Christians like to talk about accountability. We like to talk about inviting other Christians into our lives for the purpose of helping us battle certain sins or temptations. Accountability is a healthy personality trait of a biblical friendship. Galatians 6:1-2 instructs us to carry each other’s burdens; in other words, we are to hold one another accountable in life.
Those who thrive in holding others accountable are those friends who are not intimidated by the challenge of asking provocative questions, issuing challenges, admonishing the sinner, giving wise counsel, and encouraging the fellow Christian.
But if you are like me, sometimes my relationships of accountability falter after a while. They don’t last. Usually, it’s because one of us misses a few phone calls or meetings. Long-time accountability with another Christian is rarer than it should be.
In Heath Lambert’s book Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace (published by Zondervan, 2013), which is a helpful resource for those battling pornography, Lambert, outlines seven principles that can help strengthen relationships needing accountability and giving them the longevity they deserve and need.
The following is a paraphrase of those principles, taken from Ch. 3 of his book, pgs. 47-56.
First, effective accountability doesn’t rely exclusively on accountability. In other words, accountability is not the only weapon we have in our fight against sin. In fact, it isn’t even our strongest weapon (Mark 13:48; Heb 4:12).
Second, effective accountability is involved early rather than later. The best form of accountability is when someone asks for help when they are about to be tempted or are in the middle of temptation. The inferior form of accountability is what some call “confession reports” when we talk about our battles “after the fact.”
Third, effective accountability involves someone with maturity. The best person to hold you accountable is not the person who is struggling at the same frequency or worse than you. Choosing someone who has had victories over the sin is better.
Fourth, effective accountability involves someone with authority. Elders are given the responsibility of giving an account for your soul (Heb 13:17), and while they may not always be the only choice for being held accountable, it does give them an opportunity to know how to better shepherd you in your fight against sin.
Fifth, effective accountability should avoid explicit details. I am not sure I agree totally with Lambert’s point here, but he claims that if you go into great detail, it could lead to further temptations. While that may be true with some sins (e.g., sexual temptations), it is not necessarily true with all of them.
Sixth, effective accountability places responsibility for confession on the person with the problem. Those holding you accountable should be held responsible to go “on a fishing expedition” to get you to confess sin. The one being held accountable should be the one to initiate the confession.
Seventh, effective accountability must actually hold people accountable. Lambert says to truly hold someone accountable, you must find someone who understands their commitment to you, possesses the biblical knowledge and wisdom to help you, and be willing to help over the long term.
So, do you have friends like this? And are you a friend like this to others?