Brian sat on the edge of his bed. Tears welled up from inside his deep blue eyes. He was tired of the vicious cycle of fighting and failing. For months, he had been trying hard to defeat the sin pattern in his life, but sincere effort combined with sparse victory had led Brian to give discouragement the upper hand.
His mind drifted to his small accountability group that he met with every week. Really, his scenario was no different than most of theirs. All of them knew they seemed to be up against a brick wall–seemingly stalled in their battle for purity–and tomorrow’s meeting would be no different than the previous ones.
He could already imagine them, sitting in a small circle, empathizing with each other over their shortcomings from the previous week. But that was where it always seemed to end. What was wrong, and what needed to change? Or was this merely an impossible battle to overcome?
Accountability. For many of us, this word is likely to conjure images that are strikingly similar to Brian’s scenario. In many circles, accountability has often fallen into the “talk-therapy” category, rather than an honest and specific questioning one another in our fight against sin.
However, before diving into the importance of accountability and how that should look practically in a believer’s life, it is important that we step back and look at the role relationships play in the drama of redemption.
Relationships and Redemption
Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp, in their book, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, say, “You cannot talk about human beings made in God’s image without talking about relationships. Yet it is often the first thing we overlook. Only when human beings live in community do we fully reflect the likeness of God.”
Part of being created in God’s image means that man was created for relationships. The church is one context in which we fulfill our desire for relationship. As believers, relationships are inevitable. Community is inescapable. God is a community, and being created in the image of God, we reflect His character.
Though man was created to desire relationships, we also need to be reminded that we live in a fallen world. By reading Genesis 3, we understand that sin hijacks all of life, including our relationships. This is vividly portrayed in the first relationships in Scripture. Sin turned Adam and Eve against God, resulting in separation (Genesis 3). Sin turned brother against brother, resulting in the first murder among humanity (Genesis 4). Throughout the storyline of Scripture and throughout all of history, sin continues to vividly remind us that life is broken and relationships don’t work as they were originally designed.
Sin painted a bleak picture for humanity but, in the gospel, believers have hope of moving past the brokenness that so often marks relationships to instead walk alongside each other in our struggles, calling each other to more Christ-like conduct. The good news of the gospel is that God in grace stepped down to humanity and, through Jesus, disarmed sin’s power. By his love, he recaptured relationships, first of all restoring that which was broken vertically, between God and man; secondly, restoring that which was broken horizontally within human relationships.
These relationships, when transformed by the gospel, are not merely a result of God’s grace, but are a means of his transforming grace in the lives of believers. The goal of this transformation is to continue to conform us into the glorious image of his Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). C.S. Lewis once remarked that Christ “works on us in all sorts of ways…But above all, He works on us through each other.”
Herein lies the reason for accountability. As members of the greater church community, believers have been called to mirror Christ to each other, calling each other away from sin and into a life of holiness.
We have established that man was created for relationships. One of the ways that relationships should happen in a Christian’s life is through the means of accountability. Paul, in Galatians 6:1-2, exhorts the believers to call each other back to holiness, should a brother or sister stray from the truth. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
While talking about sin and personal struggles is hard and many times uncomfortable, the gospel reminds us that as a brotherhood, we are all sinners saved by grace. This gives us equality within our accountability group. James, in James 5:19-20, tells his readers that as believers, we need to call each other out of sin and in doing so, save our brother’s soul from death. This inevitably means then, that as a believer walking alongside a struggling brother or sister, I need to be intentional in the way that I call him out of his struggle and encourage him in his walk of holiness.
Our accountability to each other does not mean that I merely empathize with him in his weakness, telling him I know how he feels and understand the struggle he faces. Rather, as a believer in the process of sanctification myself, I must be willing to ask hard questions that invite honest answers. I must be willing to speak gospel truth into his life for his specific situation.
Paul, in Ephesians 4:15, gives his readers an important tool for helping each other to grow in the stature of Christ. Paul says, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” This truth is really what can make or break our accountability groups.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that sin has a tendency to cling and ensnare us (Hebrews 12:1). When we fail to be open and transparent in our accountability settings, we are hindering the work for which God designed brotherhood. On the flip side, when we fail to call out sin and speak lovingly into the life of a struggling brother or sister, we are not living in full obedience to God’s call on our lives as those who are to mirror him to others.
Accountability Lived Out
So how can we apply this concept to our accountability groups within our own churches? Heath Lambert, in his book Finally Free, gives some practical steps in applying this concept to our personal relationships. “True accountability,” says Lambert, “involves three elements.”
First, a true accountability relationship involves someone who understands that, to be effective, accountability involves more than just meeting on a weekly basis. Effective accountability requires constant involvement, such as fighting in prayer for the accountable brother or sister or being willing to call them or answer their phone calls at any given time. Urging others out of sin and into holiness is a high calling, one that requires time.
Second, a true accountability relationship involves a spiritually mature brother or sister, one who has biblical knowledge and practical wisdom to give us in our fight for freedom from sin. This could involve someone older with years of experience, or it could be a peer who is walking in victory, and is willing to fight alongside us in our own battle.
Lastly, a true accountability relationship requires a long-term commitment. Many accountability groups will often start on a strong note and with good intentions, only to dissolve several months later. When people become lazy, failure is sure to follow close behind.
As believers, sanctification is a lifelong process, one that requires fellow warriors to speak into our lives on a regular basis. Make it a goal in your accountability groups to pray for a commitment that is in it for the long haul.
While accountability has often been done in a not-so-effective-way, it is an absolutely necessary element within one’s Christian journey. When accountability focuses on asking honest and sometimes hard questions, and speaking the truth in love, growth and redemption can happen within a believer’s life.
What about your life? Are you committed to being open and transparent with your brothers and sisters, recognizing that you need their wisdom and correction in living a victorious life? On the other hand, do fellow believers see you as someone who is willing to fight alongside them in prayer and accountability in their fight for freedom?
Let us always be reminded that we are all sinners, saved by grace. Let each of our accountability relationships be marked first of all by humility, recognizing our own sin as worse than other’s sins (Matthew 7:2-5); secondly by patience (Galatians 5:22), aware of the fact that our brother or sister’s struggle will likely not change overnight. A greater story is being written with each of our lives, and God has given us each other to aid in the refining process.
|Johnny Beiler lives in Elnora, Indiana where he is currently pursuing certification in Biblical Counseling at Elnora Bible Institute. If he’s not busy working on homework, you may find him waiting tables at a local pizza shop in town. He enjoys interacting with people, hiking/enjoying nature, and diving into a good book with a cup of coffee close by. Johnny is passionate about seeing young men embrace godly masculinity as they are transformed by Christ through the Gospel story.
Hedges, Brian G. Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change. Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd, 2010. Print.
Lane, Timothy S., and Paul David Tripp. Relationships: A Mess worth Making. Greensboro, NC: New Growth, 2006. Print.
Lambert, Heath. Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013. Print.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001. Print.
Welch, Edward T. Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015. Print.