Series: Discipling Category: Core Seminars, Discipling / Mentoring, Spiritual Growth, Personal Holiness, Sanctification & Growth
Picture these scenarios: • Jonathan struggles with internet pornography, but is ashamed to talk about it. • Debbie gets angry with her children, but desires to fight the anger. • Wendy knows she is in an aggressive career, and that if she doesn’t be careful, it will overtake her life.
One of the greatest lies of the evil one is to think that as Christians we can go at it alone—fight sin by our own agenda and by our own strength. Yet, one of the arguments we have been making is that Christians should never fight alone.
You are in a war for life and death. The battle cannot be won by fighting by yourself. You need help from other believers. This is God’s design for your life—to fight side-by-side with others who are struggling to put off sin and look more like Christ.
To that end, we want to spend today thinking about biblical accountability and what it looks like in the life of believers.
Christians Should Pursue Accountability
We start with three biblical reasons why we want pursue accountability.
1. Scripture Encourages Confession
An old adage says, “Confession is healthy for the soul.” Confession is helpful because relieves our burden of guilt and shame. But we don’t do it simply because it makes us feel better.
First and foremost, we confess our sin because the Bible directs us to do so.
Confession of sin starts with God. David cries out to God: “Against you and you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). Our sin as Christians is ultimately an offense before a Holy God. We must run to God first before we reconcile with other human beings.
But it is also important to confess sin to other believers. “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
Healthy discipleship relationships include conversation about sin. Confession is an act of initiating openness and vulnerability about sin before God and with other Christians. It is never an easy thing to do, but the Biblical authors consistently encourage Christians to bring their sin out of the darkness and into the light (John 1:1-5; 3:19-21; Eph 5:1-14; 1 John 1:5-7). Sin should never be allowed to hide and persist in the darkness. Bringing sin into the light means exposing it before God and others (Ephesians 5:3-16; see especially verse 11).
Confession of sin brings mercy for the sinner. Solomon writes: “He who conceals his sin does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Prov 28:13).
2. Scripture Warns Us About Self-Deceit
Just yesterday, I was switching lanes on the highway, and I almost hit a car that was situated in my “blind spot.” Do you know what a blind spot is? Your rear view mirror cannot see every vehicle that follows behind you. There is one spot where a car can be situated in the next highway lane and it will not be seen in your mirror.
Christians have “blind spots”— ways in which believers live in ignorance of indwelling sin and its harmful effects on their life. Ignorance is the key term here. Sin can make me blind to my own faults. Sin causes me to be deceived about the depth and breadth of the problems in my life.
The author of Hebrews writes: “See to it brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb 3:12-13).
Self-deceit affects every Christian. The author of Hebrews warns believers: Be careful! You (despite all your riches in Christ) can still make foolish choices that led to a sinful, unbelieving heart. Self-deceit leads believers into momentary atheism—moments in which our self-dependence and lack of trust in God leads us to live more according to the world and less according to truth. Unbelief leads Christians to turn away from the living God.
What’s the antidote to self-deceit? According to the author of Hebrews, it is to encourage one another regularly. So, he says, “But encourage one another daily, so long as it is called Today so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Notice the two ideas that the “so that” connects—encouraging one another daily helps prevent a hardening that might come through sin’s deceitfulness. This daily encouragement is an antidote to sin’s deceitfulness. It helps prevent the hardening of the heart.
3. Scripture Encourages Honesty about Weakness
Let’s consider 2 Cor 12:9. Paul is in the midst of a long section in 2 Corinthians where he is defending his apostleship against false apostles that are invading the church. In chapter 11, he talks about boasting, as says: “Since many are boasting in the way the world, I too will boast…If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Cor 11:18, 30). Unlike the world, which boasts in its strength, Paul wants to focus on weakness. Why? Because he knows God works through our weakness. In chapter 12:7, he talks about a thorn in the flesh that was tormenting him. Paul was not specific about problem, but whatever it is, Paul pleads with the Lord to take it away. In response, Christ says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Rather than taking the pain away, God provides grace for Paul to endure the trial. God’s power is shown through Paul’s weakness. [statement about “made perfect”?] Paul’s response: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties” (12:9-10). Paul will boast about his weakness because it is in weakness that Christ’s power is evident. As God provides grace to go through a trial, you see what strength really is. In contrast to the worlds thinking, where a strength is a strength and a weakness is a weakness, we can see God shows his strength (his power) in the midst of our weakness. So, very appropriately, Paul concludes: “For when I am weak, then I am strong”(12:10).
