Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Friday, January 20, 2017

Everyday Accountability for Everyday Christians

I decided to join a local gym and asked the trainer, bearing in mind my age, how much exercise I should do and how I’ll know when to stop. He said: “You do it till your gym clothes are soaked from your exertion, you do it till it hurts and then you go on just a little bit until you cry.” OK … so I changed, went up some steepish stairs to the main gym … that had me soaked and hurting; I bent down to do up my gym shoes and that got me crying … so I was done and went home.

That’s what often happens in the absence of accountability… we give up … and perhaps get away with things we shouldn’t get away with. Accountability answers the question:

Am I my brother’s keeper (Gen 4:9)

If your answer is: “No”, then everything I say from now on is just going to puzzle you. If your answer is: “Yes”, then the subject of accountability is for you.

How do you know how your Christian walk … Paul prefers the term marathon … how do you know how its progressing? How do you measure your personal Spiritual growth? Do you answer that on your own; do you perhaps ask God to give you the answer and trust yourself to hear His voice clearly on this; or do you say: “I need my brothers and sisters to help me here?”

Paul speaks to the Corinthian Christians, the church at Corinth, and says:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? —unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

There’s a challenge: Examine yourself … are you in the faith? That’s the beginning of accountability, not to just assume you’re in the faith … but to test yourself.

Do you have the kind of faith/belief that saves? Perhaps let me ask: What kind of faith is it that saves? And to answer that let me say it is easier to first describe what kind of faith does not save before describing the kind of faith that does save.

3 things about faith that does not save:

Firstly: Many people believe in a god, or in gods, and this is not surprising because the world as we see it points to a God who made it and sustains it. But this belief/faith in a God that must surely exist is not the faith that saves. We spoke about your personal testimony 2 weeks ago … that should always be about God as He has revealed Himself to you in Jesus Christ. Often when I’m preparing a funeral, I hear that he/she believed in God. I far prefer hearing that they believed in and had a relationship with Jesus. Faith that saves goes much further than simply “I believe in God.”

Secondly: The devil and the demons believe in God. It is on the very lips of demons in the Gospels that we hear: “I know who you are, the holy one of God” and in Acts “these men are servants of the most high God who show you the way to salvation.” So the devil and his demons believe in God and they believe in Jesus, and they believe in His death and resurrection, because they’ve seen it; but it is not a belief that saves. Many people have a belief in God and in Jesus that goes no further than the belief that devil has in God and in Jesus. That faith/belief is not saving faith.

Thirdly: The disciples of Jesus (before Easter) had faith in God and in Jesus, they believed in a God and in a Jesus who could heal the sick, give sight to the blind, raise the dead, forgive sins …. because they had seen that very God at work in their midst in Christ. But that faith, the faith of the disciples before Easter, doesn't save either. Don't settle for a faith that only believes these things of God in Christ.

So what faith does save? The faith which saves is a faith that is more than just believing certain things … it is a faith that has an effect on you.

What does Scripture say about saving faith?

Saving faith daily convinces you of the saving power of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. Saving faith is faith that leads to Christ being 'formed in your heart' (Galatians 4:19), in fact it’s as if God puts a new heart within you and a new Spirit within you (Ez 36:26)… and these things are so new and different that it is as if you have been born again (Jn 3:7); this time born again of the Spirit (Jn 3:3-5) into a new life which is caught up with Christ in God (Col 3:3) … you notice that the old is going and gone and new things are coming (2 Cor 5:17). Then, like a new born baby you crave and receive the spiritual milk of the Word (1Pet 2:2), then quickly you move on towards spiritual maturity (Heb 6:1) and the solid food of the Christian faith (Heb 5:14) and now you grow from faith to faith (Rom 1:17), from grace to grace (Jn 1:16), from glory to glory in this life (2 Cor 3:18) until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ (Eph 4:13).

Saving faith works in you to bring about these things. The faith that saves is a faith in Christ that doesn't just believe facts about him, but rather a faith that changes your heart and changes your life. Do you have saving faith? And please note we are talking about the faith you have, not the faith you had … the faith you have.

