I confess that “accountability” has been a bit of a taboo word for me until recently. Months ago, if you caught me on the right day, you could tell me that you were were going to have an accountability time with your small group, and I would have had an internal response that sounded something like:
“Oh please. The word ‘accountability’ isn’t even in the Bible! Repent of your dead religious practices right now and live by the Spirit, lest you fall under the same judgment as the Pharisees.”
Ungracious and quick to pass judgment.
That’s how I get when I’m not walking in the Spirit and people touch on my unhealed wounds.
Clearly that wasn’t the Holy Spirit talking, but there’s always a kernel of truth beneath our wounded responses. We respond to something evil that has hurt us. Generally we give it the wrong name, blame someone who isn’t responsible for the evil, and respond in a way that doesn’t actually help anything, but we respond to evil nonetheless. As you can probably see, I’ve encountered an evil and have mistakenly called it “accountability”. First, let me start by telling you about the soapbox I stand on when the wound gets touched.
Like I said, I tend to lash out at people by telling them that “accountability” isn’t even biblical. Although I’m sure plenty of Christians can give you Bible verses for why they “do accountability” (which will mean something different for each person using the term), I still haven’t found a clear biblical precedent for using that particular language. I also have yet to find in the New Testament any kind of system where certain saints distribute consequences (beyond the natural ones) to others for sins that do not divide the church.
If you know of a passage in Scripture that suggests or commands this, I’d really love to learn more about it. I just haven’t found it yet. I legitimately think this deserves discussion in the Church, but like I said earlier, since there is pain behind this issue for me, I can leverage these points as weapons rather than something that brings greater understanding and healing to the Body of Christ. I hope to do the latter in this series of posts.
Now to let you in on the stories behind the wounds. You see, I was involved in a ministry for some time where “accountability time” meant a few things. First, we confessed to our brothers (or sisters if you were a girl) whether we had sinned that week in particular areas we wanted to be honest about with each other. That’s the part that you can find in the Bible (James 5:16). But then we did some things you won’t find in the Bible, like either adding to our tally of weeks of victory (if we didn’t sin), or taking our tally count back down to zero and receiving optional “floggings” from the other men (a practice meant to symbolize consequences of our actions and motivate our righteous behavior for the next week). And that was pretty much it. Every week.
I’m not here to condemn that way of doing things. Just because something isn’t in the Bible doesn’t make it wrong, and I’m not trying to suggest that what we did was inherently “bad”. I’m eternally grateful for that ministry and thankful for all the truth I first learned through those groups. I learned that many men struggle with the same things I do. I learned that self-control is a really important thing in our Christian walk, and that with victory over sin patterns comes freedom. I learned that it’s a very good thing to have other men in your life who are committed to your daily walk with God.
But somewhere along the line, I also began to believe that the goal of the Christian life was to love God, love others, and then try really really hard not to sin. The evil part wasn’t necessarily in what we were doing, but the lies that Satan subtly communicated to me through those times. I began to think that the only way I could have victory over certain sins was to psych myself up enough every day to stay away from them, and remind myself that if I messed up, I was going to experience physical pain on Wednesday night. I could espouse doctrine about how we are saved by grace through faith and not by works, but deep down I believed that right standing with God entirely hinged on how hard I tried at this Christianity thing.
I didn’t understand that the Holy Spirit had a great healing work to do in my heart that would begin to free me of my sin patterns by giving me a new set of desires rather than just a new set of actions.
I didn’t understand that self-control was a fruit of the Spirit and not something you do with will power alone.
I didn’t understand the immense grace God gave me every time I sinned, and how much love He felt for me in those moments.
I didn’t understand that God was way more interested in replacing the sin patterns than He was in just removing them.
I didn’t understand that the reason I had so many of these struggles was because of some key lies I had been believing about God, myself, and the world for years.
Those things had to wait until the summer of 2006. I learned some pretty important things then about what the Bible teaches about sin, grace, obedience, and righteousness, and it turned out that they were quite different than some of the things I had been believing. In this series of blog posts, I’ll try to walk through some things God has taught me about how to discern lies from truth as it relates to my own sinfulness and how to grow in righteousness and godly character.