James 5:16 (“Confess your sins”) and biblical accountability

Within the current world of evangelicalism, it is not uncommon for pastors and churches to talk about the idea of “accountability.” Probably the foundational biblical text used to justify “biblical accountability” is the well-known verse from the book of James:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. – James 5:16

In this post I want to explore James 5:16a, the bolded part of the verse above, and the related subject of biblical accountability, to develop a “theology of accountability” so that we can be faithful to the commission that the Lord Jesus gave His church in Matthew 28:19-20, to make disciples.

How can accountability help us make mature disciples?

Before we begin digging into the meaning of James 5:16a, however, we need to understand the correct context for this accountability, and we need to define what we mean by “biblical accountability.” My hunch is that, if you asked ten Christians what they mean by “accountability,” you would get nine or ten different answers. So, we will start with context and definition.

THE CONTEXT FOR ACCOUNTABILITY

First, the appropriate context for biblical accountability is a Discipleship Relationship. “What is that?” you ask. When I use the term, “Discipleship Relationship,” I mean a relationship between a Discipler (more mature believer) and a disciple (less mature believer) that has been established by mutual consent for a period of time which is primarily intended to produce spiritual growth in the disciple. In this arrangement, the Discipleship Relationship is the vehicle that is being used to further growth toward Christlikeness.

DEFINITION OF ACCOUNTABILITY

Next, we need to define what we mean by the word “Accountability.” As we are using the word, “Accountability” refers to a tool used in the context of a Discipleship Relationship whose main purpose is to help the disciple (less mature believer) see victory over a besetting sin. That is, one of the areas of spiritual growth in Discipleship is the area of victory over persistent or besetting sins. In this area of Discipleship, Accountability can be an effective tool for putting persistent sin to death (Colossians 3:5).

ACCOUNTABILITY AND JAMES 5:16

It is in the practice of Accountability that we will consider James 5:16. In this verse, James gives us specific actions to take and then gives us an implied promise of healing if we do.

James instructs us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another that we may be healed. Here are two actions followed by a promise. One person confesses their sin to another person, expecting that, once the other person knows of the sin the first person has just confessed, the other person will immediately respond with prayer to the Lord for victory over the sin that has now been brought out into the light. James finishes this sentence with a promise, “that you may be healed.” Within a Discipleship Relationship, then, the disciple confesses a besetting sin to the trusted Discipler, bringing it out into the light. The disciple’s confession of sin elicits spontaneous prayer from the Discipler for the disciple and indicates that the Discipler has now joined the disciple in the fight against the disciple’s sin. There are now two warriors in the battle. Now both disciple and Discipler are firing the weapons of The Word and prayer at the hated sin. The confession of one warrior recruits a fresh soldier into the fray. And the promise is that the sin must yield. There is a promise that the sin confessed and assaulted with the weapons of spiritual warfare will be put to death. There will be victory.

So, we confess our sins to one another for three basic reasons:

  1. The confession brings the sin into the light as the disciple acknowledges the sinfulness of this sin and identifies this particular sin as the target of their mutual spiritual warfare (2 Cor. 10:3-6).
  2. The effect of this confession is to multiply the assault against this enemy of our holiness by recruiting a new soldier and thus increasing the artillery against the sin.
  3. Allows more people to rejoice together when we see the Lord giving the victory. Thus, the Lord receives more glory (2 Cor. 1:11). (Listen carefully!)

ACCOUNTABILITY AND CONFESSION IN ACTION

What we see, then, is that the machinery of Accountability is triggered by a confession of sin within the context of a Discipleship Relationship. That confession moves the sin out of the darkness and into the light and into the line of fire of spiritual artillery from both Discipler and disciple. The spiritual weaponry of the sword of the Spirit (the Bible/the Word), of prayer, of repentance and of mutual encouragement are poured out on the detested sin until it is vanquished.

SDG                 rmb                 11/17/2021                 #456

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