Accountability in community is crucial to Christian living

September 2, 2016

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.

Brandon D. Smith

Brandon D. Smith works with the Holman Christian Standard Bible and teaches theology at California Baptist University. He’s also co-author of Rooted: Theology for Growing Christians and co-hosts the Word Matters podcast. You can follow him on Twitter. Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24