How do the following questions make you feel:
“What sins have you committed this week?”
“Have you been spending time in prayer?”
“Did you keep up with your Bible reading?”
I smell legalism. If I answer negatively, I feel condemned; if I answer positively, I feel self-righteous.
These are some of the common questions asked at “accountability group” meetings, and they exemplify their purpose and spirit. Regrettably, this type of meeting is based on the assumption of a dysfunctional relationship with God.
When Jesus is sufficient motivation for you to be a good boy or girl, talk with God, and spend time diving into the Scriptures, being accountable to human beings becomes unnecessary. If you need other people to make sure you do these things, then you have a heart issue and there is a good chance that you are stuck in legalism. You are trying to “do what you should do” instead of doing it simply because you want to.
Legalism tries to directly deal with your behavior. But the real problem isn’t your behavior but your beliefs, because your behavior is born out of what you believe.
“Man is what he believes.” – Anton Chekhov
“You are what you believe you are.” – C.S. Lewis
Confessing your sins, praying with others, or reading the Bible together will not transform your behavioral patterns because they do not address your beliefs.
What kind of accountability, then, should Christians hold among each other?
I like how Kris Vallotton puts it: “Accountability is awesome if it is account-for-your-ability and not account for your disability.”
Christian accountability is about declaring who you already are in Christ by faith, regardless of whether you believe it or are acting like it. It is reminding you of your true identity so that you believe it and actually do start living it. It’s helping you to trust the truth in order for you to walk in an awareness of it.
This doesn’t mean ignoring junk going on in your life. Rather, it means denying that the junk is a part of your identity and reminding you that you are much better than how you are acting.
Instead of focusing on our failures let’s constantly tell each other of Jesus’ success. By the cross he made us righteous, sanctified, holy, pure, perfect, and new. Conversing with God and encountering him in his written word are not religious duties anymore but fun adventures. Although we may feel like these things are not true, our faith in their reality will cause us to act upon and experience them in our daily lives.
I propose a replacement for accountability groups: reality checks. Reality checks are also done by asking questions, but they are thoroughly different in content from accountability group questions. For example:
“Do you believe that your old sinful self is dead and doesn’t exist anymore?”
“Are you aware that you have absolutely nothing to worry about?”
“You know God is perfectly pleased with you, yeah?”
Since some people have never heard or don’t believe the truth, it needs to be told to them. Thus reality checks also take the form of declarations:
“Your old sinful self is dead and doesn’t exist anymore.”
“You have absolutely nothing to worry about.”
“God is perfectly pleased with you.”
Allow me to make some clarifications.
- The goal is not to randomly say Biblical truths but to discern by Holy Spirit what people need to hear in relation to what they are experiencing. The goal is to get our eyes off of our problems and onto Jesus. We walk by faith, not by sight.
- I am not claiming that accountability groups are evil. I took part in accountability groups during all of my high school years, so I am aware that good can come out of them. But I am suggesting that they are rooted in misconceptions regarding life in Christ and that they bring about unintended negative consequences. I believe there is a better way, which I briefly described above.
- I am not suggesting that we gloss over struggles we are experiencing by spouting one-liner doctrines and pretending everything is just fine, nor am I saying it is okay for someone to be stuck in sin. What I am saying is that, in the vast majority of cases, the troubles we go through seem problematic only because of a lie we believe. Thus we should deal with our beliefs and God will take care of the problem.
- I am not saying that you do not need to have deep relationships with Christian brothers and sisters. In fact I affirm that this is vital. We often need to talk through misunderstandings we’ve held on to with friends who can help clarify our thoughts and feelings. I am saying that these relationships shouldn’t be in the form of an accountability group. What we really need is community, not accountability. Accountability naturally happens in genuine communities, but accountability by itself does not give rise to community.
Finally, I want to tell you right now–you are completely righteous, wholly sanctified, entirely holy, flawlessly pure, totally perfect, and brand new; you hear God and he speaks to you; and you will have tons of fun with God as you interact with him through exploring the Bible.
All because of what Jesus did for you.
The awesome thing about reality checking is that reality in Christ is always full of good news.
Happy reality checking 🙂
Check out these articles if you’re interested in reading more about accountability: