Be AccountableBy Nathan Mates
As noted in a previous writing, you're not alone in your Christian walk. God is omnipresent, always with you. The Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of believers. There's a remnant of believers in all ages, even if you don't know any other Christians. However, the next question is: who are you accountable to? All your deeds [Revelation 20:12], all your words will be held in account: "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken." [Matthew 12:36] Thus, accountability to God over your life and beliefs will happen.
Beyond God, who are you accountable to? Your boss at work, certain coworkers, spouse, parents, children, all of the above, none of the above? If at all possible, beyond the normal accountability structures the world sees, you should have someone to hold you accountable in your walk with God. This may be someone already listed above, it may be someone else.
First off, accountability and walking with another Christian is Biblical in nature: "Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits." [Mark 6:7] This is the disciple's (the twelve) first "field test" of what they'd learned from Jesus. They had been with Jesus for some time, and it was now time for them to see how they did in practice-- and Jesus told them to go in pairs. This is for mutual strength and benefit: when one might have forgotten the words of the gospel, the other could fill in. This was also a reminder that they were not alone, even before the Holy Spirit came. And, the disciples were successful in this arrangement: "They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them." [Mark 6:12-13]
Even with the Holy Spirit, the early Church kept to this pattern. "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off." [Acts 13:2-3] And speaking of Paul, "He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer." [Acts 19:22; see also Acts 15:27,39-40 17:14]
Some of the very strong people in the Bible don't have explicit accountability partners mentioned for them, such as Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah, Jonah, and a few others. Thus, it's not required that everyone has partners, but it's certainly a good idea, as seen above. Even the apostle Paul rarely traveled alone, but tried to stay with other Christians, as noted above.
Now that some Biblical basis for accountability has been documented, what does it look like in practice? Basically, it comes down to one person saying to a friend, "I want to grow and work on these areas," while the other says "I hear you, will pray for you, and help you as needed." And, such things are usually reciprocal in nature: both people present their weaknesses, and help the other.
Why is this a good idea in practice? Put simply, it's a lot harder for our human minds to betray a promise made to a friend than it is (so it seems) to disobey a promise to God. Fundamentally, that's unbiblical: you'd much rather want to annoy a friend than to sin before a God that hates sin. God cannot stand sin, and doesn't allow any sin anywhere near him-- such is why we must be washed with the blood of the lamb (Jesus) before we can get anywhere near him. Compared to God, what can a friend do to you? Absolutely nothing. But, in our fallenness, there are many times when a friend seems more real, more present, less ignorable than God. [And that's something for everyone to pray about and work on.]
Beyond the initial asking for prayers and support, those accountable to each other should be able to reach the other at just about any time for any reason. [I'd also recommend a regular schedule of meeting outside of these panic meetings just to keep nerves from getting too frayed.] A friend that you know, and have trusted with the rights to bug you at any time over your walk with God, can help spur on the righteousness we desire. It is not just your walk that benefits from a friend holding you accountable to the narrow path, it is theirs as well-- they get to help improve you, strengthen their resolve to also do right, and stay Biblical in their advice.
Accountability is a less strict relationship than discipleship, which has some similar traits. The major difference is that discipleship is usually characterized by "mentoring"-- there is someone who seems to have more knowledge of the Lord, more insight, and someone who has less. However, accountability doesn't have this characterization of a greater and a lesser; it's two people sharing, praying, and growing in the Lord.
You do not necessarily need to be accountable to only one person, but you may be in a small group, or several small groups. From all the recommendations of accountability I've heard from others, it helps to have at least one accountability partner of the same sex-- they're far more likely to understand and sympathize with problems and struggles particular to men or women. Married couples have a natural accountability partnership built in-- themselves. While I've never been married, I do believe that couples should be studying the word together, praying together, and helping the other-- the wife is commanded to submit to the husband [Ephesians 5:33], but the husband should love his wife "just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" [Ephesians 5:25] Neither side has the easy task in those commandments, but both must work to continually serve the other.
Until we are able to walk with Jesus in heaven, our weak states here on Earth need help, support, and accountability to others. So, which other humans are you accountable to, and if not, who can you find to be accountable to?