I’ve always been a big fan of accountability partners/groups/etc - someone or a community that allows you to process life as you go and hold you accountable to the Word of God. In fact, within our own small groups at church, we’ve encouraged accountability by branching into two to three people at the end of each session (same gender partners) to discuss life from the previous week and pray over each person’s circumstances. And for the most part, I’ve always thought this was wonderful - a time to connect more deeply with someone in the group that you may or may not know super well.
Recently, I’ve been reading a book focusing on how suffering sets us free. In it, the author makes bold claims regarding his disdain for accountability groups, stating that the groups “thrive, either intentionally or not on a ‘do more, try harder’ moralism that robs us of the joy and freedom Jesus paid dearly to secure for us.”
I found myself recoiling at the audacity of his claims against something that I’ve so valued in my life. But quickly, I was asking myself, “why does this comment bother me so much?” It didn’t take long for me to land on an answer.
Having battled perfectionism for nearly all of my life, accountability groups have oftentimes caused me to think that inch by inch I’d be able to conquer various sins in my life, only to feel quite frustrated when that particular temptation pops back into my mind or sin walks back into my life after I’d already dealt with it in an accountability relationship with someone or a group. While all don’t battle this same perfectionistic tendency, I know that many of us feel that same heartache of defeat when we feel we’re losing the battle with regard to something that we believe we’ve already surrendered to the Lord.
But Tchividjian addresses this issue well when he asserts that the “tragic irony” of accountability groups “is that when we focus so strongly on our need to get better we actually get worse…What needs to be rooted out and attacked is not immoral behavior; it’s immoral belief — faith in my own moral and spiritual ‘progress,’ rather than in the One who died to atone for my lack of progress.” Whew! What a convicting statement. When we focus on getting better, we oftentimes get worse, because God didn’t ask us to focus on how to get better; he asked us to focus on Christ.
Titus 2:11-14 is a breath of fresh air - reminding us of the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Allow this to permeate through your brain and rest on your heart.
When we face temptation and sin in our lives, we must remember that we have been forgiven - not just for the things of the past, things done prior to placing our faith in Christ - but for each thing that has happened since then and will continue to happen into the future.
As Romans reminds us, we don’t remember this grace of God so that we can continue to live in sin but rather so that we can live in freedom! So we don’t remember this forgiveness inside of our sinfulness so that we can feel better about the situation that we continue to find ourselves in - no, we remember so that we can live in our new identity. We are children of God and can live victoriously because of what Jesus has done.
So is it true that all accountability groups lead toward self-righteousness? Do they all drive us toward self-help in an attempt to bring about our own sanctification? I contend “no.”
As Pastor Mike preached on Sunday, accountability can be an instrumental part of our ability to truly turn from a particular sin - not for our own righteousness sake, but to truly have repented of that particular weakness. Additionally, James 5:16 is clear that we should “confess [our] sins to one another and pray for one another, that [we] may be healed.” And Proverbs 27:17 sure seems to communicate that two people working side by side in what we could presume to be accountability or close friendship will sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron. So how do we have healthy accountability groups without eliminating the whole concept as narcissistic?
I believe the answer is simple - accountability should be a time of confession one to another, but it should ultimately always end in focusing on who Jesus is and what he has already accomplished for us. We must replace the lies that we’re believing with the truth. And while many of us can be tempted to become self-righteous in our approach, we can also choose to focus on Christ instead of our desire to become better. We can focus on Christ and grace and live in freedom rather than looking inside to assess how we’re doing for the day. The key to successful accountability? Christ at the center!