The purpose of personal accountability in the Christian Church is to confess. We need to say out loud to another human being both “who we are now” and “who we want to become”. Once those two confessions are made, we can then form a personal discipleship plan that confesses further, “what we are going to do”, in order to become the ideal we believe the Bible puts forth. Sanctification, or the progressive of achieving the biblical ideal doesn’t just happen by accident. There is the cultivation of the work of the Holy Spirit in obedience to Scripture for us to do. The will is freed from sin (imperfectly) so that it can be surrendered to the will of God. But there is no real surrender to God that doesn’t bring about surrender to a local community of disciples, the church. And there is no real surrender to the church that doesn’t have its end in surrendering ourselves to specific people, like pastors, mentors, and spiritual friends.
Accountability, if practiced rightly, brings humility, intentionality, vulnerability, and expansion to the Christian personally and to the Church corporately. It is why we live in community. It is why there were Apostles who were themselves disciples first. We are to entrust what we hear and see in them to “faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2) It is not just a matter of hearing truths in sermons and assimilating them into a theological framework, though that is important. Truth is to be lived out, observed and imitated as well. Christ embodied the faith in the incarnation for the Apostles to see and imitate. They, in turn, embodied it for the first post-ascension disciples. It is from that seminal stage that the world has come to know “the only True God, and Jesus Christ Whom” (John 17:3) He sent. Christianity is an embodied Faith. It changes our minds and our actions.
It also spreads through the ancient means of confession too, as the Word is combined with an observable witness in the local church. How will the world know that we are disciples of Jesus? By the way “you have love for one another”. (John 13:35) This an observable phenomenon that cannot be denied by a skeptic. The Gospel calls sinners to life from out of the world, indwells them with the Holy Spirit, and brings them into a community of people that should provide for them a pattern of life to follow. This community itself is a powerful witness for Gospel expansion. Tim Chester and Steve Timnis hit the nail on the head in their book “Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community” where they wrote,
“if church is central to the purposes of God, the local congregation must be central to the practice of mission. There cannot be mission apart from the local church. The local church is the agent of mission. It is the context in which people are discipled. There can be no sustainable Christian mission without sustainable local Christian communities. The life of the Christian community is part of the gospel message of reconciliation and part of the way by which that message is communicated.”
Further, quoting Leslie Newbigin, Chester and Timins say, “the only heremeneutic of the Gospel is a local congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.”
In the process of confessing what we believe the Christian ideal is, and confessing our short comings we become able to see the places in our life that we need to focus on in order to bring them under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Peter encourages us to take this approach to our spiritual progress when he writes in his second letter,
” 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3-8)
Thomas a’ Kempis agrees, writing in his famous work, “The Imitation of Christ”, “If each year should see one fault rooted out from us, we should quickly go on to perfection.”
Confessing “who we are” and “who we want to become” enables us to put together an actionable plan for our spiritual progress with another mature believer. It allows us to see more clearly the areas we need to focus our daily prayer and other spiritual disciplines around. It provides the climate for several other positive things to occur in our life as well.
Firstly, forming our spiritual ideal and voicing it to someone else can give rise to correction as most of us have a woefully narrow understanding of what it means to be a disciple who is being formed into the image of Jesus Christ. Accountability with another believer opens up the possibility of having our understanding of discipleship enlarged by challenging the narrow nature of our personal ideal. This provides the potential for us to grow in humility.
Secondly, we are forced to consider what the ideal really is. The Christian may say Jesus Christ is my ideal, yet, they may have never really considered what it means to imitate the life of Jesus and His Apostles. This provides the potential for us to grow in intentionality.
Thirdly, it also creates the incredible blessing of finding, in the modern era, what early Celtic Christians called, “Anamchara” or “soul friend”. Human relationships are not currently flourishing for many different reasons. The invention of social media, longer more erratic work hours, atomization of society, divorce, proliferation of entertainment and hand held devices have all contributed to our de-humanization. Few people have deep long term friendships outside the Church, and fewer Christians than ever before have a “soul friend” within it. This provides the potential for us to grow in vulnerability.
Finally, Gospel-centered growth in humility, intentionality, and vulnerability brings deep transformation to the lives of individual Christians. The Kingdom expands and grows within like leaven hidden in flour. But when those individual Christians are dedicated to one another in a loving network of accountability and worship (a Community of Disciples/Church) a deep abiding love that is not of the world proves the veracity of the Gospel to watching family, friends, and co-workers. This provides the potential for fruitful expansion of the Christian Gospel outside the existing community as well.
 Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community pg 88
 ibid pg 89