Is accountability powerful enough to help change a heart? Sixteen years ago, Covenant Eyes was founded by two individuals on the simple premise that it is, and today the company has a team of over 150 people who base their work and livelihood on this very idea. We believe in the importance of accountability and the power of honest conversation.
Some people still haven’t been convinced their “private” porn problem merits the “not-so-private” solution of accountability. Inaccurate ideas of what accountability really is, bad past experiences, or just plain old fear stop those struggling with porn from bringing their battle to the attention of a friend. They may think accountability has some value, but they don’t understand the deep importance of accountability in bringing about lasting life change.
“I have talked to hundreds of addicts, spouses of addicts and parents, and the majority of them would have told you accountability is a good idea, but they saw accountability in their life as a last resort, not a lifestyle,” said author and speaker Luke Gilkerson at the Set Free Summit. “We cannot tell people to do accountability until we have a firm idea of what it is and how to do it.”
The Importance of Accountability
In this short video from the Set Free Summit, Luke conveys a compelling description of what accountability is and why it’s important. Take a look.
As Luke said, “We are created for community. We were redeemed in community. We will be glorified in community. Therefore, we are going to be sanctified in community.” Accountability matters.
Let’s build out the importance of accountability a little further.
God Knows Us Fully, Isn’t This Accountability Enough?
In 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul says, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (Emphasis mine)
Ready for a wake-up call? Fully known is the only perspective God has. In their book, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart say, “God’s knowledge of us is immediate–full and direct, face to face…”
God sees us through and through. Every thought. Every inclination. Every bent of our heart.
Can I venture to say most Christians often forget this truth? Instead, many believe the fallacy of secrecy, even though various Scriptures clearly point to an all seeing, all knowing Father (Proverbs 5:21, Psalm 33:13-14, Hebrews 4:13, among others).
In May, we received this comment on our blog, 10 Reasons Why Accountability Is Unpopular in the Church.
Authentic Christians don’t need an accountability partner because we already have the best dwelling inside us. If you listen to Jesus, through your Holy Spirit, you will never choose the wrong path….If Jesus could do nothing on His own, how can we think we know how to do things better than Him? This is why we turn control of our lives over to Him and that eliminates the ‘need’ for an accountability partner.
Jesus is definitely what we need. But, being “in Christ” does not eliminate the importance of earthly accountability.
The Importance of Accountability with Another Person
For most Christians, understanding that God is fully knowing just isn’t tangible enough to hold them accountable for what they say and do. On the other hand, that “thing” that you might struggle with is tangible. It’s right in front of you. Sometimes, the empty promises offered by addiction seem far more real and frankly, more satisfying, than a promise from Scripture.
Dr. Kenneth Boa writes, “Our ability to embed ourselves within the impenetrable shell of rationalization, projection and denial is nothing short of amazing….An entire field of social psychology–the study of ‘cognitive dissonance’–is based on our limitless ability to rationalize what we do and say. That being the case, we all need people who will help us protect ourselves from ourselves and the desires of our own hearts.”
It’s impossible to be fully known on this side of heaven, but an accountable relationship can point us towards the light. Consistently. Lovingly. Directly (if necessary).
According to pastor and author Timothy Keller:
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
Accountability is important because “one another” trumps “one.”
This could also be said as “we” trumps “just me.” In the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” There are 59 “one another” statements in the New Testament. Scripture begs us to “do” things towards and with other people.
- To be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50)
- To wash one another’s feet (John 13:14)
- To love one another (over and over and over)
- To live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16)
- To have equal concern for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25)
- To bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:12)
Pastor and author Andy Stanley also says, “The primary activity of the [early] church was one-anothering one another.”
Jesus Christ modeled “one-anothering” in his earthly ministry. Not because He needed accountability, but because by doing life with 12 brothers, He showed us how to live openly and in community. He showed us the importance of accountability. The Trinity is founded on the “one another” principle. We are inherently stronger when we are locked together.
