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What does genuine, powerful accountability look like?

It seems like every accountability relationship I've been in has not been uplifting.


I am a sophomore in college, and I have the joy of living in a dorm with three godly Christian men. It’s a great thing to be able to have the place that I come home every day as a refuge and a place that glorifies God as we seek to be better followers of God.

I have been really troubled, though, by the aspect of accountability and how that works in a day-to-day relationship. I’ve read articles from Boundless, and I see the value of it if done correctly.

But that’s the problem: It seems like every accountability relationship I’ve been in has not been uplifting. It tends to be a situation where I’m discouraged from having to focus on my sins and talk about them with that person. I tend to become very self-absorbed and feel condemnation when I confess my sins to another guy, even if they respond “correctly” by pointing me to God’s grace.

I am a born-again Christian and believe that rebirth in Christ makes us a new creation and that we are called to a personal walk with Jesus, not one where we need someone to be a mediator (other than Jesus) between us and God. Also, I find that dealing in sins causes me to think more about sin and not on God’s grace and the power I have to walk in freedom, as Galatians 6:1 says, it’s important to watch your own doctrine so that you don’t sin in the same way.

Maybe I just haven’t searched hard enough for an accountability partner who will bring me up, or maybe I’m expecting too much. I’m open to the truth because I know that it is hard to biblically justify the “lone ranger” approach, but I don’t know what genuine, powerful accountability looks like. Please help.


Getting together with someone to share stories of moral failure is a depressing way to spend an afternoon, especially if it never leads to transformation. If your accountability relationship is not helping you make progress in your intimacy and walk with Jesus, then it is not serving its purpose, and you need to change it up. If it isn’t getting you tapped into God’s power for a changed and transformed life, you’re wasting your time.

I’m going to suggest, though, that your fundamental problem is not how you’ve set up your accountability relationships (although I will advise an adjustment there, too), but what it is you’re being held accountable for.

We have set such a low bar for the Christian life, it is no wonder so many believers walk around sad, frustrated and miserable. We gut out our week, hoping that the ledger will show on Saturday that we had more moral victories than failures. But merely keeping track of moral victories and failures from week to week is not accountability; it’s accounting. What delight is there in that, especially if there is never any miraculous, God-empowered transformation to celebrate?

Compare your average Christian life to the psalmist’s description in Psalm 63: “My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You” (emphasis added). And again in Psalm 42: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” A passionate God seeks to commune with His children and infuse them with His own passion to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. This is the throbbing heart behind the Scriptures. There is nothing that comes close to the kind of satisfaction of thirsting for God, and upon finding Him, thirsting for more.

But somehow we have managed to reduce this unspeakably thrilling, all-satisfying existence down to some do’s and don’ts, meeting with someone once in a while to check the score, and being reminded yet again how miserably we’ve performed.

Here’s my advice: Let’s fundamentally change what you’re being held accountable for. Yes, it is good and biblical to “confess our sins to one another” — and to God — as a means for being restored and healed, but never as an end in and of itself. Let’s raise the bar. Let’s throw out the good-boy/bad-boy ledger and replace it with a thermometer of passion for Christ, infused with the Spirit’s power, seeking to establish the kingdom of God wherever we find ourselves at the moment.

Let’s replace boredom with long hours on our knees before the Creator of the universe in fervent prayer for ourselves and others, living a life of God-intoxicated worship no matter where we are or what we’re doing. That’s what you were made for.

It’s obvious from your email that you desire more of God in your life. Your current arrangement for accountability isn’t helping you get there. I suggest changing your accountability relationship to a more mentoring/discipling-type relationship. You and your roommates could find someone who knows God and walks in His power and ask him to help you get there; then hold each other accountable to the plan your mentor devises for helping you move in the direction of passionate, God-enthrallment.

You can start with this prayer I’ve borrowed from A.W. Tozer in his classic work, The Pursuit of God. Start your days with it and see where it leads. Don’t forget to also ask God to bring you the mentor who will help you in your own pursuit of God:

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that I may know Thee indeed. Begin a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long. In Jesus’ name. Amen.



Copyright 2008 John Thomas. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

John Thomas

John Thomas has been a Boundless contributor since its beginning in 1998. He and his wife, Alfie, have three children and live in Arkansas, where he serves as executive director of Ozark Camp and Conference Center, a youth camp and retreat center.


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