One of the most frequent recommendations within Christian traditions when dealing with habitual sin is to have an accountability partner. If you’re unfamiliar with the jargon, an accountability partner is a friend, preferably of the same gender, who struggles with a similar sin who will routinely check in with you to see whether or not you are having success in your battle against sin.

Accountability is a good thing.Having relationships with people who are willing to not ignore your sin but ask about it and call you out on it is necessary.  But there’s one problem that tends to be present in these accountability relationships.  They are heavy on the law and light on grace.

Now, never in my experience have I heard of somebody in an accountability relationship for this purpose who doesn’t believe they are saved by grace.  But the problem with this kind of relationship is that the law doesn’t actually produce in us the power to actually change our behavior.  So inevitably when we do fail and have our weekly check-in with our accountability partner, it leads to us being beat up, guilty, and discussing strategies to get better.  And again, not all of those things are bad… but if it never leads to the Gospel, you are selling yourself short.

What if we replaced accountability relationships with relationships centered on confession and absolution?

In James 5 it says, “Let us confess our sins to each other.”  What if our relationships that were about accountability, not only pushed each other and strategized our fight against sin but also spoke grace to the weary sinner?  What if instead of dreading the conversation because we had to talk about our sin, we longed for the words that we’d hear in the conversation?

By centering these relationships on confession and absolution it makes sure we get what we need the most.

We confess and deal with the full weight of the law. This is where some of the same elements will still be in play. We’ll have the difficult conversations, we’ll get specific about how we got into the situation, and we’ll even talk about strategies to not put ourselves into that situation again.

But we won’t end there. And we won’t end there because we actually care about the person. And we won’t end there because ending there won’t give them the power to actually change.

Instead we end with absolution. Simply one friend speaking to another friend the words of Jesus. One friend, in the place of Jesus, actually speaking the word of God and declaring, “Your sins are forgiven.”  This is the kind of freedom that our relationships need.