The Trouble with Accountability

Series | Accountability

Jesus could have made our job as Christians a lot easier. All He needed to do was tweak His commission a little. He didn’t need to cancel the entire assignment, just make a minor adjustment. If only He would have said something like,

As you are going, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them and teaching them everything I said.

That’s close to what He said in Matthew 28:18-20. And if that was all He said I think we’d get less grief. We can dunk people under water; in our culture that’s no big deal. It’s also not horribly difficult to tell other people the things that Jesus taught, especially if that’s the only thing involved. We can talk about Jesus. We can write books about Jesus. We can create web pages and publish podcasts and make His message known. That’s relatively easy.

But that isn’t what Jesus said. Jesus didn’t call us to teach people what He said. He commissioned us to teach them to observe all that I have commanded. Making disciples involves more than acquainting people with the gospel it requires training them to live it. John Piper wrote it this way, “Teaching people to parrot all that Jesus commanded is easy. Teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded is impossible.”

We must always talk about the free nature of the gospel, forgiveness, and justification, but we must also remember that true faith produces obedience, fruit, and good works. Though there is nothing we can do to earn salvation, it still changes everything we do. I heard Steve Lawson compare it to joining the Army: it’s free to join, but it will cost your life. So those who believe the gospel are also called to live worthy of it.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27)

…so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him (Colossians 1:10)

We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God (1 Thessalonians 2:12)

Walking figuratively expresses a person’s conduct or pattern of life. And in Greek the word worthy envisions a balanced scale, indicating things that are equal in worth or commensurate. Every believer is obligated to live and behave worthy of the gospel, worthy of the Lord, and worthy of God. This worthy walk is not limited to our private pursuit, it is our Lord’s commission: to teach people to observe everything He commanded.

For both of these things, personal obedience and teaching others to obey, we will give an answer. In other words, we are accountable.

Accountability gets a lot of bad press these days. It is almost a dirty word in modern Evangelicalism. As I surfed the internet researching accountability I found one site that refused to spell out the whole word, putting a dash after the A-. If my cursory findings represent the prevailing attitude, then many professing, evangelical Christians do not want to be held accountable to anything by anyone. Some are so extreme as to call any kind of accountability un-biblical.

It is not remarkable to me that some people don’t like accountability. What is remarkable to me is the increasing number of Christians and churches who are happy to discuss Jesus, the gospel, and the Bible, some of whom even use the word sin and talk about the cross, yet seem satisfied with mere acquaintance with the truth and pay no attention to obedience. In one hand they’ve got great theology about, and exciting worship of, Lord Jesus, but they’re free to do whatever they want with the other hand. That is not walking worthy of the gospel of Christ.

And it isn’t like these accountability haters isolate themselves into seclusion. Many of these same people love to talk about community. They pursue love and relationship, but not repentance and purity. These groups may be built on nothing more than common experiences and acquaintance with Jesus, but not on following the Lord’s commands. In the name of love and in hatred of legalism they teach but eschew confrontation. But Christian “community” that doesn’t aim at holiness is harmful, not helpful.

Maybe they had a bad church experience with an overbearing, Fundamentalist Pharisee. I agree that hypocritical, impatient, unkind, judgmental, self-righteous, legalistic, prejudicial, and/or ignorant accountability is no good. Job’s friends were wrong and their unkind assertiveness was ugly. But, and this is key:

accountability does not equal judgmentalism and those who hold others accountable are not by definition arrogant, overbearing, big-headed, spiritually abusive jerks.

My goal in the next couple posts is to build a basic, biblical framework for thinking about accountability in our community pursuit of holiness, so that we would embrace the personal benefits of accountability (as it helps us to observe all Jesus’ commands) and so that we would be equipped to explain those benefits to others (so that they will observe all Jesus’ commands).