Philippians 2:12-13
Therefore, my beloved [church], as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

WHAT?
Life-change is a ‘therefore principle’ that grows out of the incredible foundation of our salvation and it is almost always meant to happen within community. Relational accountability comes from the Bible’s clear instructions to work together as children of God to spur one another on to good works and away from works of the flesh. As one body being built up in Christ, we are no longer totally ‘our own’ but are responsible to and for our other Christian brothers and sisters. Ultimately every human being is accountable to God and will stand in front of Him on the final Day of Judgment. But before then He has given Christians the Church as a means to become holier and more like our saviour. What a joy! Below I will lay out a few basic principles that hopefully provide a framework to set up effective accountability relationships in your context.

WHY?
It is so important to always remember why we are doing this; otherwise the motivation to humbly admit all our failings quickly disappears. If we forget that a Christian is a Christian by grace and grace alone, simply a sinner saved by God, then we’ll open ourselves up to either legalism or license. So having started at the beginning, resting upon Jesus as our source of life and hope, we are ready to move forwards.

The gospel is not a monochrome, two-dimensional message, but is rather a treasure trove of riches to be discovered every single day. So instead of giving a hard and fast, failsafe motivation to keep going in the accountability journey, it’s maybe more helpful to explore all the different facets of the diamond. Below are ten points to start with.

MOTIVATIONS FOR SANCTIFICATION

  • Love for God (John 14:15)
  • Fear of God (Acts 5:11, 9:31, 2 Corinthians 5:11, 7:1, Ephesians 4:30, Philippians 2:12, 1 Timothy 5:20, Hebrews 12:3-11, 1 Peter 1:17, 2:17)
  • Desire to keep a clean conscience (Romans 13:5)
  • Desire to be vessel for noble use (2 Timothy 2:20-21)
  • To be more effective in evangelism (1 Peter 3:1-2)
  • Experience present blessings (1 Peter 3:9-12)
  • Storing up greater heavenly rewards (Matthew 6:19-21)
  • Having a closer fellowship with God (1 John 3:21-24
  • Experience a deeper peace and joy (Philippians 4:9)
  • Delighting in doing good (Psalm 40:8)

HOW?
You might say, ‘Ok I’m motivated, but why can’t I do it by myself?’ Even the most basic reading of the Bible’s story shows us that was never God’s plan! As Paul explains to Timothy, when we start running this race we are running it together (2 Timothy 2:22). The message translation says it like this: Run away from infantile indulgence. Run after mature righteousness faith, love, peace joining those who are in honest and serious prayer before God. And as James points out, ‘joining those’ doesn’t just mean attending church together, it means ‘confessing our sins to one another and praying for one another’ (James 5:16). Biblical accountability doesn’t stop with us and God, but results with brothers and sisters ‘one-anothering’ so that we all finish the race well. These kinds of relationships are not just surface-level friendships with a few probing questions attached, but they are to mirror the self-sacrificing love of God that is seen perfectly in the Trinity (John 13:34-35). This means that entering into an accountability relationship is not to be taken lightly. It simply won’t work if you’re not committed wholeheartedly to one another (like everything in the Christian life).

Once you have established the foundation and committed to come alongside each other then I would suggest four pillars to start building: confess, learn, pray and encourage. They are pretty basic and will take shape differently in different contexts.

Confess – this is painful and takes effort. It requires you picking up the phone and coming clean rather than waiting for someone to ask. And it is not to simply ‘get stuff off your chest’ but is only worthwhile if it leads to repentance and life-change.

Learn – it helps to get into a book of the Bible or a Bible-based book to help you learn where the issues might be. Proverbs teaches us that all wisdom comes from a healthy fear of God and so getting to grips with what displeases Him is a good start. But don’t stop there; find something gospel-centred that will also give helpful advice as to how to change your behaviour permanently.

Pray – The danger with just learning and applying wise ideas is that they can bring about external change, but leave the heart untouched. Only the Holy Spirit can do that and we must be eager to welcome Him in. Be committed to your accountability partners in prayer, not only when you’re together but also in personal ‘quiet time’.

Encourage – Hebrews 10:24 says, ‘let us consider how to stir up (encourage) one another to love and good works’. In the original language, “encourage” refers to a variety of conversations instructing, comforting, admonishing, rebuking, warning, urging, begging, consoling any timely words your friend needs to hear to strengthen his or her heart. All of this is done while remembering ‘love’ as the starting point.

WHO?
This may sound contrary to everything said so far, but in one sense the ‘human who’ doesn’t matter very much. That is because, irrespective of who you ‘one-another’ with, the ultimate ‘who’ is always the same, God. You could have a brilliant accountability setup whereby everyone is seemingly growing in holiness, but then the group stops and someone slumps straight back into old patterns. This occurs because the upwards priority has been lost and replaced by too much horizontal emphasis. The greatest goal for this kind of discipleship is to increase each individual’s accountability to God until his or her private and public lives are identical. Having said that, the decision of who to discuss things with should not be taken lightly. There are various combinations that work in different contexts, so the best idea is to go to a leader (small group or ministry) and ask them for guidance.

Basic advice:
No obvious problem? – get together with two other people of the same-sex and each come up with the most effective way you believe they can hold you accountable.
An obvious problem that needs tackling? – meet up with your small group leader (or ministry leader if not in a small group) and allow them to suggest a path of action.

For a far more thorough and in depth look at accountability have a look at this downloadable booklet. It is specialising in the issue of porn and so talks a lot about accountability software; if that is of interest to you then have a read. But make sure that you’re not using accountability software as a red herring to make others think you’re doing better than you are.

Hebrews 10:23-25 (VOICE)
Let us hold strong to the confession of our hope, never wavering, since the One who promised it to us is faithful. Let us consider how to inspire each other to greater love and to righteous deeds, not forgetting to gather as a community, as some have forgotten, but encouraging each other, especially as the day of His return approaches.