Helping you grow closer to God
Download the Chip Ingram App
About this series
Balancing Life's Demands
Biblical Priorities for a Busy Life
Are you busy, tired, stressed out, and stretched to the limit? Does life seem a little out of control? Are you running long on "to do's" and short on time? In the series, Balancing Life's Demands, you will learn how to put "first things first" and find peace in the midst of pressure and adversity. This isn't about cliches or quick fixes, just practical biblical insights to help you order your personal world.More from this series
I wanna ask and answer the question – putting first things first is one thing. Keeping first things first, now, that’s a whole ‘nother thing. So, we’re gonna talk about, well, how do you keep first things first? The problem is, many start well, but few finish well. It’s one thing to make a commitment and to really mean it. It’s quite another thing to keep it sustained, over a significant period of time, so that those things that you know you wanna do, you know God wants you to do, you find yourself little by little by little putting a week together into a month, and a few months into a year, and a few years into a decade, and a couple of decades – and that’s how you leave a legacy.
I mean, that’s how life really plays out. It’s what I’m doing today, with a view to God’s calling, His purpose, and legacy in my life. And whether it’s scanning – you know? You can look – read the characters in this book, and a lot of ‘em start well. I mean, I’m reading through right now, just my personal devotional time, just in – it’s 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and I got news for you. There are a lot of kings that start well, but I can only find a handful that finish well. Samson starts well, doesn’t finish well. Solomon starts well, doesn’t finish well. Demas started well, didn’t finish well.
In the second half of life, some people that we all have admired seem to – something happens. A lot of churches start well, don’t finish well. A lot of businesses. I mean, ‘member the book In Search for Excellence by Tom Peters? There were 10 companies he profiled in that book: This is excellence. I could be mistaken, but at least nine out of ten of those currently are out of businesses. They started well. In a season, they were doing some things well. But it wasn’t sustainable. So, you’re kind of looking at me like, Well, gosh, I’m glad there’s the good news for this session, you know? No one else is finishing well, but somehow . . . Right? That’s the problem. In fact, closer to home, a lot of marriages start well; a lot of parenting starts well; a lot of it doesn’t finish well.
And now that we’ve got the problem isolated, what’s the solution? I wanna suggest that the solution, apart from your own relationship with God – there’s no quick-easy, but for people who really want to follow Christ, for people that want to honor God, for people who wanna balance their life and do things God’s way, for His glory and for their good, and for others, the two words I would give you is, biblical accountability. Biblical accountability.
Let me give you a definition. Biblical accountability is enlisting the support of those who love me, to help me keep my commitments to God. In other words, it’s biblical. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. It’s not simply accountability. That’s, in some ways, a negative word, too. This is not getting a group of people that harass you. You know, this is not getting a group of people that you can meet with on a regular basis to make you feel guilty. This is not calling it “We’re involved in accountability group,” but everyone goes about, oh, a little past the first, superficial layer, but you never really get down to what’s really going on. This is where you ask, you invite people into your life, and you say, “This isn’t about expectations of other people.” This is where you say, “I want to be . . .”
In my case, “I wanna be a man of God. I wanna be a great father. I wanna be a great husband. I wanna be, in the eyes of God, a great pastor and a great friend. Will you help me keep my commitments to God? I don’t wanna fulfill your program. I don’t wanna fulfill what you think. I’m asking you, would you enter into my inner world, because of our relationship and our trust – will you help me keep my commitments to God? I’m going to open my life. I’m going to be honest; I’m going to be vulnerable. I’m gonna share my victories; I’m gonna share my struggles. Will you help me?” That’s biblical accountability.
And I’d like to suggest that there is no way to fulfill anything we’ve talked about without it. It’s powerful. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity” – notice that – “pity the man” – pity the woman – “who falls” – and you know you’re gonna fall – “and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three . . . is not quickly broken.”
We have an American, individualistic mindset about spirituality and walking with God that is rooted somewhere deep in the heart of John Wayne. “All right, Pilgrims, it’s me –” that’s not a very good imitation, by the way, either – “and God, and I’m gonna do it all by myself, you see?” That was a little bit better.