In our free e-book, Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability, author Luke Gilkerson says, “[Accountability] means really getting to know one another. It means not just confessing surface-level stuff, but helping one another to see underlying motivations. It means hearing one another’s stories and spending time together. It means helping one another tap into godly motives for Christian living.”
Accountability is important because speaking trumps silence.
There is power in spoken words. When our thoughts become words, or we are listening to words from someone else, our brain kicks into high gear. University College London did extensive analysis of how the brain processes spoken words. The scientists discovered that our brains can magically isolate language from other sounds and usher it to the “primary auditory cortex” where it is assigned meaning.
In Romans 10:9, we read, “Because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
I’ve never been a big fan of the “bow your heads and raise your hand to accept Jesus into your hearts” approach to salvation. I just don’t see it modeled anywhere in Scripture. Words matter! All form and matter came into existence because God spoke.
Having genuine and straightforward conversation with an accountability partner is sweet therapy for a dry, empty soul. This type of conversation doesn’t just land in our brain. It lifts heavy burdens from our hearts.
Accountability is important because light trumps darkness.
Speaking openly with an accountability partner keeps our secrets out in the open. It crushes the fallacy of secrecy. In darkness, sin rules us. But, in the light, sin shrivels. Nothing beats the light.
Ephesians 5:6-9 tells us, “Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.” (Emphasis mine)
Darkness isn’t a wave or a particle. It isn’t a “thing.” It’s simply the absence of light. Human vision is diminished as light is decreased. We are unable to distinguish color. What a befitting metaphor for what happens to our spiritual discernment while under the cover of sin.
An accountable relationship with another Jesus-loving brother or sister is a warm LED flashlight to the soul. It calls us up to the light and out of the darkness.
Can Accountability Really Change a Heart?
We believe it can, and we’ve seen it happen in so many Covenant Eyes users. This is why we believe so strongly in the importance of accountability. But you’re never going to know for yourself until you give it a try.
Overcome Porn: The 40 Day Challenge is an easy way for you to begin this accountability journey with a trusted friend. It’s a focused, step-by-step e-mail series designed to help you put porn behind you forever. Here’s how it works. Each day you’ll receive an e-mail with:
- Gospel-centered articles to educate and encourage you on the road to freedom
- Exclusive video content
- Practical action steps to retrain your brain
- And more!
Talk with a trusted friend, signup for the challenge, and start your journey together to overcome porn.
In counseling 1000s of sexual sinners (A.K.A. “Sex Addicts”) for over 25 years, from all across the U.S., I’ve found that 99% were caught in their secret sin. It is at that point that they are motivated to change behavior. Heart change has likely not occurred. Accountability is set up to manage the behavior. So the accountability parter asks the sexual sinner, “Have you looked at porn in the last week?” Answer: “No!” Question: “Have you just lied to me?” Answer: “No!!” Now comes the critical question of all accountability: “Have you just lied to me about lying to me?” Bottom line, you are only as accountable as you want to be; unless your heart has truly changed. So which comes first, the chicken or the egg?
Hi Dr. Harry, I suspect you’re correct. I can continue lying. I think the types of question used between accountability partners really matter. Not always questions about the behavior in question. Questions like, “How are you becoming more holy?” “When were you most aware of the power of the cross this week?” “Can we go to the Lord in a general prayer of confession right now for how we’ve fallen short of our calling?” “Would your children be proud of the legacy you created this week?” “Would your wife feel loved and adored by your thoughts, words and actions over the past week?”
More probing questions might lead to more effective heart change. Give the Spirit space to convict and correct. Break open the Word and allow it to “cut” to the heart. But, you are correct – being open and honest is a choice.
Great…. You are changing heart.God bless you
Addiction to porn cannot be hidden, even if a person lies about it. While I was still entangled with it, even my colleagues at work and family could notice that something was amiss with me whenever I slipped. My countenance would become so dull and uncheerful regardless of what was going on around me. There was just a profound absence of peace and a biting soul anguish which affected me for a considerable length of time until I had stayed clean, cut-off potential triggers, prayed and prayed, meditated on and memorized the word of God, praised God oftentimes and fellowshiped with the brethren. Till date, though I don’t have an accountability partner, but I intend to soon because I reckon that times of the ungodly desires might come as long as I am still flesh and blood.
