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The Call to Accountability

Our protection and motivation for godliness

By Charles F. Stanley

Accountability is not ordinarily a subject people like to discuss. We value our independence and the freedom to do whatever we want in our own way and time. After all, who of us would like others prying into our private lives and making us feel guilty?

But taking responsibility for our actions is the only way to preserve our freedom. A faulty understanding of liberty leads to the loss of rights and eventually results in slavery of one type or another.

That’s what the apostle Paul was trying to warn believers about in Galatians 5: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (v. 1). Christians have been released from the power of sin. Therefore, they can choose to obey the Spirit’s promptings instead of being enslaved to the sinful patterns of their old nature. Tolerating sin in our lives is a misuse of our rights, as verse 13 cautions: “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

Liberty in Christ is a great privilege. But it carries responsibility, since our actions, words, and attitudes have a profound effect—for either good or harm—on both ourselves and others. Accountability is a protection that accompanies this responsibility and motivates us to live a life worthy of our calling. It is a gift the Lord gave to guard us from the painful consequences of ungodly choices.

Ancient in Origin

The principle of accountability has been in effect since the beginning. In the garden of Eden, God gave the first man and woman three simple instructions—to cultivate the garden, keep it, and avoid eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:15-17). After choosing to partake of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve were afraid. They hid from the Lord (Gen. 3:10) to avoid having to explain their disobedience. Even when confronted by God, Adam tried to sidestep responsibility by blaming Eve, who in turn accused the serpent.

Mankind has been repeating this same pattern throughout history. We resist answering for our actions because we don’t want to face the humiliation of being wrong. Pride motivates us to try to hide our failure from others and from the Lord, while fear of unpleasant consequences leads us to cover up and blame others.

The first king of Israel, for example, attempted to absolve himself from the guilt of disobedience (1 Sam. 15). When the prophet Samuel confronted him about his failure to follow God’s instructions, Saul lied, saying, “I have carried out the command of the Lord” (v. 13). When Samuel exposed the obvious inconsistency, Saul offered excuses. By refusing to repent and make himself accountable to God’s prophet, he lost his throne and the kingdom (v. 26).

Designed for Our Protection

We oftentimes lose by refusing to heed people’s warnings—and we always lose if we ignore God’s. A friend of mine was an excellent pastor with a solid foundation in sound theology. However, someone convinced him that freedom in Christ meant being able to do almost anything he wanted. I warned him repeatedly that if he kept going on that downward course, he would slip and fall right out of the pastorate. But he would not listen and, as a result, lost his ministry.

Anyone who refuses accountability is walking on dangerous ground. The Devil works day and night to devour Christians by ruining their lives and testimonies. Temptations lurk everywhere, promising pleasure but ultimately leading to misery and regret. King David discovered this painful truth. He sinned with Bathsheba after withdrawing from his responsibilities and isolating himself from associates who might have helped him stay on track (2 Sam. 11). Even though he repented as a result of Nathan’s rebuke, the consequences followed him for the remainder of his life (2 Sam. 12:1-14).

In order to avoid the Enemy’s deceptions, we must seek out relationships in which we are answerable to one another. Doing so requires a commitment to take responsibility for our actions and a willingness to be open, honest, and vulnerable in sharing our lives with other believers. Since this includes admitting wrong and making the necessary corrections, humility is crucial.

Although Christian accountability at times involves confronting sin, its primary purpose is to encourage and strengthen one another in the Christian walk. Knowing that someone cares and takes the time to pray about our struggles can motivate us to persevere.

When my grandson went to college, he enrolled in the Army ROTC. But before he could be accepted into the program, he had to pass a very strenuous physical test. I phoned to let him know that I would be praying for him during that challenge. Later on, after it was over, he called with an update: he reported that the very thought of me praying on his behalf had given him a burst of energy, which enabled him to do better than he expected. Just knowing that I loved him and was speaking his name to the Father inspired him to do his best.

We all need this kind of encouragement, which comes from people’s loving involvement in our lives. In fact, every believer would benefit from having a small group of friends who commit to an open and honest accountability relationship. But carefully consider whom to include in your inner circle. Confidentiality is essential, so never choose a gossip, or you will find that your intimate secrets have been spread far and wide. And to avoid any temptation, men should meet with men, and women with women.

I have made myself accountable to a group of several friends and staff members. They have my permission to point out any action or attitude in me that is inconsistent with God’s Word, and I reserve the right to do the same for them. They will also come and tell me if they discern anything that could put me in jeopardy. These men are like a hedge of protection around me, and I am so grateful for them.

