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In these difficult days, so many people are concerned about holding leaders, and even each other, accountable for justice and for righteousness.
What does the Bible say about accountability?
The Bible says a great deal about accountability.
First, we need to understand that all of us are accountable before God.
The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:10 that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
Our God is a God of holiness. He is a God of righteousness. He’s a God of justice. The Bible tells us that every word will be judged, every thought will be judged, that careless words will be judged, that God sees and knows all that happens. He is omniscient, he is omnipotent, and He is holy, holy, holy.
In the Bible, we have all sorts of adjectives that describe God, but there’s only one that’s raised to the third level. In Jewish literature, the third level was the superlative. We would say, holy, holier, or holiest. The Bible says, “Holy, holy, holy” to get to that third level. And that’s what we have with God. We don’t read that about love or grace, but we do with holiness—holy, holy, holy.
So we know God to be absolutely just. We know God to be omniscient. And we know, therefore, that judgment is necessary for the holiness of God to be preserved and enacted, and we will all stand before God one day in judgment.
A second biblical fact is that accountability is essential to the body of Christ and to the way in which each of us can know God and make him known.
There’s this terrible event happening in the Corinthian church that Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 5, about a man who’s having a sexual relationship with a woman in the church, and Paul commands that they be removed from the church. But then he explains the reason this is such an urgent issue. He says that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” Cancer always starts small. Malignancy always begins as a tiny cell before it begins to metastasize.
Accountability is vital to the health and the well-being of the body of Christ, individually and collectively. So accountability is a high priority, as we see this all through Scripture.
How do we deal with our own sin before we’ll be judged by God?
That’s certainly an operative question, isn’t it? Given what I just said—that we’ll all stand before the judgment seat of Christ—if there’s something we can do now not to have our sins be judged then we certainly would want to know it, wouldn’t we?
That’s the good news in the story.
First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I love that word all. Not just some, but all.
If David could be forgiven for murder and adultery and all that went into his affair with Bathsheba, if Paul can be forgiven, not only for rejecting Jesus but for persecuting Christians, if Peter could be forgiven for denying the Lord three times, then there’s no sin that cannot be forgiven. That’s the good news of God’s grace.
When we confess our sin to God, not only does he forgive us from all and cleanse us from all unrighteousness, the Bible says that he separates our sin from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). I love this image: that he buries it in the depths of the deepest sea (Micah 7:19). And Isaiah 43:25 says he remembers it no more. So the next time you confess a sin that you’ve already confessed, God will know what you’re speaking of.
Now, does this mean we can simply sin and confess, sin and confess, and never face judgment? The answer to that is no. There are consequences to sin. Yes, we can confess, and yes, God will forgive us, and yes, God will cleanse us. And we will not face that sin in judgment.
But every moment that we spent in sin, even when we later confess it, is a moment that we’ve lost to righteousness.
There’s a loss of rewards in judgment. The Bible speaks in 1 Corinthians 3 of our works being gold, silver, precious stone, and wood, hay, and stubble, and the wood, hay, and stubble being burned up in judgment, and we’ll be saved but yet as one passing through the fire. There’s a loss of reward when we commit sin, even if we confess it and it’s forgiven. We will not face that sin and judgment, but we will lose eternal reward that we would have received had we chosen to be righteous instead.
So it’s vital that we choose righteousness versus sin, even knowing that we can confess that sin because we’re missing reward in this life and in eternity as a result.
How can we hold others accountable with some measure of humility and grace?
That’s difficult, isn’t it? It’s a very practical question. This holier-than-thou sort of attitude that condemns others for sin is certainly not the way to necessarily reach people with the Spirit of grace. And so I think there are probably three things that are important inside that.
First, understand that helping people deal with the sin in their life is really an act of grace in their lives.
Sin is cancer. It’s only going to grow. It’s only going to get worse. The oncologist that tells the patient she has cancer is doing the right thing. As hard as it is to say, as hard as it is to hear, it would be worse for the oncologist to decide that he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings, doesn’t want to offend her in some way. And so he allows the cancer to grow even though it’s only going to damage the patient more. Accountability rightly practiced is an act of grace. It’s an act of courage, sometimes. It’s an act of forbearance. It’s an act of compassion, and we need to understand that first.
Second, hold others accountable in a spirit of humility that recognizes we’re all sinners.
We “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The ground is level at the foot of the cross, as they say. I might not have committed your sins, but you might not have committed my sin. The fact that I can help you deal with the sin that I see in your life means that I need you to help me deal with the sin in my life.
Third, before I hold you accountable, I first need to hold myself accountable.
Jesus warned of the hypocrisy that pays attention to the speck in your eye but pays no attention to the log in my eye (Matthew 7:3). So when I see sin in your life, I need to say, “Okay, Lord, is the sin in my life as well?” And confess it, if it is in fact the case.
If it’s not, then ask, “Lord, what other sin should I be confessing right now?” And only when I’ve done that can I go to you and say, “I see this, and I think the Lord would have me share this with you. And it’s because I care about you. It’s because I love you that I need to share this, that I want to share this with you. The last thing I want to do is hurt or offend. I only want to try to be helpful. And I believe that God would have me to do that.” And there’s a courage inside doing all of that.
But I will close with this thought. There really is urgency here. Sin really does metastasize. It really does get worse. And as hard as it is to deal with now, it will only be worse tomorrow than it is today.
Some years ago, I had to see the dermatologist for a small growth on my face that he removed and then tested and found out that it was squamous cell cancer. We got it all. Everything was fine. We’re in good shape now. But I’m just so grateful that he didn’t put it off. I’m so grateful that he took the necessary steps, even though they were painful at the time, to deal with this. Had we dealt with it later, it only would have been worse.
When I was teaching philosophy in a seminary back thirty years ago, I had a student who nearly died from a splinter in his thumb. He got the splinter working on something over the weekend. He tried to get it out with some tweezers and couldn’t get it out. It was deeply buried. It was kind of a hassle to deal with. And so he just put a bandage around it and learned not to use the thumb for a few days. He just went on about his business. Well, it got infected. The infection got into his bloodstream. He wound up in the ICU and nearly died from a splinter in his thumb.
I am certain that, looking back on it, he would have been extremely grateful to somebody who had come to help him get the splinter out before it was nearly too late. That’s the act of grace that accountability provides.
We’re not telling others we’re better than them. We’re beggars helping beggars find bread, but, at the end of the day, it’s the bread that matters.
So I would encourage you to hear this video and then pray, “Lord, is there someone I am to be holding accountable in light of this? Is there somebody you want me to be praying for, praying with, helping with something I see in their lives, where I can perhaps step in and be used by your grace to help them at this point in their lives before this gets worse?”
Is there somebody God wants you to be holding accountable?
Is there somebody God wants to be helping you be accountable, someone you need to be reaching out to and asking to be an accountability partner in your life?
And is there some place right now where you need to be accountable before God?
Those are questions that will lead us to the grace of God. And it’s a privilege to share them, and to ask them, and to claim the grace of God as a result.