Accountability is for the weak.
What does this phrase stir up in you? Do you agree or disagree? Are you weak or are you strong?
Most of us, especially us guys, like to think of ourselves as tough, strong, and self-reliant. If I’m in trouble, I’ll get myself out of it. If I’m lost, I’m not asking for directions. If there’s a car on top of my chest, I’ll gather my gusto and push that sucker off, thank you very much. I’ll help you, but I’m certainly not in need of your help. This then bleeds in whenever we hear the topic of accountability broached by a pastor or in a sexual purity conversation. I don’t have a problem, and even if I did, I’d be able to figure it out myself.
I often challenge self-assured Christians—those who think they are strong—to compare themselves to the apostle Paul. Outside of Jesus, Paul is at or near the top of the list of strong Christians in the Bible. Of the 27 New Testament books of the Bible, 13 are traditionally ascribed to Paul’s authorship, and he almost single-handedly started the Christian Church movement as a missionary. How does your resumé stack up against that? But here’s what Paul had to say about himself:
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” – 1 Timothy 1:15
Huh? How is the #1 strong guy also the #1 sinner? If that’s true, what does that make me and you? If that’s not enough, here’s what Paul has to say about weakness:
“But (the Lord) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses…For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Huh (again)? We are taught that weakness is something we need to eradicate. Don’t let ‘em see you sweat. You are in control. You are the man. Yet here Paul is broadcasting his weakness for all the see, even celebrating it. What gives?
Shame Cannot Win
The fact is, we are all weak; many of us just don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want to show our cards, choosing instead to play the bluff, like we’ve got it all together at all times. When we opt for this hiding, shame wins the day. Guilt is what you feel when you do something bad; shame is what you feel when you believe you are bad.
If I’m never willing to reveal my weakness to others, it’s because I don’t want them to see me as “bad” or as not measuring up. If they did, in my mind it feels like that would have disastrous consequences. So instead I have to hide, bluffing my hand. As a result, my weakness never actually gets dealt with.
What Paul understood about weakness, or I should say what Jesus understood and proclaimed to Paul in verse 9 above, is that Jesus’ power can only be experienced where weakness is on display. Why would a strong person need grace? They don’t. Someone who isn’t dying doesn’t need anyone to save them.
What’s ironic is that admitting weakness is the first step to becoming a Christian, yet that truth becomes a distant memory when it comes to our plans for spiritual growth. The classic verse that has pointed many people to salvation in Jesus is Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (emphasis added). We understand that we’ve fallen short and need a Savior, Jesus, to make up the difference. We say yes to his offer for salvation by grace.
But in 2 Corinthians 12:9, Jesus is telling Paul that he still needs this same grace! Paul, the all-star apostle, one of the strongest Christians ever, is still bumbling, blind, and weak. Jesus explains to Paul that rather than feel shame over his weakness, he can let the truth of the gospel wash over it with all of its sufficiency.
Rather than believe shame’s lie that we don’t measure up because of our shortcomings, we can believe grace’s truth that Jesus measured up for us and that in him, we are wholly loved and made perfect in the Father’s sight (Col. 1:22). We can believe that our Father can’t love us any more or less than He already does!
No Further Reason to Hide
When we live in this type of grace, there’s no longer any reason to hide. In a place of grace, everyone who is there has admitted they are weak and need the strength of Jesus. Why would someone confessing weakness shock anyone else at that table, when they’ve all experienced the same thing? Vulnerability is the antidote to shame, and what safer place is there to be vulnerable than a room full of weak people saved by grace?
When we deny our weakness, we deny our need for grace.
Once we’ve acknowledged our daily need for grace—grace to make us whole, grace to feed off of—we can then really begin to grow. James 5:16 tells us, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” We can follow a clear progression here:
- Admit you’re a sinner. You can follow Paul’s lead and even say you are the worst!
- Display your weakness. We’ve all got it, and admitting it is the only way to be nourished by grace.
- Tell others about your sin and weakness! (James 5:16)
Step 3 is what we typically call “accountability.” Yes, it is for the weak! Which really is another way of saying it is for everyone! It is for you.
3 Factors of Healthy Accountability
Accountability is not a magic bullet that will make all your sins stop. Nor is it meant to become simply a battle in behavior modification. Healthy accountability has 3 essential factors:
1. Be Gospel-Centered
The solution to your sin problem is not your accountability partner (ally), it’s Jesus. Your ally helps guide you toward what you’ve been looking for all along. I’m not talking about a one-time stop at the Jesus well when you got saved. I’m talking about the love of Jesus and the acceptance and affirmation we get from him being what each of us are actually hungry for every time we are tempted to sin.
2. Go Beyond Symptoms
Healthy accountability doesn’t just say, “Stop doing that.” It points others toward the Source of all Life, the true Cure to what ails us. All too often, sexual purity accountability is a list of the bad things we did that week, with our ally at a loss for words beyond, “Well, don’t do that this coming week,” or possibly some advice on ways to physically restrain that behavior.
Some of those methods are helpful, but on their own, it leaves an accountability relationship feeling very dependent on human strength. Both the strength of the person struggling to do better and try harder and the strength of the ally to come up with the magic solution to make their friend stop sinning. Both will leave you exhausted.
3. Be a Place Where Grace Rules Over Shame
Healthy accountability has to be a place where anything and everything can be shared, without the listeners responding with shock or awe. All cards are on the table. If a person feels like they can’t share everything, they won’t, and they’ll be right back where they started, allowing shame to rule in portions of their life in ways where healing becomes impossible.
If you are a sinner saved by grace, as Paul was, as I am, then accountability is for you! Praise God he’s given us this fantastic way to be sharpened and to find healing from the sins that otherwise steal, kill, and destroy our lives.