Its a situation that is better not to have ever gotten into in the first place. But, we can conquer through Christ Jesus.
Please do not show my email address in the comment.
Amen. We shall conquer the flesh.
What about those of us that don’t believe in God? You all just assume that there is salvation but no one really knows. I am trying to overcome my addiction and I grew up Catholic, but I haven’t seen any evidence that God exists. There is too much evil in the world for there to be this divine spirit. It seems as though if there is, he has a sick sense of humor. Why would this God not intervene? I am working hard to recover from my addiction and I have been open and honest with my wife. I don’t believe she has been as open with me about her recovery. If she would have sex with me my recovery would be more fruitful. I know that she is suffering because of my actions, but I am past the guilt. I am no longer accepting the blame because I don’t feel like she is trying for both of us as I am.
Hi John, you might be interested in this article from The Gottman Institute, which talks about the harm porn does to relationships. The Gottman Institute is not religious, but they are the foremost marriage and relationship experts in the world today.
From your brief comment here, I obviously don’t know what kinds of choices your wife is making in all this. However, it might be helpful for you to note that many many women in this situation will meet the criteria for PTSD. Again, this is not a religious thing, just a reality of this situation. I find that women often do not get the help they need for the trauma; it goes unrecognized and untreated and does continue to impact the relationship. Your wife might want to look for a trauma-informed specialist in her area to help her process through this pain. She may be feeling much more pain than you are at this point, hence her inability to “try for both of you.”
The online group Bloom is also a great resource for healing; it focuses on trauma healing for women, and relationship attachment for the marriage, both of which I find to be extremely helpful. There’s a lot of support for your wife there, plus classes you can take together for healing the marriage.
Peace to you, Kay
Thanks for this article and others.
I am 23 and have been trying to break this habit for almost three years now. The first time I saw pornographic material was on a friends phone in high school. I stumbled on it various times as I grew older but only through the devices of others who stored them. I never made attempt to access porn but I had also seen many lustful scenes in movies.
It was not until I got my smart phone and had constant internet access that I really became addicted. I started lightly and always thought I could stop but after going clean for days and weeks I still fall back.
By God’s grace, I am still fighting but I must say that I have really questioned my Christianity sometimes and if God is actually listening to me. This is because I have taken almost every step I know of yet I can’t find sustainable victory.
I’ve bought and read books, articles, installed covenant eyes( I always sought out new ways to navigate through filters and even UN-installed it at times just to look at what I had been longing for) and have accountability partners including a pastor who receive my reports and have been very helpful in directing me towards Christ.
Recently, I felt terribly tired of my relapses and how gross I was engaging in this sin. It almost became a sort of relationship as I would just type names into search engines and loose sleep for nights so I decided to give all my devices to one of my accountability partners so that I could make room to try to seek Christ more.
Since then I have been using the internet only in public areas. I have also had those sober moments where I reflected on my life and cried to God in tears to change my heart and help me see all forms of lust for what they truly are. Giving my devices away has helped me to be more responsible in my use of time but has not solved my heart’s problem. I do not have any pictures or videos to look at anymore but have started masturbating to the things I recall.
Since this struggle began, I noticed I have become highly sensitive, self-critical, impatient,always worried and procrastinate a lot. I have spent hours in deep reflection on my life, pondering the dangers of lust, praying and reading the word but have not learnt to obey Christ in this area
Please, I need your advice. I really want to experience a lasting change in attitude but I do not know why I keep taking huge steps backwards anytime I set out to live right.
Hello Winston – I’m sorry that this comment wasn’t addressed sooner. I was on vacation with my family when you left it, and obviously, you didn’t receive a response from someone else during that time. My apologies. I do sense you pain in your typed words, and I’ve experienced some of that same pain of “WHY, GOD?”
