The Gospel Coalition

A little over a week ago I posted an article about accountability groups. In that article I talked about my disdain for the kind of “accountability groups” where the primary (almost exclusive, in my experience) focus is on our sin, not on our Savior. These types of groups, I argue, breed self-righteousness, guilt, and a "do more, try harder" moralism that robs us of the joy and freedom Jesus paid dearly to secure for us. They start with the narcissistic presupposition that Christianity is all about cleaning up and getting better–it’s all about personal improvement. But it’s not!

You can, and should, read it here. You won't fully understand what I'm about to say unless you read that article first.

Well, as you can imagine, it stirred up quite a discussion. It was apparent to me that some people read the opening paragraph and didn't carefully read the rest of the post and specifically what I was calling for. So, I wanted to do a follow up post to simply reiterate, firmly stand by, and perhaps clarify the main point I was trying to get across.

In order to do this, I thought it would be best to paste a portion of a comment I made (with some minor editing) in the comment section of the original post to some who were quite distressed over what I was saying. I wrote:
I wholeheartedly believe in the beauty and necessity of Christian friends who love us enough to correct us when we need it and also friends who we can share our needs and struggles with. That’s precisely what I’m hoping for. We would all be in big trouble without them. In fact, God calls us to live in community for that very reason.

As I mentioned in my post, it’s not accountability in general (I mention the friends and family that continue to help me grow) but the kind of accountability groups like the ones I specifically mentioned (believe it or not, these are much more commonplace than you may realize!) that end up being more of a hindrance to our growth, than they are a help. These groups foster the kind of guilt, legalism, narcissism and morbid introspection that are antithetical to growth in the gospel. It's very telling, for instance, that in Galatians 5:4-5 the Apostle Paul describes falling from grace, not in terms of immorality or godless living, but legalism.

I call for accountability in this post, but a certain kind of accountability–the kind that forces us to reckon with the scandalous nature of God’s unconditional love for us because of Christ’s finished work on our behalf. I believe in the need to repent and to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). But it is only this reckoning with God's unconditional love in the face of my ongoing failure that can lead to genuine, heart-felt confession of sin and repentance. It is, after all, "the kindness of the Lord that leads to repentance" (Romans 2:4). Or, as the Puritans used to say, “Guilt may lead to legal repentance but only grace will lead to evangelical repentance.”

Nowhere in this post do I reject the concept of “accountability”. Rather, I’m calling for a gospel-centered approach to Christian fellowship and accountability that serves as a much needed alternative to the type of groups I describe. As Sinclair Ferguson has said, “The evangelical orientation is inward and subjective. We are far better at looking inward than we are at looking outward. Instead, we need to expend our energies admiring, exploring, expositing and extolling Jesus Christ.” My greatest need and yours is to look at Christ more than we look at ourselves. I need to be held accountable to do this.

In an excellent article entitled "Does Justification Still Matter?", Mike Horton raises the same concern I raise with regard to our natural tendency to focus inward more than Christ-ward. He writes:
Most people in the pew, however, are simply not acquainted with the doctrine of justification. Often, it is not a part of the diet of preaching and church life, much less a dominant theme in the Christian subculture. With either stern rigor or happy tips for better living, "fundamentalists" and "progressives" alike smother the gospel in moralism, through constant exhortations to personal transformation that keep the sheep looking to themselves rather than looking outside of themselves to Christ... The average feature article in [Christian magazines] or Christian best-seller's is concerned with "good works"-trends in spirituality, social activism, church growth, and discipleship. However, it's pretty clear that justification is simply not on the radar. Even where it is not outright rejected, it is often ignored. Perhaps the forgiveness of sins and justification are appropriate for "getting saved," but then comes the real business of Christian living-as if there could be any genuine holiness of life that did not arise out of a perpetual confidence that "there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1).

Because we are so naturally prone to look at ourselves and our performance more than we do to Christ and his performance, we need constant reminders of the gospel. As Horton says, there can be no genuine holiness of life that does not arise out of a perpetual confidence that "there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). The only way to deal with remaining sin long term is to develop a distaste for it in light of the glorious acceptance, security and forgiveness we already posses in Christ. I need to be reminded of this all the time, every day. Because the fact is that guilt doesn't produce holiness; grace does.

As I said at the conclusion of my original post, the bottom line is this, Christian: because of Christ’s work on your behalf, God does not dwell on your sin the way you do. So, relax and rejoice…and you’ll actually start to get better. The irony, of course, is that it’s only when we stop obsessing over our own need to be holy and focus instead on the beauty of Christ’s holiness, that we actually become more holy!



March 9, 2011 at 11:47 AM

[...] More on Accountability Groups (Tullian Tchividjian) [...]


March 3, 2011 at 02:43 PM


If the Pharisees or their followers had used the scriptures as their standard of truth rather than Rabbinical tradition, they would have known that God justifies sinners by faith. Repeatedly Jesus said things to them like "Did you never read in the scriptures...? Matt21:42. You are mistaken, not understanding the scriptures, or the power of God. 22:29, and "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things? Jo 3:10. what He continually chided them for was there ignorance of the scriptures.(know pun intended) They had set rote tradition in place of the written word of God. Matt 15:6, and they were condemned for it. Contrast the way luke commended the Bereans for their noblemindedness: For they recieved the word (the new testiment gospel from the Apostles)with great eagerness, examining the scriptures (the old testiment books) daily, to see wheather these things were so Acts 17:11.What made the Bereans worthy of commendation? There eagerness to be discerning. They rightly refused to blindly accept anyone's teaching (even the Apostles)with out clear warrant from God's word. That is what God demands from us. Spiritual discernment is I believe a proper response to accountability. I will bless the Lord at all times His praise shall continuously be in my mouth for I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for in it is the power of God. Strange I didn't see any scriptures in your statement nor any thing said that would lead me in the direction of one. John tells us in 1st John you will know them (who's them - Believers)by their love for the brethren and how do we do that James tells us by being doer's of the word and not hear's only.


