your experience with Covenant Eyes and our e-book on accountability. I’m so glad you’ve found both valuable in your life!

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