I want you to know that every New Testament command that I can find is in what’s called, grammatically, the second-person plural: “Hey, be this kind of a husband, you all men. Be this kind of a wife. Walk in purity, you all.” Second-person plural means, you can’t do it alone. It is – it’s not hard, it is impossible to be a man of God, a woman of God, the kind of husband, the kind of pure, single person, the kind of employer, employee, church member, elder, deacon – it’s impossible, impossible to do what God’s called you to do – you, God, your Bible.
You need people. I need people. But not people that are at a length, not people that know you superficially, not people that you let in on just certain things, and the real deep struggles and the secrets and the difficulty and the pain and the hurts never get out on the table. You were never designed – it is impossible for you, and impossible for me, to make it apart from other people.
We all agree. I mean, at this point, I love your faces. You’re telling me, “I agree with that.” Intellectually, everyone agrees with biblical accountability. I mean, you know, back to, you are your brother’s keeper. Our experience affirms it works. Some of you will look back, and you could say, “You know what? I would not be the person I am today, apart –” and you’re either thinking of a real close friendship, a mentor, a small group, a season, at times, that it was just like, wow, man, there was connection, open honesty, you were motivated.
History affirms – I mean, we’ve got the Moravians, the Wesleys, the Korean movement, the small group movement – I mean, they didn’t call ‘em “Methodists” for nothing. It was their methodology. You were in a small group. You shared. In Methodism, people would meet twice a week, and they would have corporate confession: “This is where I sinned this week.” We oughta reintroduce that, see how it works.
The Moravians did something very similar. If you see the mushrooming of the Church in Korea, built around the small group movement of holistic small groups, really ministering to one another.
In fact, the world has learned it. They know that overcoming certain things – you know, if you go to AA – right? – if you go to ALANON, if you go to Celebrate Recovery, if you go to Weight Watchers, if you go to Jenny Craig – I mean, what has the world learned? People don’t make lasting change unless they are together with other people, loving, encouraging, and holding one another accountable.
And yet, the great majority of all the Christians do not have or experience biblical accountability. I mean, what do they do in group counseling, rehab centers? Have you ever been through, or have you ever been around someone who’s been through, a 12-step program? Unbelievable. I mean, the level of honesty. I’ll never forget this. Power of accountability. We started a Celebrate Recovery program – Santa Cruz is where I pastored for about 12 and a half years. I mean, if you had an addiction, we had you in our church. It’s a wild, crazy, crazy place.
And so, we started this, and this guy I’d never met came up afterwards, and he had a notebook in his hands. He says, “Excuse me.” I said, “Hi.” He said, “Could I do my fourth step with you?” And I said, “I don’t know what the fourth step is.” He said, “Well, I go to the Celebrate Recovery here” – and it was on Friday nights, and a whole group of people that hadn’t made it quite to church yet, and they were making a lot of progress, doing worship, and God was working. And I thought, You know, I should know more about this. So, I said, “Sure.” He said, “Well, it’ll take two hours.” I said, “Well, why don’t you get with my assistant; we’ll figure it out.”
So, we blocked off from 2:00 to 4:00, and later that week, he came in, and he came over and sat down. He goes – I mean, no like, “Hey, how you doing? Just, “Are you ready?” I said, “Yeah.” I said, “What – exactly what is the fourth step?” “It’s a total moral inventory, where I go back through my life and try and discern, and I’ve asked - it’s not the higher power here, we believe Jesus is the Higher Power, He is my God, - I’ve asked God to reveal to me anything I’ve ever done to hurt anyone, at any time, and I wanna own the responsibility for what I’ve done, and stop blaming anything or anyone, including God, and you gotta get specific.” I said, “Okay.” And he had a yellow pad, all hand written. He goes, “When I was seven years old” – and he started. “When I was 11 years old . . .”
And I mean, he told me stuff, I’m thinking, I would not . . . You know? And I’m thinking, Here I’m a pastor of a church. I have staff meetings. We talk about vulnerability, and you know, I’m thinking, I think we’re doing, like, a C-minus, in terms of honesty and vulnerability, compared to this guy. And that’s why those secrets get out, and strongholds are broken. We need one another.
Well, if we agree we need one another so much, we know it works, question: Why don’t more believers have authentic, biblical accountability that allows you to sustain the discipline in the arenas that God is revealing to you, that you know you want and you long for Him to change in you? And I would like to give you five reasons why accountability is essential for spiritual success.
