Throughout the New Testament we see the early church meeting together regularly, living their lives in faith in their communities. And unlike today’s culture, the First Century believers were in a highly religious environment. Faith was not something that lived just in the temple or synagogue. The educational system, the laws in practice, the pattern of daily living was saturated in Jewish beliefs. It is a fallacy to assume that early Christians were uneducated in the faith or lacked understanding of New Testament concepts that are spelled out for us today. They were well versed in faith. And the accountability to which we so often have difficulty submitting was a part of daily living among brothers and sisters in Christ.
In the New Testament we see the relationships between believers were, first and foremost, to be based on love (John 15:17, Romans 12:10). Also, Christians are to treat one another and speak to one another with honesty (Ephesians 4:25). This is not a “blunt” honesty, but rather one that honors a brother or sister in Christ and is designed to help rather than hinder (Romans 14:13).
At the heart, accountability is one Christian submitting to the Christ-centered admonition of another Christian in one or more areas of life. Hand in hand with accountability is an attitude of grace and forgiveness, and the taking on of one another’s burdens (Romans 12:16, Colossians 3:13, Galatians 6:2). Many men’s groups are built around the idea of accountability, but this does not come easily or naturally. True accountability is an element of a mature, long-standing and growing relationship with both God and fellow Christ-followers.
An accountability partner is different than a Christian friendship. Not all Christian relationships are accountability relationships. In fact, rarely should they be. When choosing someone to open up to and ask to hold you accountable, it should be someone you trust and respect, with a track record of action and speech reflecting spiritual maturity. Further it should be someone of discretion, who desires to see you grow in your faith, and does not dole out gossip.
Accountability to Jesus is humbling. Real accountability carries a sense of personal humility toward Christ, who we are growing toward, but can never fully reach in terms of character. True accountability leads to wise living, which is a combination of knowledge of God through His Word, and the experience of living that out, to the best of one’s ability. The temptation in knowing more about God is to become prideful (1 Corinthians 8:1). Accountability is a constant reminder that we need God’s grace daily to live for Him in our time and culture.
Accountability is not about what you don’t do. Accountability is not a “confessional” of sorts where we admit things we shouldn’t be doing. When we make life about a list of don’ts in order to appear more Christ-like, we not only miss the point, we slide into legalism. Rather, spiritual growth is first a desire to be more like Jesus, to live the life of Jesus, to open our eyes and hearts to the things of God. Cutting out negative behaviors, then, is a byproduct of a vital relationship with Christ, rather than the central goal. The parables of Jesus often focused not on the bad that we do, but the good that we left undone. Did you stop for the traveler in need on the side of the road? Did you visit the person you know in prison? Did you clothe someone who needed a coat? Life transformation occurs most by when we start serving rather than our attempts to stop sinning.
True Christian love is not shown through people monitoring one another. Christians know that they are more effective together than separate. Further, as all Christ-followers are under constant spiritual assault, they need the protection of brothers and sisters who have their best interest at heart because they have a heart for the cause of Christ. Seek godly accountability, from a very few, trusted Christian brothers. Begin with Christian friendships, and over time as trust is built, seek out those who don’t reinforce failure, but genuinely long to see your success in Christ. This is the point at which true Christian accountability can begin.