In last week’s men’s group post, Dave discussed and explained the problem of lust and how we as men must overcome it. One of the questions we heard asked the most was “What about accountability?” This post is aimed at answering some of those questions.
This post grew out of some thoughts I’d originally posted on personal accountability on my own blog. After posting, I got a lot of helpful feedback from some men in my life, so I’ve expanded the post to include the Scriptural foundation of accountability, as well as some of the things that have led to successful, effective accountability in my own life. Dave was gracious enough to let me share it with the rest of you. I pray that it will be a help and a blessing to you.
Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2Ti 2:22, KJV, emphasis added)
Flee… But follow. That is the basis for biblical accountability. In this, the most specific passage directly touching on how we as men ought to deal with lust, Paul commands Timothy to flee them. Not flee them to bury himself in work. Not flee them to drown himself in music or media. Flee them… to follow. To follow righteousness, faith, love, and peace. And not by himself – but with those who are already victorious. Those who are already calling upon the Lord.
That’s what accountability is at its core.
Accountability. It’s something that, as men, we are constantly told we need. But at the same time I think most of us don’t have a really clear picture of what that accountability should look like. We’re told that it means we need to be calling each other out on things – that we need to be asking each other the hard questions.
And yet, after years of accountability partners and accountability groups, the questions I have usually been asked (or even been guilty of asking) are always something vaguely along the lines of, “did you read your Bible this week?”, “did you have any struggles with lust this week?” or even “how have things been going lately?”
The problem with vague questions like this is that they both fail to be specific enough to address the actual struggles that we as men deal with, as well as missing the real heart issues that underlie those struggles.
For instance, if a man is struggling with pornography, he may say, “I had a couple of rough days this week”, or “yeah, I’ve struggled with lust this week.” What he actually means is that he has engaged in online fornication on one or more occasion, but because of his tone of voice he can give the impression that, aside from a couple of rough patches, it wasn’t a bad week. That man’s root problem may be selfishness, but questions like, “how has your struggle with lust been?” don’t cover his heart issue or the other ways it is most certainly manifesting itself, such as how he treats his wife and children in other areas.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about men’s accountability, it’s definitely that it should be grace-focused, not law-focused. Checklists will not work out the sanctification of our souls. And yet, unless we are willing to take the gloves off and ask each other difficult and embarrassing questions (and in turn, answer those questions with candid, painful, uncomfortable honesty) our accountability time will not be as helpful as it could be and it will eventually fizzle out and die.
So to that end, here is a list of questions that I’ve been prayerfully considering lately. This is the list I will be giving the men in my core group, and asking them to use it to hold me personally accountable for my walk with Christ. Again, the goal here is sanctification, not legalism, and so this list isn’t just something for me to check off to make sure I’ve been a good man. It’s a checkup – a list of symptoms, if you will, that will help show me the wickedness of my heart.
At the end of the day, the kind of man I am or am not will be a direct result of how much like Christ I am becoming. And that, in turn, has very much to do with how much time I spend with him. When I put Him first, I take the first step towards dying to self that week. When I don’t, is it really a surprise that the works of the flesh manifest themselves in my life?
- Did you spend 1-on-1 time with Jesus this week?
- Have you been consistently digging fresh insights out of God’s Word? If so, what?
- Have you spent time in prayer daily for your wife?
- Have you spent time in prayer daily for your church & pastors?
- Are you harboring or treasuring unconfessed sin or rebellion in your heart that you know God wants you to give up to Him?
Selfishness is at the root of a lot of the traditional “male” sins. When it comes right down to it, it’s our own selfishness that’s at the core of our lust, our anger, and our pride. And more than anything else, a selfish heart will destroy marriages, relationships, and lives. In Scripture, Christ calls for us as men to unselfishly give of our lives, just as Christ gave his for the church:
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it…” (Eph 5:25)
- Have you become angry or frustrated with your wife this week? Why?
- Have you put your needs before those of your wife?
- Have you demanded service instead of being a godly servant leader?
- Have you become angry or frustrated when running late, or any other time that you have felt out of control this week?
This is the big one, isn’t it? The questions about sexual morality are probably the most uncomfortable on this list. But they’re also some of the most needful, in a world where a pornography “habit” is considered normal and even healthy by the population at large.
- Have you looked at any hardcore pornography this week?
- Have you looked at any softcore pornography this week?
- Have you deliberately sought out any form of media to feed your lustful passions?
- Have you allowed entertainment into your life (movies, TV shows) that make provision for the flesh by raunchy scenes, immodest dress, or intimacy on the screen?
- Have you looked lustfully at women other than your wife?
- Have you robbed your wife by gratifying your flesh (masturbation)?
Finally, here are some closing thoughts on the subject of accountability. These are really outgrowing of the questions and discussions that I’ve had since writing the first draft of this article.
None of this works unless you truly desire freedom – unless you truly desire to be a man of God. If the desire isn’t there, then the best accountability partners or all of the best lists in the world won’t make a difference. No amount of accountability will work if there is not a genuine desire towards godliness on the part of all involved. What I can say, though, is that constant, godly accountability is the only truly effective way I found to gain freedom from a four-year addiction to pornography.
Earlier in this article I mentioned a “core group.” No man is an island, and each of us should have other godly Christian men who are already free – who are already following and calling on God out of pure heart – to hold us accountable, not just for lust, but for the many other temptations and attitudes with which we must wrestle on a daily basis. If you don’t already have that in your life, you need to prayerfully pursue those relationships with godly men.
Please, please, please, don’t have accountability partners for people who are locked just as deep in sin as you are. One of the reasons so many accountability groups or partnerships fail is that all parties involved are struggling with the same sins and it’s just so much easier to gloss over the stuff that makes us all uncomfortable. I’m speaking specifically about lust here. In other areas there’s more room for some mutual “iron sharpening iron” – but when it comes to lust, you need someone who’s not wallowing in your same sin to hold your hand and help pull you through.
Making your accountability time about a checklist, instead of heart attitudes, will kill your accountability time. I heartily encourage you to make a list for your core group like the one above, if only to identify (and get them to help identify) the areas in which you are struggling the most. But if you check items off of the list instead of working on rooting out the attitudes it’s intended to help identify, you miss the point. You focus your accountability time on law instead of grace and your accountability group will die a slow, ineffective death.
Earlier this year The Resurgence posted a list of 8 Ways to Ruin Your Accountability Group. I think this is a great list, and states much more succinctly some of the ideas I have tried to elucidate above:
- Make your accountability partner drop ten bucks in the jar for that grievous sin
- Make your accountability a circle of cheap confession by which you obtain cheap peace for your troubled conscience.
- Ask one another moralistic questions that reinforce moral performance.
- Pilfer through God’s Word for an experiential buzz or life connection.
- Go public with your respectable sins while cherishing your secret sins.
- Know your partner’s sin better than you know your own.
- Passively stand by as your sin slowly puts you to death.
- Make accountability, not Jesus, central to your group.
Humility is key. Nothing destroys any relationship – accountability included – like people who are too prideful to confess their sins, too selfish to forsake them, too self-centered to care about the struggles of others, and too egotistical to accept godly reproof. Accountability groups are one great way God can use to humble us because of the mutual confession of our own wickedness. Don’t turn it into one more opportunity to showcase your perceived greatness.