And what you’re gonna find is, we’re gonna start right where we were in the last passage. I’m gonna make the case that the apostle Paul, one of the greatest Christians – if not the greatest Christian – of all time, is going to say, “Here’s my greatest desire, and here’s my greatest fear.” And his greatest fear is that he would blow it. And then, he’s going to teach us, through 1 Corinthians chapter 10, the necessity and the reasons for biblical accountability.
And then, at the very end, I’m gonna say, “Okay” – you know, have you ever said, “I think they’re trying to sell me. I think they’re trying to persuade me right now, but I’m not sure”? I want you to know, I am. Okay? No holds barred. I’m gonna try and convince you, from Scripture, and by, I pray, the Spirit’s energizing power in His Word. When I get done, in about 20 minutes, going through these passages, I hope you’ll go, “I gotta have biblical accountability. I mean, whatever it takes, I gotta have it.” And then, I’m gonna give you just a little game plan, some practical ways to get it operational, and then, the ball’s in your court. All right? Here we go. Five reasons accountability – biblical accountability is essential for spiritual success.
Number one, because we never outgrow the need for personal accountability. We never outgrow the need for personal accountability. And you say, “Chip, well, where do you get that?” Well, let’s listen one more time to what the apostle Paul said. He says, verse 24 of chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you . . . win. [And] everyone who competes in the games” – those Olympic Games – “exercises [discipline or] self-control in all things. [Well,] they . . . do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we [do it] an imperishable. Therefore” – application – “I run in such a way . . . not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air” – clear-cut goal – “I [buffet] my body and [I]make it my slave” – discipline – “[lest possibly] after [I’ve] preached to others, I myself [should] be disqualified.” Paul’s greatest desire? Great use for Christ. Paul’s greatest fear: “I think I might, myself, get disqualified. I’ll get off track.”
Here’s the principle: If Paul had those concerns, how much more should we? I’m thinking to myself, Can you imagine – I mean, if it was possible – can you just imagine, what if the apostle Paul just showed up in the flesh, and I said, “Paul, wanna grab a cup of coffee between sessions?” I can just hear him, “Yeah, Chip, let’s get some coffee.” And can you imagine, sitting down across from him? It would never enter my mind that this guy, down deep in his heart, is concerned that, someday, some way, through subtle deception, he might no longer be God’s man and walk with Him. But that’s what he’s telling us, right here.
Leaders are among the most susceptible. And by the way, the more responsibility one – one gets, the more accountability that you need. Leaders have more time alone than others. The more you lead – and by the way, it can be in your family, it can be in your church, can be in your company – people start assuming you’ve been in the Lord a long time. People go to you for wisdom, and this and that. No one asks you the hard questions anymore. In fact, it would be embarrassing to ask some of you people the hard questions, because you’re so mature. You’re so godly. You would never have those thoughts, right? Mmmmm! Wrong.
And so, we never outgrow the need for personal accountability. And the greater the responsibility you have, either spiritually, family-wise – and by the way, when I say “leaders,” ladies, don’t click into that. Some of you, “Well, I do most of my leading at home.” Is that not, like, the most important leadership role? Isn’t that all future generations? So, I need this; you need this. There’s great pressure as you lead, and, therefore, great opportunity for compromise. So, the first reason is, you never outgrow it.
The second reason that we need biblical accountability for spiritual success is because past successes are no guarantee of future faithfulness. Past successes –and this is very subtle. “I’ve been walking with God for years. I read my Bible. I pray, and I go to church. My family’s done this and, you know what? I have a few little struggles here and there, but I’m not having big problems with the Internet. I mean, hey, you know? Lighten up, guy. I mean, I’m just – I’m okay.” Past successes are no guarantee of future faithfulness.
And you say, “Well, where do you get that?” I get it from what Paul said. After Paul just finishing telling me, “I’m afraid I might blow it,” he reaches back into the Old Testament, and he’s gonna go back and look at, wow, let’s take a look at the Israelites, and let’s get some lessons from them about people that had some pretty cool experiences. I mean, they had some past success. How’d you like to be on the “I Went Through the Red Sea Team,” and got a T-shirt at the end? “Hey, I was there!” Or the “I Was On the Manna Team,” 40 years, you know, little picture over here, a little logo that says, “I ate special kind of bread for 40 years and never . . .” Or – or how ‘bout, “I was on the ‘I Watched Korah Get Swallowed Up [sound effects] Team,’” you know? ‘Member that part? Or remember the group that has a little insignia of a snake? Remember when those people were grumbling, and the serpents, or “Oh, yes, I was on the ‘Fire by Night and the Shekinah Glory by Day Team.’” Do you realize how many amazing, overwhelming, supernatural experiences the children of Israel had?