I’ll just toss a few things out for you to consider. I don’t feel like I have a perfect response for you, but maybe something will resonate.
– Here’s a post from Dr. Doug Weiss, one of our allies, about seeing women as holy beings. It’s powerful. Take a read: https://www.covenanteyes.com/2016/08/05/holy-hologram/
– Maybe the question of God isn’t “why won’t you take this away from me?” and instead it’s, “God, what amazing truth are you trying to show me through this struggle?”
– In my own moments of relapse, I found great comfort in the notion of “give me this day my daily bread” from the Lord’s Prayer. They were words I said thousands of times as a kid, without much meaning, but in those moments, reliance on daily manna was what I needed. This is not intended to be a sales pitch at all, but have you tried a daily solution like our 40-day challenge app for iPhone? Maybe it’s the only app you have active, and through Restrictions, lock down everything else.
– Psalm 13 contains one of the most beautiful “buts” in the whole Bible for moments of struggle. King David is crying out, but then in verse 5, he turns with “BUT, I trust in your unfailing love….” and lists all the truths about God in spite of the impossible circumstance.
– Perseverance – this is your word. #presson #doitagain One of the best pieces I’ve read on the beauty of persistent, consistent, daily holiness is from G.K. Chesterton in his Orthodoxy, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-sun-has-risen-today-again
Just some things I felt led to share, Winston. God is FOR you. Even in the midst of our stumbles, His grace is fresh every morning. Fresh for YOU. Peace, Chris (Covenant Eyes)
I am so scared. My husband has a Porn addiction, and some other issues. I am overwhelmed by Betrayal Trauma, and some other issues.
My husband was really trying from like April through July or so, and now our lives are on a downward spiral. We went to marriage restored in April, and installed Covenant Eyes on our devices, but I don’t think it works on the big smart tv we have hanging in our bedroom.
I am his accountability partner, and it is unsuccessful because I am a bit snarky and when he is guilty, he just yells at me and won’t listen. I recently found a church with a support group, individual and couples counseling. For three weeks now, Tuesday rolls around and he won’t go.
I go to counseling, but she has no understanding of porn addiction and betrayal trauma. My husband is not working or doing anything anymore, so of course money is also a problem. He knows the Bible, but will not attend church.
What can I do to motivate my husband before I end up having to Live my life without him? I have read a lot, and I have only gotten him to read a little.
Lady loves her Hubby
We are 55 yr old, married 3 1/2 years, cohabitation for just over 5 yrs.
Well hey there. I’m so sorry for the pain you’re experiencing in this relationship. It sounds like you’ve taken some healthy steps already, although I think you may need to make some adjustments going forward.
For example, if it’s not healthy for the relationship for you to be his accountability partner, have him find someone else. You shouldn’t have to feel responsible for his recovery: that should be his job. Same goes with whether he will go to counseling, groups, etc. Those are choices he needs to make. He may need a CSAT therapist if he’s going to make real progress.
In addition, if your counselor is not a good fit for you, if she doesn’t have an understanding of addiction or betrayal trauma, then don’t waste one more penny of your hard-earned there! Find a counselor who does have experience, who does know what’s up, and get some real help.
You might really appreciate the online resource, Bloom, which does take a trauma-informed approach for spouses.
Finally, I would say consider what healthy boundaries will look like for you. Here and here are a couple of articles. Whatever he chooses, YOU choose to be healthy.
Peace to you, Kay
I’m a firm believer that the existence of sexual sin in the church today is directly tied to the absence of “one anothering.” Behavior monitoring, in the form of accountability is critical in the early weeks of secret sexual sin being exposed. It can be used to keep one from progressing to a new level of sexual sin out of self-pity. It may keep someone from committing suicide. After that, the church as a lifestyle, not a program for sex addicts, needs to embrace one anothering. “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.” We must go way beyond accountability, both for heart change, and for the sake of the younger generation growing up in a sexualized culture.