When I visit churches or interact online with Christians to talk about the idea of accountability, I often detect an undertow of shame.
Often Christians pursue accountability in order to put to death some nasty habit in their lives or to decrease temptation. This is the vibe I pick up from them: “I want God to change my desires and my heart, and I know he will in time. But meanwhile, my accountability partners help keep me on track.”
Notice the dichotomy. “We shouldn’t really need accountability,” they think. “Accountability is just about me being afraid of having an awkward conversation about my failures. The fear keeps sin at bay. I know God wants me to be driven by higher motivations, and one day I will ditch the accountability and experience real Christian freedom.”
I believe it is this kind of thinking about accountability that cripples the church.
A New Paradigm of Accountability
Okay, it isn’t new. It’s actually very old—as old as the New Testament itself.
The book of Hebrews gives us a great picture of what accountability was meant to look like. The author believes wholeheartedly that the new covenant has been inaugurated, and he believes Christians should stand firmly in blessings and benefits of that covenant. But he is not so optimistic that he turns a blind eye to the ongoing impact of sin in the church.
When it comes to our sanctification, the author of Hebrews is very clear: one of God’s primary means of making us holy is through quality relationships in the church. Not a crutch. Not a last resort. But rather a chosen means of transformation that is perilous to neglect.
Take Hebrews 10:23-25 for example. The primary concern of the author here 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. How will this happen? By stirring up one another to love and good deeds and meeting together often.
“Encourage one another,” he says. This word means to call someone to your side in order to strengthen them with your words. It refers to both “being there” for someone and having the right words to say. In the original language, “encourage” refers to a variety of conversations—instructing, comforting, admonishing, rebuking, warning, urging, begging, consoling—any timely words your friend needs to hear to strengthen his or her heart.
Or take Hebrews 3:13. After a dire warning about falling away from the living God, the author gives us the command: “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.”
Catch the importance of what the author is saying: There is a level of daily interaction we are meant to have in the body of Christ that helps us to see how sin is operating at the heart-level in our lives. Sin has a deceiving, heart-hardening effect in our lives. But God has given us one another to see into each other’s lives, to spot the sins we are unwilling or unable to see in ourselves.
Sanctification is a Community Project
Accountability is about giving not only an account of my temptations and sins to another; it is about opening my heart to someone in a way that lets them shine the light of God’s truth into me.
Call accountability a crutch, if you must. But if you do, remember that as long as you are on this side of glory, broken men and women will always need crutches. God’s ordinary means of sanctifying you is found in the people of God, filled with the Spirit of God, molded by the Word of God.