An unfortunate reality in our society is that people despise accountability. Oh sure, people might invite you to hold them accountable but once you do, watch out! Even in the Church we think no one has the right to comment on our sin, remind us of the consequences of continuing in sin, or even remotely suggest we ARE sinning. If they do, we instantly go to the “judgment” speech clamoring people have no right to judge so back off!
Most of our resistance to accountability is rooted in pride, thinking we are right, we are good people, or that we “know” when we are doing wrong and don’t need others to tell us! After all, everyone has issues and no one is better than anyone else! We get embarrassed if someone tells us we are sinning so instead of thanking them for loving us enough to tell the truth, or at least evaluating their observation to see if it is true, we immediately try to get the spotlight off ourselves by calling attention to their sin.
Part of the problem is people don’t know the difference between “accusing” and “accountability” so every time someone is held accountable, they feel “accused”. We should not “accuse” people, meaning we don’t blame or point the finger at them. Accusations are rarely based on fact or truth but on allegations or claims that somebody has done wrong. Accountability on the other hand is about responsibility and answerability, allowing us to examine our actions. In other words, accusations leave no room for exploration and growth while accountability gives the opening for inspection, responsibility, and improvement of our actions!
Relationship is crucial to accountability. Christians hold each other accountable because we are united in Christ, are members of the same body, and as such have a responsibility to each other to live a sanctified, separated, set apart life in Christ! The closer the relationship, the more accountability is present! Accountability reminds me of receiving one of those gifts that you look at and wonder what in the world the person was thinking when they picked it out for you! You outwardly express gratitude and thanksgiving but inwardly you can’t wait for this awkward moment to pass.
But…most often if we take the time to think about the person who gave the gift instead of the gift itself, we can find something good about it, even appreciate the thought behind the gift, and sometimes we will even find the gift to be most useful and a blessing! So it is with accountability. We might not like it at first, we might not understand why we are being held accountable, we might say, “Thanks” but inside we are screaming “Are you kidding me?” But if we take the time to “hear” what they were saying, we will find the good, be appreciative of their honesty, and find accountability to be both a blessing and beneficial to our growth.
But this is not our usual course of action when others confront sin in our lives. Instead, Christians are infamous for using part of Jesus’ words and actions in John 8 to silence all accountability.
2-11 “Now early in the morning He came again into the temple and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?’” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you let him throw a stone at her first.’” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers of ours? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’”
The only truth we seem to take from this account is that whoever is without sin should throw the first stone at someone who does sin, and since we all sin, no one should throw stones! The problem is we equate throwing stones to holding people accountable for sin. Interesting logic but not at all what Jesus is teaching in this narrative!
While conversing with someone about Christianity, he used this account to tell me Christians are never to judge since Jesus didn’t use the word “judgment” in this story. Not only are we not to judge but not throwing the first stone means those with sin should never even “comment” on the sins of others. He said Christians are to emulate Christ by acting in a Christ-like manner so we are to model moral behavior and not judge like the Pharisees did (even though he just said “judgment” isn’t used in this story). Basically, he was saying we should “model” morality and let everyone else do as they please, because that is what Jesus did! His philosophy effectively removes all accountability, not to mention he completely misrepresents Jesus.
True – throwing stones IS about passing judgment which is what we are NEVER to do! Teaching people right and wrong, judging actions as sin, IS something we NEED to do! The truth is actions don’t speak louder than words as the idiom suggests. But actions and words speak loudly together! Jesus didn’t prefer one over the other! He lived truth and He spoke truth! If this weren’t true – Jesus wouldn’t have needed to raise Himself up in this account and use words. His actions would have conveyed His message!
The account in John 8 clearly differentiates between accountability/ accusation and between judgment/ condemnation. The scribes and Pharisees rightly judged sin but instead of simply holding the woman accountable they accused her and wanted Jesus to condemn her. Their purpose though had little to do with the woman and her sin and everything to do with Jesus. They wanted to accuse Him of acting contrary to the law of Moses, as evidenced by one little phrase, “This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him.”
Picture the scene: Jesus is teaching a bible study to a group of people when suddenly religious leaders barge in, shoving a woman before Him! “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.” Nothing like putting Jesus AND the woman on the spot, not to mention drawing quite a bit of attention to themselves! Jealousy and envy are ugly! Jesus was getting all the attention! Notice “all the people” were coming to Him and not to them! This didn’t set well so if they could trap Jesus into disobeying the law of Moses, they could bring Him disrepute.
Whether it was the scribes and Pharisees personally or someone they sent to find this woman “in the very act” the point is she was caught having sex with someone other than her husband. Seriously? Who does that kind of searching to find someone in sin? Only people with dishonorable intentions who want to accuse, trap, and humiliate someone who stands in truth, in this case, Jesus! Let’s be honest though – the woman was just a pawn the leaders used to test Jesus so they could accuse Him of not fulfilling the Law of Moses by stoning her. But Jesus did the unthinkable when He ignored them, stooped and wrote on the ground with His finger, and acted like He didn’t even hear them.
They were stubborn (or stupid) enough not to “get the message”! When someone ignores you, walk away! Jesus ignored them but they just keep asking so finally Jesus “raised Himself up”. That is a picture of a man fed up with their insistent pleas. His patience ran out so He peeled Himself up from the ground (picture Jesus reluctantly rising) and He made it a bit clearer for their dense minds, “He who is without sin among you let him throw a stone at her first.” He immediately returned to writing on the ground. Nothing like taking it square in the jaw! Conviction hits and hurts!
They finally “got the message” as the motives of their hearts were exposed and they left, one by one, humiliated! But Jesus didn’t ignore the law, the woman’s sin, and He wasn’t saying to “never comment” or “judge” sin. Jesus knew the woman was sinning; the leaders knew; the people knew; and even the woman knew. Adultery was and is sin! But when Jesus raised Himself up and saw everyone had left, we hear what Jesus was saying. “Woman, where are those accusers of ours?” Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’”
Do you see it? Jesus didn’t condemn the woman but He did comment on her sin telling her to go and sin no more! What a God we serve! His love and grace are obvious – His truth unreserved! Go and stop sinning! There is no place for condemnation in the body of Christ. Accusing is wrong, but when it happens, Jesus is right there with us! Look at His words, “those accusers of ours.” Isn’t that beautiful? He who knew no sin was accused of sin, took on our sin, stood with this woman in her sin and stands with us today! He never excuses our sin but exposes it so we can go and sin no more!
Let’s not be about the business of accusing, but let us not forsake accountability in the process. Let’s not be about condemning anyone, ever, but let’s judge sin for what it is and walk in the freedom Christ Jesus bought for us with His precious blood!