Accountability is something we talk a lot about these days. We rightly make ourselves accountable to each other as fellow members of the body of Christ. We have “accountability partners” to whom we ask, and answer, tough questions concerning specific issues related to personal holiness. Biblical counselors often require some measurable form of accountability as we come alongside fellow strugglers. We do this because we love each other too much to ignore one another’s sins and, hopefully, because we are honest enough to admit that we are all weak enough to “fall into sin” (remember “fall” does not equal passivity or guiltlessness, but instead highlights our weakness as fallen creatures living in a fallen world). But what is the reason for this? What exactly is moral accountability? What are its biblical foundations? An excellent answer to these questions is given by Jerry Bridges in his latest book from Cruciform Press entitled Who Am I?
I must immediately confess to personal bias. Jerry Bridges has mentored me through his writings for my entire Christian life. The Pursuit of Holiness was the first Christian book I read after being converted in the spring of 1984. In 1996, Trusting God: Even when Life Hurts permanently cemented my feet in the sovereignty of God in our suffering. Both are classics. If you are familiar with Jerry Bridges’ books then you already know you can count on him to make important and difficult biblical themes understandable and applicable to every believer, whether you are a new babe in Christ or one who has walked with God for decades.
In step with this reputation, Bridges leaves no disappointment in his newest book. Who Am I? develops eight aspects of the believer’s identity in Christ. In the first chapter, “I Am a Creature,” he thinks about the ways in which man is different from other creatures and gives the following explanation of moral accountability.
Human beings are also different from other creatures in that God created us in his image. Central among all the things that may be included in that truth is the fact that we possess a moral dimension; we have the ability to know right from wrong, and the ability to obey or disobey God. This means that as moral creatures we are accountable to God. God stressed this accountability to the first man, Adam. Genesis 2:16-17 says, “And the Lord. In God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” With that commandment, God makes Adam accountable.
This theme of accountability continues throughout the Bible. In Genesis 4, God holds Cain accountable for the murder of his brother. in Exodus 20, God gives Israel the Ten Commandments, obviously implying accountability for obedience. In Psalms 119:4 we read, “You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.” Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Paul said, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). Finally, at the end of the age, the dead will be judged according to what they had done (Revelation 20:13). So from the creation of Adam until the end of time God holds human beings accountable to him for keeping his commandments. We are not free simply to disobey God and expect it will make no difference. This is what it means to be morally accountable.