I wanna tell you something. Write this down. Your spiritual experiences will not sustain you. God’s works will not sustain you. You will forget them. Only His ways will sustain you. And this isn’t in the notes, but jot down Psalm 103:7. After that great introduction about not forgetting and blessing the Lord, there’s almost a weird verse, because it’s like, where does this fit? It’s the hinge of that psalm. And after he talks about remembering all of God’s works, His works, His works, His works, His works, and then, after verse 7, it’s all about His character, His faithfulness, His love, as far as the east is from the west, you know, all that – there’s this funny verse: “He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel.” God’s acts. You know, He healed your boy of cancer. They came through the car wreck. You didn’t go into bankruptcy.
I mean, these amazing acts, we could pile ‘em up, God’s done so many things, and yet, two months later, two years later, you have a crisis, what happens? “Oh, God, where are You?” It’s no different than the Red Sea and the manna and the serpents and all the rest. It’s His ways that sustain you. That’s why Moses wasn’t saying, “God, give me one more great experience.” He said, “Lord, I wanna see Your glory. I wanna know You. I wanna know what You’re like. I wanna know Your heart.”
So, he reaches back in the Old Testament, and notice the connecting word, for. He’s giving a reason. He says, “That I should be disqualified.” Because Paul’s looking back and saying, “If those people, with those amazing experiences, can get disqualified, who am I?” He says, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud . . . [they] all passed through the sea; and [they were] all baptized into Moses in the cloud and . . . the sea; and [they] all ate the same spiritual food” – the manna – “and [they] . . . drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.”
Underline the next word: nevertheless. “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.”
Walking with God in the past is no guarantee that you’ll walk with Him in the future. Yesterday’s experiences do not make you useful for tomorrow. There is no such thing as spiritual autopilot: “We’re now at 30,007 feet. You can lean back, put up your tray – Boop! You will walk with God until you die.” Wrong. You’re either growing or shrinking spiritually. For all of us.
I could pass a microphone around about now, and you could tell me stories. I’ve got mine, but I don’t need to share. You could tell me stories of some of your great heroes – a pastor, a mentor, church leader – that, somewhere in your spiritual journey, they were, like, “Whoa, hey, some day, some way, I wanna be –” And right now, they’re a moral failure, right? We all have at least one – I’ve got more than a few – of people that. I will tell you, far more gifted than me, loved God far more than me, who are not only not in the ministry, but they’re not married to the same person, or involved in horrendous things.
I mean, there are people that have led thousands of people to Christ and had amazing impact, who, somewhere along the line, thought there was a new set of rules for them: Doesn’t really apply to me. I’m under a lot of pressure. I have a little more freedom than other people. And boy, it’s sad.
The third reason is because we constantly underestimate the power of our own sinful passions. I mean, it begs the question, you – well, how? How can some of the most committed, gifted people in all the body of Christ, both in Bible times and our times – how in the world can you get off track? And hopefully, in your heart of hearts, you’re saying, “I don’t ever wanna get off the track, and I don’t know how I could get off of track, but gosh, if Paul thinks he could get off track and if all those people in the nation of Israel got off track, and some people that were my heroes got off track, I guess I could. But how? What happens?” You and I underestimate the power of our own sinful passions.
Paul will pick up the story, after reaching in and giving us his spiritual view of those children of Israel. Then, in verse 6 through 11, he explains. “Now these things happened as examples” – or a type – “for us” – those things he just talked about – “. . . that we [should] not crave evil things as they . . . craved. [And] do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.’ Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord” – or test the Lord – “as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as” – notice the repetition – “an example, and they [are] written for our instruction, upon [which] the ends of the ages have come.”
I want you to circle the word example – first line and in the last – and I want you to realize his point is, “I’m making the example.” Now, if we had a lot more time, and for some of you that really love to do Bible study, did you notice, a lot of these phrases, he is pulling out the whole big stories of the Old Testament, right? And so, let me do some quick Bible study with you.
