Accountability has been a buzzword among Christians for years. I travel thousands of miles all over the country speaking in churches of all denominations on the issue of sexual purity, and I hear people repeatedly point to accountability as the key to overcoming sexual sin. Yet, with all the emphasis on accountability, the problem of sexual sin continues to escalate.
Like most, I believe that accountability is an important element in establishing and maintaining freedom from sexual sin. Scripture admonishes us clearly: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2) Here is a mandate for biblical accountability. And as someone who once was caught in the snare of habitual sin and saw no way out, this passage from Galatians reminds me of the various people God put in my life to come alongside me and help me when I couldn’t do it alone.
I’m sure many of us come to a place in our spiritual walk where we need a God-sent messenger to rebuke, admonish, and encourage us in the way. Unquestionably, the Bible shows us that we are called to support one another in this way. But I also believe that there is more involved in accountability—accountability that is truly biblical—than we typically put into practice.
Christians, however, often have the wrong idea of what true biblical accountability is. We sometimes relegate it to just meeting once a week and sharing what we have done, either good or bad. That isn’t accountability. If we take a closer look at the Scriptures, we can gain a better understanding of what biblical accountability should look like.
1. Be Willing to Initiate and Confront
We are responsible if we see someone who is sinning to take the initiative and go to them and confront them in a spirit of gentleness and humility. Love is willing to tell someone the truth, even if the other person hates you for it. The prophet Nathan confronted King David in a spirit of pure mercy to turn him from his adultery and to turn him back to God. I have had people do this for me, and I have also had to be the one to confront others when I knew they were in trouble spiritually. God tells us in His word that, the one who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:20) But also remember Paul’s admonition to “consider yourself”—in other words, be humble, mindful of your own weakness—“lest you also be tempted.”
2. Choose to Listen, Consider, and Submit
The person who is in need of help must be willing to submit himself to the person God has brought into his life. The word of God says, “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” (I Peter 5:5) Nevertheless, it is on this very point that accountability often breaks down. In my experience, if true repentance has occurred, submitting to the people God has brought into one’s life should be automatic. A man’s attitude should clearly indicate his openness to receiving correction and his willingness to come under God’s authority for his spiritual life. God can help someone who is willing to humble himself and come under those who are spiritually more mature, but He will resist (i.e., oppose) the person who is self-reliant or unsubmissive.
3. Come Alongside and Encourage
Once the proper relationship for accountability has been established, the third thing that needs to happen is found in Hebrews 10:24: “Consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.” In other words, we need to come alongside the weaker brother or sister and encourage them to grow in their faith and in their relationship with God. This is what they need more than anything. It is their walk with God and the power of the cross that will ultimately break the power of sin in their lives. They need to be held accountable for maintaining a prayer life and for spending time with the Word of God every day. In addition, they need to be held accountable in all the practical ways that reveal whether they are living out what they are learning in their home, at their job, in their recreational activities, and in their interactions with others. In time, they should begin to stand on their own and simply enjoy the added blessing of having a close relationship with someone whom they can confide in, seek counsel from and pray with.
4. Develop a Fear of the Lord
Lastly, I think it’s essential to bear in mind that ultimately we are all accountable to God. “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God,” wrote the apostle Paul. (Romans 14:12) This is personal accountability. Joseph had a grasp of this when he was tempted on a daily basis to engage in sexual immorality with his master’s wife. His reply needs to become a personal conviction for each of us in the face of temptation: “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9) There may come a time in our lives when we, like Joseph, don’t have others around us to help us. In such a moment, it is what we have in God personally that will keep us from sin. If biblical accountability has fulfilled its purpose, this is the place we must come to.
Accountability is important, perhaps even essential for a season, but walking in sexual purity ultimately depends on developing our own personal walk, having a sincere love for God, and truly fearing the Lord. He wants us to come into the same place Paul did, as the apostle described in his second letter to Timothy, “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)
Jeff Colón is a minister of the Assemblies of God. He held various positions during his 22 years with Pure Life Ministries. Jeff holds an MDiv and BA in Biblical Counseling from Master’s International School of Divinity. He recently branched out on his own, launching Lighthouse Biblical Counseling Center in Dry Ridge, Kentucky.
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