I remember hearing about the idea of an “accountability partner” for the first time when I became a Christian in my teens. In its best form, this is the person who makes sure you’re following the example of Christ. He or she is there to nudge you when you’re in sin or overlooking a weakness.
My accountability partner was my best friend and a guy I looked up to spiritually. The problem was, we didn't really hold each other accountable. We sinned together. We compromised together. We were unable to speak real truth to each other when it was needed most.
The idea of accountability partners never seemed to work for my friends and I, though our intentions were right. We wanted to be more like Christ but, at least in my experience, accountability partners weren’t pointing each other to Christ—they were pointing each other to better morality. It was gospel-less, and therefore powerless.
Sadly, people tend to run to the opposite side of the spectrum, avoiding accountability at all costs. They claim they have the right to privacy, buying into the lie that their business is theirs and no one else’s. Others prop up excuses like introversion or lack of time for community. But in the end, those who avoid community are doing so at their own peril.
Why we need accountability
As Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, the heart is deceitful and sick. Even as regenerate believers, our hearts are still dealing with residual blindness, and they’ll wander into danger without someone there to hold them back. We lament the phrase “just follow your heart,” and yet we follow our own hearts into the dangerous intersection of sin and death every time when we don't seek accountability. We don’t heed the words of Isaiah: “You were secure in your wickedness; you said, 'No one sees me.' Your wisdom and knowledge led you astray. You said to yourself, I exist, and there is no one else'” (Isa. 47:10).
When I became a Christian, I was dying for accountability. I wanted someone to share my struggles with, someone who could empathize or offer wise counsel. After being trained in theology and over a decade of following Christ, it’s become easier to think I’m wise, and that people should be seeking me for accountability, not vice versa. I’m tempted to be “wise in my own eyes,” not realizing that “there is more hope for a fool” (Prov. 26:12).
Jesus tells the Pharisees that he’s come to make the blind see; not just physical blindness, but spiritual blindness (John 9:39-41). The Pharisees and I ask Jesus the same question, “Are we blind?” And he answers the same way, “You claim to be able to see, and so you are guilty.” As a Christian, then, I can’t claim to be blind. I can’t play the ignorance card. I can’t say, “God, you didn’t tell me how bad my heart is.” The Bible is clear about that.
Why one person isn’t enough
As a husband, one of the people I’m accountable to is my wife. She knows me better than anyone, she’s honest with me, and she loves me. I am safe with her. When she rebukes me, she does so rightly and for my good. But even though she’s my closest neighbor, she’s also deep in the forest—she can’t always see the trees. I spend a lot of my day apart from her, particularly at work. More than that, I spend time on social media, saying things she doesn’t always see, speaking into conversations she’s not always aware of. It’s not because she doesn’t care or because I’m secretive; she just can’t be everywhere at once. She doesn’t shadow me 24/7. That’s not reality.
Because of this, I need more accountability than just her. Telling others, “I’m only accountable to my family,” as I’ve heard some say, is bogus, even dangerous. Sometimes those closest to us are the blindest to our sins. So I should also be accountable to the elders of my church, who “keep watch over my soul as those who will give an account” (Heb. 13:17), and to other local church members, who are commanded to hold me accountable for my sin (1 Cor. 5). I’m also rightly held accountable by my employer (2 Thess. 3:10-12) and the government (Mark 12:17; Rom. 13:1).
And this makes me the most uncomfortable: I should be accountable to other Christians who don’t know me, too. The global church is the body of Christ, called to be concerned for one another because we all suffer together (1 Cor. 12:24-27). If I’m being a jerk on Twitter, another brother or sister in Christ has every right to call me out on it. They should do so in love, yes, but they have the right—the responsibility!—to push me toward Christlikeness and away from Brandonlikeness. And if they are correct in their rebuke, I should thank them for loving me.
According to Scripture, accountability is crucial to Christian living because community is crucial to Christian living. Allowing yourself to be held accountable by multiple layers of people is not only wise, it’s God-honoring. His word is clear in the passages above and many others about the extent to which individualistic living is inhumane. Humans were created for community, made to live under the authority of God and to be grafted into Christ’s body. The New Heavens and New Earth will be one big, eternal community party (Rev. 21-22). We will stand side-by-side, worshiping God and living life as new creations. Our false god of individualism will be destroyed.
If we believe that “iron sharpens iron” (Prov. 27:17), then we believe that we need each other. We don’t need less accountability; we need as much as we can get. Our hearts want to serve the gift-stealing father of lies, but they were made to serve the gift-giving Father of lights (James 1:17). Don’t serve the wrong father. Turn away from your pride and self-sufficiency, and turn to your brothers and sisters who stand outside the forest, pointing out dying trees that produce bad fruit. They are one of many good gifts from your Father.