I want you to put a line under “crave evil things.” What he’s saying is, there are passions. In fact, it’s an intensive form. There’s a word for cravings or lusts or passions. This has a prefix. It’s an intensified form. So, he’s saying they had supercharged lusts and passions and drives that they fulfilled outside of God’s plan.
And then, he goes on to say – put a box around the word idolaters. At the heart, always at the heart of us falling away from the living God is, we make someone or something the idol, or the god, in His place. And guess what? It can be your mate. Are you ready? It can be your ministry. Yes, it can be your money. It can be a car. It can be another woman, another man. But anything or anyone that takes the rightful place of your loyalty and allegiance is an idol. He’s saying we have passions, we have drives, we’re tempted in the world to satisfy ‘em in different ways. And so, what’s he say? He says they come out as idolaters, as some of them did.
Then, notice, he’s going to – I’m gonna ask you to put a – gosh, have we done lines? We’ve done boxes. Let me give you three more boxes, ‘cause I don’t know whether we gotta do lines, circles, or boxes. But when he says, “Nor let us act immorally,” put a box around “act immorally.” That’s the lusts of the flesh. Skip down and put – it’s hard to put a box around, but, “try” – or test – “the Lord.” He’s talking about the story of the envy of Moses. That’s the lust of the eyes. And then, put a box around the word grumble. That’s the pride of life. We want that power.
And all I’m telling you is, this is just so basic, and he’s giving us this picture. He says you constantly underestimate the power of your own sinful passions. I don’t care how much Bible, how long you’ve been a Christian, on certain days, at a certain time, you have these desires, and different windows and different seasons, and it can be difficulty or loneliness or travel or pain or sickness or some unresolved anger and injustice, and in that window of time – you know, maybe only one out of a hundred thousand times you would act on that lustful, sinful passion, but he says, you better understand that you, David, and everybody else – you can fall off and make mistakes that you’d regret the rest of your life.
But it’s an amazing thing, that when we know – my behavior’s going to be brought into the light, it really helps me not go into the darkness. I mean, when you know and you’re not gonna pretend, and you’re not gonna fake it. In fact, I made a note to myself. Did you ever wonder why so much sin occurs late at night and away from people? So much sin occurs in very dim, dark rooms; so much sin occurs out of town, often among people who don’t know one another well, when people are all alone, and when people are under great stress.
Every one of those things has you in a place where there’s not accountability; there’s not the sense that – the lie is, you won’t be found out. The truth is, your sin will always find you out, and my sin will always find me out.
And so, all I’m saying is… You know what? I’m trying to persuade you. Are you starting to get persuaded? I’m trying to tell you that you can’t live without this. I don’t care what new lines – you say, “I’m gonna put first things first. I’m gonna develop that discipline. It’s gonna be in this area and that area, and I’m gonna honor God.”
I implore you to say, “Who is gonna go there with me? What group of guys can I do this with? What group of women” – as a woman – “can I do this with?” And in cases, “What set of couples could we dream some dreams together and, in appropriate ways, be very honest?”
The fourth reason is because we constantly overestimate our ability to handle temptation. We underestimate the power of our passions or our sinful passions, and we overestimate our ability to handle temptation. I mean, some of you – and you don’t mean it like this – but just in your subconscious, you’re just thinking, I would never do that. I would never do that. I mean, I’m past that. Those things don’t affect me. I mean, we’re just friends. It’s platonic. Those kind of movies, I know some people struggle with them, but not me. They’re a little bit racy in places, but, you know . . . Or, it could appear this way, but we’re both very mature Christians, and I’m sure nothing would ever come of this relationship. What’s Paul say? He applies this passage: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed [lest] he . . . fall.”
You might jot down Hebrews 3:13; it’s one of my favorite passages. It says, “Encourage one another day after day . . . [lest any one] of you . . . be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” You know, the word deceitful means you don’t know; you don’t get it. And notice, it’s about your heart. It always starts there. Your heart gets hardened. In fact, Jesus said that is the core reason for divorce. He says men’s heart, women’s hearts, they get hardened. And that’s why we’re to be tender hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also has forgiven us.