How do you view your own weakness? One of the most common comments I get when people start counseling with me: “I didn’t want to come because I didn’t want to appear weak before anyone…” In contrast to the world, which teaches us to project confidence and boast in our strengths, Paul encourages us (Christians) to be honest about our weakness because it is in our weakness that God shows his strength.
The Need for Accountability
In God’s great wisdom, He made us to live in community. That’s why he gave us the church. In his great kindness, God put believers in the middle of covenant communities, where we can hear God’s Word and grow alongside other believers.
Now you might say, “I get plenty encouragement from fellowship at Church and reading God’s Word. I’ve been getting along just fine without accountability relationships.”
That fine. If you want to think that way, go ahead. But it’s dangerous. Sin is serious business. Its effects on your life are so pervasive, it goes beyond anything you could imagine. Based on the three Scriptural reasons given above, my contention is that accountability is not just advisable, but a necessary part of your Christian growth. We need other brothers and sisters in Christ to stand alongside of us and help us to see the many ways that sins hurts us. Cf. Read James 5:16, 19-20.
[PAUSE FOR QUESTIONS]
Guidelines for Accountability Relationships To that end, I want to suggest some guidelines for accountability relationships. To make your accountability relationships effective at digging out the sin that pervades your life, here are nine general principles:
1. Ask good questions.
When I was a young lad I was taught that in order to be a good fact finder, I need to seek out the five “W’s”—Who? What? Where? When? Why? Reporters, scientists, and investigators use these five “W’s” to gather all the data necessary to do their jobs.
In the Bible, we learn that in order to really understand another person, we have to ask good questions. Solomon writes, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out” (Prov 20:5). To get at the sin, someone has to ask you good questions. In my mind, good questions are heart-penetrating questions. They are questions that go beyond the superficial elements of life and “draws out” the sin that sits in the deepest recesses of your heart.
Consider an example of Christian who struggles with lying. You can start by asking fact finding questions to understand the circumstances that surround the sin—When did this problem start? How often do you lie to others? What situations are you more likely to say a lie? But to go deeper, you have to ask more penetrating questions—What are you trying to cover up by your lying? What self-centered motives make you lie to others? What’s the “pay-off” for lying and do you really think it is worth it? How do you plan to give an account to God when you have to explain your lying habits?
2. Don’t be scared to confront.
When you see sin in someone else’s life, are you bold enough to confront it?
Proverbs 24:5-6 says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”
The wise person is talking with the fool and assessing how to respond to the fool. He must not answer a fool’s foolish comment with a foolish comment, or else he will end up like the fool (vs. 4). On the other hand, the wise man must not answer the fool in such as way as to “confirm” the fool’s delusion that he is actually wise (v. 5). The wise person sees how the fool is deceiving himself, and seeks to save him from further self-deception.
One commentator writes, “The wise person must expose the fool’s distortions to serve his own interests at the expense of the community and must not silently accept it and thereby contribute to establishing his topsy-turvy world against the rule of God.”
Proverbs 24:6 shows how another person’s vantage point is valuable in deconstructing inaccurate views of ourselves. Because the fool has convinced himself that he is “wise,” he needs the wise person’s help to see his own folly.
3. Be honest
There are few things better in this life than an honest answer from a friend and a kiss on the lips from my wife. Solomon writes: “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips” (Prov 24:26). Solomon considered an honest answer to be just as “wonderful” as a kiss.
Honest answers are crucial, or else accountability does not work. You can only care for another person to the extent that the person is willing to be forthright with his life.
What benefits do you reap from honesty? Honesty helps others to see your heart, to know your motives, to assess where you are blind, and to see where you most need help.
4. Be vulnerable.
Accountability just does not work if you are not willing be vulnerable. Admittedly, this is hard because it is incredibly uncomfortably having other people getting into “your stuff,” looking at your sin and messing with your life. For accountability to work, you’ve got to let yourself be known to others.
