Christians have grown accustomed to the idea of accountability, and not in a good way. We’re used to hearing the term and filing it in the “things we should be doing” section of our brain archives. Not top of the list. Definitely not something that most of us are actively seeking out.
If what comes to mind when you think of accountability is awkward conversations with people you don’t know that well, you’ve got it wrong. If you’ve been randomly matched with a mentor who doesn’t seem truly invested in you, you’ve got it wrong. And if your conversations go something like, “Ummmm, so how are you doing with… stuff?”
You’ve got it wrong.
I’m familiar with the topic because I’m a recovering porn addict. I was introduced to pornography at the age of 8 and it was 10 years later when I finally surrendered to God and confessed my sin. He has spent another decade transforming my mind through the Holy Spirit’s power and teaching me to see sin the way He does.
When I talk accountability I like to tack on the word “intrusive,” because it always gives people pause. Intrusive isn’t a pretty word, but then again, sin isn’t a pretty thing. True accountability’s purpose is to help us combat the sinful habits and temptations that we allow to build up in our hearts. Your sin nature is ugly and powerful. It will take more than awkward half-hearted accountability to root it out.
Intrusive accountability should thwart your tendency to isolate yourself and justify sin. It should push you to complete the goals you set for yourself. It should be a consistent presence in your life, giving you a hug or a kick in the pants, whichever you need at the moment.
Intrusive accountability is all-up-in-your-business accountability.
Good accountability is consistent.
Once a month, every week, over phone calls, in person, or video chat…it doesn’t matter. Good accountability means you regularly see someone for the purpose of catching up on what is going on with them internally. It doesn’t mean every interaction is a deep dive into their past sin, but it means the option is open to discuss victories and failures, excitement and frustration in everyday life.
Good accountability is specific.
A good accountability group or pairing will know what specifically they are praying for and asking about for each person. Specific prayer requests and specific questions cut to the heart of the issue and help you avoid sin because you know that your partner will be asking about it.
Good accountability is honest.
If you were perfectly honest it would be easy to keep yourself accountable to change. But the reality is that we are liars, and prone to sin. Our accountability is only as good as we are honest. This means that in order to have effective accountability, we need an incentive to be honest. In most cases that should be the fellowship of close relationship with someone who knows your struggles and loves you anyway, as well as the peace of your heart before God.
This makes finding good accountability a hard but important task. You need to find someone who can be consistent, specific, and honest with you, and who will expect you to be the same with them.
In Mark 9 Jesus says something that always struck me as strange and extreme. He says, “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell.”
Doesn’t that seem a little violent? Unnecessary? Maybe, but I believe what Jesus is saying is that it’s better to go through life with a handicap than to go through life enslaved to a practice of sin. It’s better to go without every physical or emotional happiness, or to be inconvenienced, or to live in a way that doesn’t make sense to the people around you. If your goal is holiness it is worth the price you have to pay.
You need to be willing to go to whatever extreme is required to keep you from sin.
Anna is 16, and she just started dating the cute bass player in the youth worship band. But she notices that when they hang out together they are getting a little too comfortable touching and kissing. The Holy Spirit is convicting Anna that this behavior will lead her into sexual sin. So Anna decides to get a purity ring to remind herself of her commitment to abstain from sexual behavior before marriage. The problem is…the ring isn’t helping. Anna decides that she needs to go to her parents and ask them to help her implement some rules about when and how she can be alone with her boyfriend to keep her from getting into these situations. She asks them to keep her accountable and check in with her regularly. Her boyfriend does the same. For Anna, this is enough. She has found the level of accountability that will keep her from sin.
But let’s look at Dylan. He has been looking at pornography since he was in middle school, and now in his late 20s, he is committed to stopping this sinful practice. He and his wife might choose to put a monitoring and filtering system on their computer and phones to help keep him accountable. But Dylan is tech-savvy and he knows that he can get around the system if he tries. He knows that he needs a more extreme level of accountability to keep him from sin. So Dylan finds a spiritual mentor to meet with regularly, and they pray together and memorize scripture to use when he is tempted. This works for a few months, but Dylan knows that when he gets needy enough he has a tendency to lie. After a few incidents of watching porn again, he decides that he needs to go to the next extreme.
Maybe he gives up data on his phone. Maybe he keeps his computer in a family living space, or only uses it when his wife is home. Maybe he can’t have a personal computer. Whatever the extreme measure is that keeps him from sin, that is what he needs to do. And that decision shouldn’t be based on what is most comfortable and convenient for Dylan. That decision should be based on what will give him the support he needs to die to his sinful desires.
Good accountability partners help you make these decisions. They pray with you and for you, and listen as you experiment to see where you need to be. Honesty with yourself, with your accountability, and with the Holy Spirit is how you find the extreme that you require. The goal is not to live in that cage forever, but to give God room and time to transform your heart and mind, conforming you into the image of His Son, and cultivating the habits of holiness into your life that will keep you from sin even when your safety nets are not available.
God has made provision for our holiness; He has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1). But are we willing to go to the extreme required for us to be truly holy, or do we dig our heels in and reason that we deserve the same freedoms and luxuries that our peers have?
We need these handicaps to restrain our sin nature, and we need the safety net of a good accountability partner to help us implement and maintain the restraints we put in place. Because holiness is worth it.
Beth Nyhart is a recovering porn addict, as well as a Christian author and speaker who shared her story of redemption in the hope that God will use it to bring more people out of the darkness of secret sin and into the light of grace. Her first book, Rend Your Heart & Not Your Garments will be available in the Spring of 2019. To learn more, visit http://get.rendyourheartbook.com/waitlist