“But encourage” – do you get that? “But encourage one another.” And encouragement isn’t, like, high-fiving, “Oh, you’re wonderful; I’m wonderful. Isn’t life happy?” This word is that parakaleo. It’s translated in some places as the word for the Holy Spirit, it’s “one who comes alongside.” Encouragement is, you come alongside another person, and sometimes it means you tell ‘em really hard stuff. Sometimes it just means you listen in support, and sometimes you just say, “I’m so proud of you.” But it’s doing life together. It’s caring.
I just want, in my heart and mind, to just say to myself, “Chip, on any given day, in the exact right circumstances, you are capable of sin beyond your wildest imagination. So, you need to make predecisions about where you’ll go and what you’ll do and who you’ll hang with, and you need to have a group of people that you can surround yourself with, that love you, that you invite into your life, and say, ‘You know what? You know, here’s my heart. Here’s my life. Here are my motives. Here are my struggles. This is what I’m going through in my life. Where’re you going?”
And if you don’t have that, you’ll start faking it. And you’ll have these temptations, and you’ll have thoughts, and you’ll feel like, Well, I can’t – and, actually, that leads to the very next and last reason.
The fifth reason that we need biblical accountability is, we naively believe our struggles and temptations are unique. See, I need it because I think, well, whether I like it or not, I’ve been a pastor for, like, 25 years, and, you know, people view me as a Christian leader, so I guess I’m a Christian leader. And then, I have this profile of Christian leaders, I bet they never struggle with this, and I guess now I’m a Christian leader, so if I ever struggle with that, something must be wrong with me.
Wrong. I’m a man. And you’re a man, or a woman, or a student. And no temptation has ever taken me, or ever taken you, but what is common to man. But God will, with the temptation, provide a way of escape that you might be able to endure it.
One time, someone said, “You know, I don’t know how you do it, Chip, because sometimes when you talk, I feel like you’re just talking to me, like you’re reading my mind.” This verse is my preaching verse. Now, this may sound crazy, but any area I’ve ever struggled with in my life, I make this assumption – so does everybody else. Ha! . . . And then, you know, I’ve told you I’m insecure, just like everybody else in this room, and I’m not overly vulnerable. I’m just thinking to myself, Let’s see, if every guy I’ve ever met, apart from the comatose guys, struggle with lust at some level, every woman I’ve ever met, at some level, struggles with self-image. Okay, everyone gets overextended. I mean, everyone has unresolved anger issues in your marriage. Everyone has, at some season in your marriage, had problems with communication, sex, in-laws, and kids. Right? I mean, duh!
It’s not, like, “Ohh,” I mean, you know, when you start talking about a few of those things, they’re like, “Oh, gosh, what’s wrong with him?” You know, what I get is, “Ehh, he’s one of us.” And you know what you need? You need people that you don’t have to have pretense with.
I wrote down a couple things, and I’ve been with some good men’s group and some good brothers, and . . . You need to be able to say to someone, “You know what? I know it may not sound very spiritual, especially in our church and our denomination, but I think I’m clinically depressed. And I’m not – could you help me know – I haven’t gone through when and how and why is medication good or not good, and how long, and who did you talk to, and . . .” There are people that are clinically depressed, and they don’t have anyone to talk to, because it’s the unpardonable sin in their little group.
Or a guy says, “You know what? This is really weird, and it only happened once, and it just flashed through my mind, but it scared me to death. I had a homosexual urge. Do you know what that is?” “I don’t know what that is. I mean, ahhhhhh!” You know?
Or, “I was just driving one day, and as I was driving down the road, and I was just feeling kind of low, and I just thought, You know, I’m just sick of all the pressure. And I was just – I was driving real fast, and there was a curve coming, and I just – I don’t know why, it came out of the blue – I just thought to myself, I think I’ll go straight. I think I’ll just floor it. I got some insurance. I’m not down; I’m not depressed, but I’m just – I’m just sick of life.” And as you’re going, these thoughts are going through your mind, and you think, Oh, well, I’d never do that, but it’s kind of getting closer, and then, you – oh – you know?
Good, godly, amazing, committed, Bible study, teachers, leaders, moms, grandparents, men, women, you have some of those thoughts. Well, welcome to the human race.