Even though Paul had rebuked the Corinthians for their sin, he had not stopped speaking frankly with them and being open with them. He writes: “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you” (2 Cor 6:11). Yet, he had to chastise them because they have grown cold towards him and had “closed” their hearts. “We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also” (2 Cor 6:12-13).
For accountability to work, you also have to let others be intrusive. Intrusive has a bad connotation in our culture, but I use the word deliberately. It means you need to let people see beyond the superficial, and see some the “deeper” matters of your heart—pride and selfishness, pain and suffering, fear of man, etc. You need to let people speak into those areas, even when you don’t want to hear advice because it could possible ‘mess up’ your own plans.
5. Be gracious.
A Christian husband recently shared with me about his desire to get straightforward feedback from his wife. He asked her to be honest about his faults. She took him at his word, and shared some of her struggles with his inconsistent behavior.
He said, “My reaction to her comments was not very gracious. By the way I reacted, you wouldn’t think I had actually asked for the feedback. If I were her, I’d be really reluctant to give me feedback again.”
Paul writes in Colossians, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col 4:6). Gracious speech is characterized by a gentle tone (Prov 15:1) and a loving attitude (Reference?). Hearing others point to your faults can be painful, uncomfortable, and stressful. You can make a difficult experience a little less difficult by always be gracious in your speech, tone, and attitude.
6. Be Humble
An accountability relationship is a meeting between two sinners, both of who need God’s grace and mercy. Haughtiness, arrogance, vengeance, hatred, manipulation—all are self-destructive and ruin genuine, biblical accountability. When you tell others about their sin, you must never do it with a sinful attitude. That’s not to say you are going to be perfect when you address someone else’s sin, but you must always be careful about your own motives when speaking to someone about his/her sin.
Humility is a necessary component of biblical accountability. Humility levels the playing field and says to the other person, “I am a sinner just as desperately in need of God’s grace.” Humility encourages the listener to have an open heart and open ears to what you might say. No one wants to listen to an arrogant person; but to a humble person, many will be willing to listen. [Example: The entire elder board meets with a single man who is deep in sexual sin. Michael ends with, “We are just as much in need in God’s grace as you are….Every person in this room is a sinner in desperate need of God’s mercy.”]
7. Be Encouraging
Encouragement is an important part of accountability. An honest pursuit of sin can lead to discouragement. Be careful because you can overwhelm a person with his or her sin. Wisdom, prayer, and guidance from others can help us to under when to speak up about sin and how often. Too much, too soon can be overwhelming. Too little, too infrequently, can lead to superficial accountability. As a disicpler, you need to be wise about how you help someone see their own sin. Consider things like: How much can this person handle? Does he/she have ‘ears to hear’ what I need to tell him/her? What encouraging signs of spiritual growth have I seen in them and have I encouraged them with this information?
A relentless pursuit of sin without any mercy leads a person to hopeless Christianity. A relentless pursuit of sin with an abundance of love and encouragement leads to Christ-likeness.
8. Be Available
If you don’t have time, don’t let your bleeding and compassionate heart say “yes” to someone who needs help. Accountability often involves a weekly (or consistent) commitment, which for most type-A, blackberry-scheduling, workaholic Washingtonians is yet another thing they need to fit into their schedule.
If you don’t have time for someone, you do them no good by saying “yes” if they ask you for help. Only say “yes” if you realistically have the time in your schedule. If you commit to helping someone, you need to be available, or else you defeat the purpose of accountability.
9. Be Word-centered.
There is a danger of limiting discipling relationships to accountability only. Some people get together and spend the majority of their time talking about their sin struggles. While we are obviously supportive of Christians talking about sin, we do not want this to be the only thing that characterizes their relationship.
Accountability relationships should always be word-centered. Even in situations where significant sin needs to be discussed, it’s important as Christians to frequently and quickly bring the conversation back to God’s Word.
Our sin distorts our ability to see life properly. God’s Word helps to correct our faulty vision and to see sin for what it really is—a stumbling block to our relationships with God and others. Paul Tripp writes:
In Conclusion –
• Good biblical accountability involves asking good questions, not being sacred of confrontation, being honest; available; vulnerable; humbling; gracious; and Word-centered. • Christians must avoid nominal, anonymous Christianity. Biblical accountability is an important (albeit necessary?) part of spiritual growth.