Because Paul is deeply concerned about this (and I am too), he says:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? —unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

Now, the best place to do this testing, is in small groups of people who believe “I am my brothers and sisters’ keeper and I need them to keep me”, who agree to hold each other accountable for their Spiritual growth. You can do this on your own, and many, often most Christians, are left to do this on their own, and by God’s grace we progress. Yes, we can examine our own heart, but bear in mind a warning from Scripture:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

 Because of our ability to deceive ourselves —it is best we remain accountable not only to God, but to others in the body of Christ, “we need each other” … and as I said last week, this is one of the key elements of discipleship … and when it is missing is one of the main reasons that you are often still struggling with things, with sins, that you know you should have left behind years ago.
The Bible is filled with teaching about the kinds of relationships we are to have in the church—how we are to relate to one another.
Hebrews 10 is a good starting place:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another. Hebrews 10:23-25

If you read the whole chapter, you’ll see that the primary concern of the author is to see his readers persevere and grow in their faith right up to the end of their lives.

The author believes that our relationships are crucial to our perseverance and growth. He offers three relational commands in this text: (1) meet together, (2) spur one another on, and (3) encourage one another. These things can’t take place at the worship service. I might encourage and spur you on … but you need to be encouraging and spurring each other on and that isn’t a normal part of the worship service. We are called to meet together with like-minded people, in settings where we have agreed to spur on and encourage each other … this is often where the real business of discipleship and spiritual growth takes place. I would like to encourage all home groups to consider incorporating these elements into your routine; however, they can take up a lot of time, which is why it’s better to have groups that specifically want to go deeper in this particular area.

So much for Hebrews 10, the next verse might well put you off this whole idea:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16

This text is the classic creed of accountability groups. James calls the church at large to practice a form of “preventative spiritual medicine.” Instead of merely waiting for the times when we hit rock bottom, we are to have regular check-ups with each other, rich face-to-face relationships of confession and prayer.

Now, I’m aware that I might well be putting you off accountability groups for life with this one. We never start at this place … it takes a long time to get to such a place of trust; but can you imagine what would happen if we lived this out? You would grow in holiness, more and more of God’s kingdom would come in you, more and more of God’s will would be done in you.
Weight watchers works on this principle, AA works on this principle: when you agree to report to others, when others are promising to hold you accountable to your goals, you are more motivated …. And of course encouraged when you fail.

Without accountability, many of our good intentions get lost along the wayside. We read a challenging devotion and say: “Yes, I’m going to do that” only to forget all about it. Certainly our home-group material often challenges us, but unless we are asked the following week how the previous week’s study changed our behaviour, that too gets lost. The same goes for sermons: in the last few weeks I’ve suggested preparing and practising your testimony; inviting people close to you to church; thinking about how you would present the gospel; thinking about the words you would use to lead someone close to you to Christ and then praying for the opportunity; I’ve encouraged you to read the Bible more, perhaps even from cover to cover and offered some reading plans; I’ve asked you to consider exploring discipleship in more depth before making a commitment to discipleship, we’ve looked at just saying “Thank you” a little more, I’ve spurred you on to good works, this week I’ve (with Paul) asked you to examine your faith and taught  just how to do that; and I’m asking you to consider whether accountability might grow you in your walk with Jesus.

Now I know that all of these are absolutely brilliant ideas … because none of them are mine. They’re all from Scripture and they are all elements of discipleship, but without some form of accountability, they don’t take root. There are exceptions, but for the most part, the word doesn’t take root and produce a harvest of abundant life in our lives.

So, Accountability:
It begins with yourself … test yourself;
But it recognises that I might fool myself, so if you’re part of a home or other group in the church, you might all agree to include some form of accountability into your current programme, but, you will need to make your time together longer, or leave something out, which leads to the 3rd possibility;
Small groups of like-minded folk who come together in a spirit of love (perhaps every 2 weeks or once a month) in order to honestly assess their growth in Christlikeness.

I close with my text verse, but from The Message translation: 

Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it.

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