I remember, I was teaching a series on spiritual warfare, and as I was studying that – and there was a lot of that in California – and I remember praying, and one of the things that God took away early and miraculously – some things I’ve really had to work through – I just remember, like, three weeks after I was a Christian, God just went – Bing! – and I quit cussing. And I’d tried before. I had a bad mouth, you know, locker room and all that jazz – and I just quit. So, I hadn’t cussed in 20 years. And I was praying, I mean, before the throne of God, and it was just – stuff was going through my mind. It was like, What’s happening to me? You know? Gosh, is this God saying, “You’re not a very good pastor anymore”?
And you know, my initial thought was, I’m going insane. What’s happened to me? And then, I thought, wait a second. Hold it. Temptation is not the same thing as sin. Temptation means there’s an opportunity to be lured away, in some way . . .
You know, looking at a very attractive woman and going, “Wow! Very attractive,” is not the same thing as lusting for her. And you know, as a mature believer, I can say, “Lord, sunsets are beautiful and the trees are beautiful, and she’s beautiful, and that’s look number one. Now, I wanna thank You for what You made beautiful for me – Theresa.” But I’m not gonna beat myself up all day because, “Whoa!”… I’m a man. God gave me eyes, and they’re attracted to certain things: when a woman is beautiful…
And ladies, do you have to feel bad every time you see a beautiful room decorated, and you’re first thought is, That would look so good here, but we’d have to remodel. We just did that four years ago, and . . .? You know, the sin is when you start planning and figuring out how you’re gonna get your husband into doing that deal, right?
But the point I want to make is, because we naively believe our struggles and temptations are unique, we start to hide the ones that we think we’re too mature or we shouldn’t have. And I just wanna go back to, secrecy is where the enemy will bombard you with doubts and struggles and condemnation. You know what? When you have a struggle, let me tell you what the Spirit does. Pshew! It’s specific. It’s sin, righteousness, judgment: “Repent, ‘cause I love you.”
Condemnation is vague: “You’re a terrible person. You know, you’re a lousy this; you’re a lousy that, you know. Why God put you on this –” It’s general. It’s vague. Condemnation makes you not like you, not like God, and not wanna pray. Conviction is a light shining on something that needs to be addressed, and you lift it into the light. And just like bacteria out of the darkness, when the light hits the bacteria – Pshew! –so that the fellowship can be restored. If you confess, agree with God about your sins, He’s faithful and just to – what? Forgive, release you of all your sins, and cleanse you of all unrighteousness.
So, what’s he say about this biblical accountability? He says – what’s the summary? – “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” See, at the heart of it, at the heart of it all is that I end up, me worshiping me. It’s really not about the sex; it’s about the ego. It’s really not about the food; it’s about the ego. It’s not about the business and the work; it’s about the ego. At the end of the day, the core of sin is gonna come back to, in any and all of these, is, God gets taken off the throne, my way, my control, my agenda, a world system, lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life, promising me security, significance, value, and worth, apart from God. I bite on the bait; I make an idol. And then, Paul says, “And if that happens, then, I get disqualified.”
Disqualified from my relationship of eternal life? No. Disqualified as a useful vessel of honor, and disqualified, not only of use by God, but bringing incredible, incredible pain in the lives of others. There’s no such thing as private sins. Every sin I commit, every sin you commit has ripples. Some of them you may never see, but they have ripples. Even the ones that no one else has found out about – they have ripples. So, I have given you five reasons to say, “Dear God, I not only want, I am committed to having biblical accountability in my life.” Paul needed it; I need it. First Corinthians 10 outlines clearly, we all need it. So, how do you get it? How does it work? Let me give you some practical, I call ‘em spiritual, tips on getting there.
Number one, it begins at home. When we talk about accountability, too often, we jump into places outside. Start with the people that you live with. I think there are appropriate things, as men, better off to share with men, and women with women. I am very super open with my wife, but there are certain things that, you know what? My wife is not a man. She doesn’t really understand. And I need some guys that I can share that with, and her vice versa. But I think you gotta start in your home, your marriage partner or your roommates.
I mean, they see you. See, in those accountability groups, man, it’s smoke and mirrors: “Oh, yeah, you know, yeah, yeah.” Tell you what, you don’t do that at home. It’s like you left the dishes here, and you didn’t clean up this here, and you said that over here, and, you know, you’re saying all this spiritual jazz – I’m living with you. It’s not matching. So, you start at home.
