It has been said for quite some time that one of the best ways to succeed in the development of any new habit is to have an accountability partner. This is one who will check in on you, work beside you, help you chart your progress. For instance, I work out a few times a week with Eric in his garage. Even if I do not necessarily want to go, if I am too sore or too busy, I still get up in the morning and walk over to his house. Why? Because I know he is there waiting for me, and I am accountable to him. Having someone hold you accountable for promises you have made to yourself or goals you have set is a sure-fire way to increase your chance of reaching your goals. This can work whether someone is trying to get sober or get in shape or begin a new project. People have used accountability partners for the development of spiritual habits as well, like reading the Word daily or saying prayers at meals. To know you are accountable to someone besides yourself puts a little extra pressure to not try to get out of the things you know you ought to do.
Now, an accountability partner is likely going to be someone you trust, someone you respect, someone you will listen to if they call you out. Yet, perhaps one of the best things you look for in a person to support you like this is one who understands you, so they will also be kind toward your failings and reassuring when you slip up. You do not want a simple judge, but rather a friend who will come along side of you. Which is why the last one you would ever desire for an accountability partner is the Law of God. Oh, it will hold you accountable, but to the highest standard ever given to mankind. It will demand perfection in all your deeds. But it holds you accountable without any leniency, any wiggle room, any kindness or compassion for your failings. So, Saint Paul says, “We know that whatever the Law says it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the Law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the Law comes knowledge of sin.” Such an accountability partner leads only to despair and eternal condemnation. The Law of God holds everyone accountable.
Well, how does it do this? The Law of God is a standard, a plumb line which will always reveal any deviation. We are told that on the last day, on the day of judgment each and every one of you will have your life laid open before God. Every deed will be exposed, every thought examined, every unclean thing you have ever said right there on the ledger to be weighed and compared to the commands and decrees of the Law of God. Truly on that day every mouth will be stopped, and the entire world will be held accountable to God. For what person could ever claim a perfect life? Yet, for the believer, the measuring begins even now. You do not have to wait for the last day. You do not have to hang on until the final judgement for the Word of God is already measuring your life. You already know you are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. You already know about the problems of lust, greed, and hatred. You already know these commands and what is expected of the children of God.
Therefore, because we know the Law, and because we understand we have failed to adhere to its demands, we are all aware judgment day will not go well for us. This is quite a problem and dealing with the problem rests at the heart of the Reformation. In the days of Martin Luther, the Church had arrived at a place where it had a very well-defined system to help all believers to justify themselves before God, to build a case for their salvation before the judgement seat. The gifts of God were combined with acts of penance and obedience to move one closer to the demands of the Law. The Church held the keys necessary to gain entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven. Through its system of sacraments, pilgrimages, and the taking of oaths you could navigate your way towards the ideal life of a saint. The problem was you could never be sure you had done enough, confessed enough, been faithful enough. Of course, there was a system for that as well, a way to further pay off your debt through time in purgatory.
But this problem was not just a problem of the 1500’s. There is no doubt the problem of living under the Law of God exists for us today. We know full well what God demands, and we too establish systems through which we attempt to justify ourselves before God. It might be as simple as saying the right prayer or doing the right type of good service for someone in need. It could be more involved, some sort of dedication of our life to the Lord or commitment to missionary work. Perhaps it is just reading your Bible and giving to the Church. Whatever it is we come up with, some sort of list, spoken or unspoken, of how we ought to live to prepare us to meet our Maker, the same problem remains. The same issue of any assurance you have actually done enough, prayed enough, given enough, been faithful enough never goes away.
We create our systems under the Law in hopes we might build our case for eternal life. This even sounds like it is the right thing to do, as is it is what Christians ought to do. At moments it probably looks pretty good as well, care and compassion pour forth as we get to work. But the inherent problem in it all is the Law of God has that one overarching task, it will hold you accountable. It may guide your effort, direct your actions, even give focus to your daily tasks but it will still hold you accountable for every deviation, every failure, every sin you have ever committed. So, every attempt to justify yourself, every try to make a case for your own salvation comes falling down. Instead of offering you a plan of deliverance before the throne of God, it turns on you at the last moment and exposes you as a fraud and a sinner.
No matter how clever our system, no matter how hard we try we always fall short of the glory of God. The shocking revelation Paul gives us today is there is a way of justification for you, a way to be truly righteous before the judgment seat of God. He says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it: The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by His grace as a gift.” Justified as a gift. Justified in Christ. Justified apart from the Law. Not under the Law, not with the Law, apart from the Law.
This is the greatest news to ever be proclaimed. There is an answer and a hope. There can be assurance of everlasting life through faith in Christ alone. But this takes from us all those wonderful things we have accomplished under the Law. It takes from us our boasting and our cleverly devised systems. Without these things we are in danger of losing control. This is our fear. This is our doubt. But the Word of God will not be silenced. The Good News will go forth. God worked through preachers like Martin Luther all those years ago to make a stand against all which would plague the consciences of the people of God, to give them real assurance, to proclaim to them they are forgiven, they are loved, there are already righteous here and now in the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
And we need to hear this over and again. We need this proclaimed in our ears from our first breath to our last. We can get so consumed in being held accountable to the Law that we forget Christ is accountable for you. He has taken your sin. He has bled for your transgression. He has risen for your hope. He has promised your name is already written in the book of life. This is pure gift, pure love. He takes it all and sets you free. And if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.