Growing up in the church, I learned that any problem with lust, porn, or masturbation could be alleviated with good accountability. The primary reason I remained entangled by these sexual vices was that I didn’t have enough accountability in my life. The more accountability I had, the more divine freedom would be made available to me through my accountability partners.
According to this system, these accountability partners would pray for me day and night to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to resist evil. They would always be there for me to call upon when I found myself entrenched in sexual temptation and needed help finding the way out.
I believed this was a good way to fight for purity, so I sought accountability partners for years. I had several men set up to hold me accountable. Sometimes we held each other mutually accountable, and other times it was one-way — with me as the one needing the help.
Sometimes these guys called me on the phone to check up on me and ask how I was doing with “it,” whatever “it” was we’d agreed I needed help with. Sometimes I called or texted them when I knew I was in a dark place.
We met together regularly, we prayed for each other, and we tried to be totally honest with each other — to encourage each other, to offer advice, to remind each other of God’s unconditional love and grace, no matter how many times we or I fell into sin.
These guys helped me to the best of their abilities, and I am grateful for their efforts to walk with me through some hard issues. Through these journeys, we got to know each other deeper, and I always felt loved and accepted by them. These accountability partners are some truly great men.
With all that said, however, I must be honest and tell you that I have grown to detest this kind of accountability. I think it’s a religious, man-made attempt to achieve holiness. After much experience, I have come to conclude that there is almost no real value in this kind of accountability.
The basis for most of these accountability partnerships is fear and shame.
Some guys are totally up-front about that. They feel ashamed for struggling with a particular sexual sin, and they’d be even more embarrassed if they had to confess their sin to another flesh-and-blood human every time they gave in.
So, they use this shame and embarrassment to deter themselves from giving in to their sin again. Every time they feel horny or tempted, they think about how awful it would be to have to admit to masturbating or watching porn to their accountability partner, and the fear of that is supposed to shame them into compliance to the rules of holiness.
My first objection to this accountability system is that it usually doesn’t work very well or for very long.
Anyone who has had any experience confessing the terrible truths about himself to others knows that, with time and practice, it gets easier. Our shame weakens, our nerves calm down, and eventually confession becomes as mundane as discussing taxes.
At least, that’s been my experience.
This whole YOB ministry is dedicated to showing others that it’s okay to be honest about your junk, because we all have the same junk. And we can talk about it without shame.
If shame is supposed to deter us from doing sinful things, it won’t work more than a couple weeks — tops.
My second objection to this accountability is that it places shame where it doesn’t belong.
When are we as Christians ever supposed to be ashamed? If we are forgiven through Jesus Christ, there is no longer any condemnation for us (Romans 8:1). Why then do we willfully put shame back on ourselves and carry it around until we meet with our accountability partners again?
This kind of accountability is wrong because it often places man above God.
Yes, we are supposed to confess our sins to one another so that we may be forgiven, healed, reconciled, and all that good stuff. But I’ve known many guys, myself included, who’d carry around condemnation for their sin until they could confess to their accountability partners and receive their forgiveness.
There is no direct relationship with God through Jesus Christ in this system. There is a relationship with the sufferer and his accountability partner, and then with Jesus, as if the partner were the mediator between God and man for the forgiveness of sin and banishing of condemnation.
As far as I’m aware, that’s a job for Jesus only.
But perhaps my greatest objection to this accountability is that I never see shame and fear being used as a justifiable means of deterrence from sin in the New Testament.
Just the opposite: we are taught that shame and fear of man have no place in our lives, for any reason. What is this modern idea of accountability partnership but approval of shame and the belief that the fear of man, fear of man’s disappointment in us, fear of his rejection of us, fear of his shame of us, are good things for us?
We are never told to be motivated by shame or the fear of man. We are never to be afraid of the true nastiness of our fleshly nature being exposed for what it is, allowing that to manipulate our behavior. Instead, we are to expose it gladly, bringing it into the light without fear or shame, and be forgiven and gloriously redeemed by Jesus Christ.
Of course, other people might not accept us once they see what has remained hidden in the shadows for so long. But we are never to alter our behavior to accommodate other people’s shame of us; on the contrary, we should aim to become even more undignified.
With the basic premises of this accountability system exposed as worthless religion, how are we to confess our sins to one another and help each other overcome sinful habits?
The same way Jesus does.
With love and grace.
Shame and fear aren’t very good at actually preventing sin. They’re weak and don’t last very long, and usually we just start sinning in other areas. But if we know true love, and if we are aware of how much grace has been given to us already — both by Jesus Christ and our Christian brothers and sisters — we won’t want the refuse of sexual sin.
We will want to abide in the love of God more than we will desire sin. I firmly believe that our struggle with sin directly correlates with how much we love and know that we are loved. What we need to do then is pursue love and a lifestyle abiding in God’s love beyond a lifestyle of immorality.
If we want any true accountability in our lives, any special partnerships, this must be the objective: to spur one another toward love and good deeds, not just the absence of bad deeds.
How can we spur each other toward love and good deeds and out of sinful habits? With intense, white-hot love. We must love and keep on loving. Forgive and keep on forgiving, knowing one another more and more deeply, becoming more and more vulnerable and intimate, loving and forgiving more and more each day.
This kind of love is much more difficult to live out day-by-day, but the rewards are better than anything fear or shame can give us.
Talk about your experience with accountability. Has it worked long-term or not so much? Do you think modern accountability partnerships have any merit?
* Photo courtesy paolodeangelis, Creative Commons.