Second, it’s an atmosphere of love: tender, compassionate, someone who’s rooting for you. You don’t need to become and you don’t need a spiritual Gestapo: [German accent] “Azoo! So, you didn’t read your Bible today, huh? You blew it!” I don’t need that. I want people to be straightforward, but I want someone who really loves me. They’ll be tough when they need to be tough, but even when they’re tough, I wanna see a little tear, or their eyes getting watery when they have mustered up the courage to confront me about something they know could split our relationship, and they’re being really tough. But I can feel, behind the toughness, man, they love me.
Third, it must be voluntary and by permission. There is no need for another junior Holy Spirit in your life. You have One who has the job. And so, people who come to you, and, “I would like to be your accountability partner, and I can help you grow” – thank you, no. And by the way, I think this is one you need to really negotiate. It is really hard. Some of you are in these, semi-imbalanced relationships, and you’re the wife, and you’re in the Bible, and you love God and you’re going to church, and your husband’s. . . not so close. And, as he gets up, here’s a Bible passage opened, and here’s a CD by so and so, and, “By the way, honey, I’ll pick up your favorite meal if you just go to church with us, and” – and just forget that jazz. Let God work. You let your chaste behavior and how you live… he may say, “I tell you what, if this loving Jesus makes you love me the way you love me, then honey, you just keep going to church, and I might even check it out.” Let God, and vice versa. So, it’s gotta be by permission. We don’t go out and hold other people accountable.
Four, it must be specific, not generic. I mean, this sort of, “Hey, why don’t we meet, and we all have coffee?” And, “So, how’re you doing in general?” “Oh, I’m doing pretty good in general. How you doing in general?” “I’m doing pretty good in general. So, what do you think of those Falcons?” “At our place, they actually won a game! Amen!” Or, “Hey, you think the Cardinals are gonna be any good this year with that quarterback change?” Or, “I don’t know, have you seen the last Southern Living magazine? I thought it was so cute, the way that . . .” You know. And, “Isn’t it good to be in these accountability groups? It just makes me feel warm all over.” You know? And then, we kid ourselves, thinking that something’s happening. It needs to be specific.
Now, you might even put some things in writing and say, “You know what? As we meet together, these are the things we wanna cover.” I have a fellow – he’s that dad figure – and I’ll never forget, I was in Dallas, and he has permission, and we talk on a regular basis, and – and he’s real funny. He has a flattop and kind of looks at me like this . . . And he said, “Okay, while we wait on our food, are you ready?” And you know, it’s like a game show or something. I said, “A.C., man, what are you doing?” He goes, “Well, are you ready?” Said, “Yeah.” And he takes his wallet, and he has this little laminated thing, and – real small print – and these questions. “Question number one: Have you, any time, since we last met, been on the Internet and watched anything inappropriate?” “Question number two –” And, I mean, he goes through my thought life, my time, my money, my ego. And then, the last question, after it was, like, five basic areas, he goes, “Question number six: Have you lied to me on questions one through five?”
And you know what? He knows me, and he’s kind of goofy. He knew it’d be uncomfortable. He knew it’d be the kind of thing that it’s always awkward. But guess what? I got a safe place to go.
Anybody ask you those questions? You asking anybody those questions? According to this passage, until the day you take your last breath, and I take my last breath, there’ll be struggles in those areas, right? So, it needs to be specific. And by the way, every time, it doesn’t need to be hardcore, “All right” – you know? But you build relationship and you build trust, but it’s – we’re gonna be specific about some things.
My rule of thumb is, no more than four people, unless there are unique relationships of closeness that allow for more. And I think two is not great, because we start getting blind spots for one another. I mean, it’s okay. I think mentoring relationships are great, but for accountability, there’s something healthy about having someone listen to stuff and say – ‘cause what you do is, you’re vulnerable when you’re really being open, and you only have one set of eyes looking at what’s going on. I wanna couple set of eyes. So, I have relationships with a handful of people like this.
The conclusion: Making sincere commitments is tough. Keeping them is next to impossible, alone. There’s hope. Many start well; few finish well. You can be the exception. You can be the exception. There is no temptation taken to you, there is no trial taken to you but such is common to man, and with that temptation, God will provide a way of escape. And I’m telling you, the way to escape is that a cord of three is not easily broken.