Who Answers to Whom?

While the principle of accountability applies in every area of human society, it begins in the home. First, husbands and wives are responsible to each other. And second, children must be taught to answer to their parents and as well as to teachers and other authority figures in their lives—otherwise, they will become irresponsible adults.

My mother knew exactly how to keep me in line when I was growing up. Sometimes she would ask me directly, “Where have you been?” But at other times she had this very quiet, loving way of getting straight to the truth—she would say, “Tell me what you want me to know.” Mother really got to me with that line, because it motivated me to tell her the truth.

Next, consider the importance of accountability in the workplace. I wouldn’t want to drive over a bridge whose builders were answerable to no one. Every business needs the safeguard afforded by trustworthy employees who show up on time, put in an honest day’s work, and do their best even when no one is watching.

Government is also founded on the idea that we cannot simply do as we please, but must answer to authority. For example, laws must be obeyed, and like it or not, taxes must be paid. If the nation is a democracy, then citizens have the added privilege and duty of voting for legislators to represent them. In addition, God calls believers to live lives that will strengthen their country, not tear it down.

Ultimately, everyone is answerable to God. All mankind will face Him at the judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). As Christians, we are responsible to the Lord for how we are presently living, and one day we will also stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of ourselves to the Lord (Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10).

The time to prepare for this encounter is right now. Believers have the privilege of daily accountability to the Lord. This is not a time of humiliation before a tyrannical God, but an opportunity to ask Him each morning what He would have us do. He is our loving heavenly Father, who has given us principles for living, which will result in peace, joy, and contentment. The Lord is up to something good in the lives of His children, and we need to check in with Him each day to make sure we are walking in His ways.

So every night before I go to bed, I review my day with Him. Just imagine Jesus sitting on the edge of your bed as you evaluate the day’s activities together. Present what you did, what you neglected to do, ways that you failed or succeeded, and then let Him affirm, encourage, or correct you. Learn to see your activities, attitudes, and words through His eyes, and take time to rejoice over even your smallest acts of obedience.

In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus taught a parable about our present responsibility and future accountability to God. He described a master who entrusted his possessions to three of his slaves while he went on a long journey. Each one received an amount of money—one, two, or five talents—based upon his ability. When the master returned, he called his slaves to give an account of their dealings.

In the same way, when Jesus ascended to heaven, He left His servants on earth to do His kingdom work. Each one of us has been entrusted with His resources, and we will be called upon to give an account when He returns. Although the talents in this story were currency, we need to think much more broadly in our application.

All that we have comes from God—money, time, abilities, possessions, work, and opportunities. When we stand before Christ, we will be held responsible for how we used what He has placed in our hands.

The master’s commendations were based on his slaves’ faithfulness with what had been given them, not on the amount of increase (vv. 20-23). In the same way, Christ will judge each person individually without comparison to anyone else. For believers, this judgment is not about their sins, but about their stewardship. Since Christ has borne the penalty for our transgressions, they are forgiven and forgotten. Our judgment will result, not in condemnation, but in rewards or loss of rewards (1 Cor. 3: 10-15).

In the parable, the slaves who proved faithful were rewarded with praise, joy, and greater responsibilities. Each day offers opportunities to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. Our goal should be to live in such a way that we can one day stand before Christ and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful slave” (v. 21).

Questions for Further Study

  • List some benefits of an open and honest accountability relationship (Eccl. 4:9-12).
  • Why is there a natural tendency to avoid such transparency (John 3:19-21)? What happens when we refuse to let the light shine into the dark places of our lives (Luke 11:34-36; Eph. 5:1-10)?
  • How can a mutually accountable relationship help believers (Gal. 6:1-2; Heb. 3:12-13; 10:23-25; James 5:16)?
  • Every believer will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. On what basis will He judge Christians (1 Cor. 3:10-15)? What works do the gold, silver, and precious stones represent (Luke 12:29-34; John 15:1-12; Gal. 5:22-23; 2 Tim. 4:5-8)?
  • What will Christ do in the judgment (1 Cor. 4:5)? Instead of seeing this event as a time for reprimands and embarrassment, think about how the last phrase of this verse and Matthew 25:19-21 present a more positive view. What does the Lord long to give you? Does knowing this motivate you to live a God-pleasing life?

Are you investing wisely? We’re all accountable to the Lord for making good use of His blessings. Dr. Stanley’s practical series explains how.