I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside… 1 Corinthians 5:9-13
Imagine my joining a CrossFit class and telling the trainer, “I just do not do squats of any kind. Sorry. It’s not that I cannot do them, because I can. I just don’t believe they will help me at all.” That trainer is likely to respond with something like, “Well then you don’t really want to do CrossFit, because squats (of every kind) are pretty foundational to everything we do here.” And then he/she would encourage me to leave and try a different program somewhere else; one that I really can believe in. I might ask him/her to please explain WHY squats are so foundational to CrossFit, and maybe that trainer would have a great answer, or maybe not. That’s not really the point. The point is, squats are a foundational part of CrossFit. So, if I am able to do them but just don’t really believe they’re helpful, then I really don’t believe CrossFit is helpful. If I don’t want the accountability CrossFit offers, then I don’t really want CrossFit. It’s simple that way.
Christianity works that same way. It is a revolution founded by Jesus, who made some pretty bold claims about Himself, about the Word of God, and about the work of God’s Spirit among God’s people. These are all foundational to Christianity, and following Christ necessarily means (because he said so) completely surrendering to God’s perspective, to God’s ethics and to God’s ways of being. If I “join” the movement and say I am following Christ, but determine I am not really willing to surrender this way, then I am not following Christ. When I insist on choices that are contrary to God’s Word because I don’t really believe He knows better than I do what is good for me, then I am not following Him. I may say I want to grow in my walk with Him, but I don’t really mean it. If I don’t really want the accountability Christianity offers, then I don’t really want Christianity. It’s simple that way.
Back to our CrossFit scenario. If I show up day after day to the gym, refusing to do the workouts and bringing a dozen donuts with me to share with everyone there, that trainer is eventually going to insist that I leave, for my own good and for the good of the rest of the community there. And, frankly, that makes sense, doesn’t it? The trainer isn’t judging me. He/She isn’t imposing his/her will on me. The trainer is merely insisting that, if I really want to be shaped by that community, I am expected to surrender myself to its ethics and it ways of being. Inviting that accountability is, frankly, part of the program. Otherwise, why am I there?
If we struggle with Paul’s counsel to the church in Corinth to “let him who has done this be removed from among you”, it is because we do not really understand the harm done (both to the sinner and to the church) when we compromise the moral ethics of scripture to more easily fit the moral ethics of our culture. These are the truths of scripture, whether or not we fully understand the “why”. These truths (this moral ethic) is foundational to Christianity. If I do not want to surrender to them, then I do not want to follow Christ. In Paul’s mind, it was simple that way.
Sitting and eating donuts in CrossFit and refusing to do the workouts is harmful to me and to all that CrossFit stands for. The trainer there cares too much for me and too much for the CrossFit message to allow it. If I want to pursue some other fitness program that leaves room for that, then I go with the blessings of all CrossFitters everywhere. No judgment. They are not there to try to shape those outside their program. They are there to shape one another who are on the inside. Because that is what they do. They practice accountability, i.e., they help each other be better.
Accountability in the church works that same way. Entering this revolution (i.e., entering into a genuine walk with Christ) necessarily means entering into accountability to the rest of the Christ-following community. We subject ourselves to that accountability because of our love relationship with Christ. We practice that accountability with others because of our love for them.
At the end of the day, accountability is all about love: Christ’s for us, ours for Him, and ours for each other.