March 2, 2011 at 09:59 PM

I think who will be in heaven will be a surprise to us all. Especially to me if I am there. Remember Peter denied Jesus more than once, who knows the hearts of men. I know my heart has been asking for forgiveness at the same time that I denied my Lord in various ways. I hang my hat on the blood of Christ, not on how the world has seen my faithfulness/ or lack thereof. (I love that word even if I used it wrongly) :) Many who use the scripture and the word of God may not truly depend upon careful when you use scripture to separate the herds, only Christ is the Shepherd, that is way above your payscale.


March 2, 2011 at 09:22 AM

I think one of the good things about contemplating is when you finally reach the point you just don't care anymore.


March 2, 2011 at 08:48 PM

Hbr 10:28 Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses

Hbr 10:29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?

Mat 10:32 "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.
Mat 10:33 "But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.

Unless you be born again... and many more

Will Ghandi enter heaven?(personally I speak not) Let God's word speak for it's self.

Pat Larsen

March 2, 2011 at 08:35 AM

Thank you! After being in a Bible teaching church for over 50 years, wondering why I couldn't please God when I wanted to so badly, about 10 years ago I found that He has done everything that I need for life and godliness. I can rest on His finished work. I no longer look at myself, I am already justified. He has given me the freedom to serve Him with joy! Keep teaching!!


March 2, 2011 at 06:39 PM

Why does everything have to be transformative? It seems to me that God's grace would be sufficient for the failing Christian as much for the totally transformed Christian. Most of the transformed ones that I have heard of mostly speak about God's undeserving grace and not their advancement on the ladder. The ones who speak about their own transformation seem sadly narcissistic to me...I know because I am so often looking in the mirror at myself...(see how humble I have become about my narcissism?)


March 2, 2011 at 04:32 PM

That is awesome! I have problems with the proliferation of church "support groups" -- the implicit message is to get cleaned up through Christ AND appropriate psychological techniques. Is this the Gospel? Can this ever be transformative? I have my doubts.

There Is Now No Condemnation

March 12, 2011 at 03:26 PM

[...] Tchividjian wrote something very profound recently when he commented about accountability groups. He said: The average feature article in [...]


March 1, 2011 at 08:37 AM

Thanks so much for the blog. This is so important to think about. Moralism does seem to be such a huge problem in the church and it results in such a great loss of deep, Christ-honoring joy.

In response to "Because the fact is that guilt doesn’t produce holiness; grace does."

My two cents:

Guilt alone doesn’t produce holiness; grace alone does. But when grace is alive and operating in human lives it will reveal and bring conviction of sin and guilt. Grace will produce a constant awareness of practical unrighteousness and guilt since we are obviously not yet made perfect (1Jn 1).

However, this guilt (and the awareness of it) has no power to condemn the grace marked life (Rom 8:1). After all, it is a guilt that has been and is removed. Therefore, if I am in Christ and His Spirit lives in me, and I am thinking properly on this, my awareness of my guilt has only the power to produce confession and repentance which leads to purification and ultimately all of this is just - - - a work of God's grace.

I see grace and guilt as inseparable in this life and have a need to constantly look in the Word to see Christ as He is. When I do that I see myself more clearly (faults and all) and that then causes me to see Him in all His majestic grace even more clearly again and again and again.

I can't truly see my "self" until I see Him and yet I can't truly see Him until I see myself. God is just constantly, and graciously, at work in this process to cause me to see myself and Himself as we really are.

A rather mysterious state of affairs . . .

Nothing you (Tullian) weren't saying but it seems to me that sometimes the snippets lend to confusion. I guess that is just the nature of conversation - Statement, query, clarification, etc.,

For instance . . .

"As the Puritans used to say 'Guilt may lead to legal repentance but only grace will lead to evangelical repentance.'”

I would think it's more like - "Whereas guilt alone can lead to legal repentance, only guilt swallowed by grace alone will lead to evangelical repentance."

All the best » Blog Archive » Quotes

February 28, 2011 at 10:08 AM

[...] the time, every day. Because the fact is that guilt doesn’t produce holiness; grace does.” - Tullian Tchividjian “I don’t care if they crucify me upside down. My spirit will still be alive. I am only [...]


February 28, 2011 at 10:02 PM

"How Justification and Sanctification Differ"

Justification is distinct from sanctification because in justification God does not make the sinner righteous; He declares that person righteous (Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16). Notice how justification and sanctification are distinct from one another:
•Justification imputes Christ's righteousness to the sinner's account (Romans 4:11b); sanctification imparts righteousness to the sinner personally and practically (Romans 6:1-7; 8:11-14).
•Justification takes place outside sinners and changes their standing (Romans 5:1-2, sanctification is internal and changes the believer's state (Romans 6:19).
•Justification is an event, sanctification a process.

Those two must be distinguished but can never be separated. God does not justify whom He does not sanctify, and He does not sanctify whom He does not justify. Both are essential elements of salvation.

Why differentiate between them at all? If justification and sanctification are so closely related that you can't have one without the other, why bother to define them differently? That question was the central issue between Rome and the Reformers in the sixteenth century, and it remains the main front in renewed attacks against justification.


February 28, 2011 at 08:43 AM


I have always appreciated C.S. Lewis and his wisdom, so thanks for the quote. But what I'm searching for is how I can achieve this practically, the dynamics (parallel) of identity and behavior (humility). If you could put into words, I know it may be a challenge, how You do this in your everyday life that would be cool. Are you saying it's as simple as looking to Christ? That's all I have to do? There seems to be Some need of identifying Me as I look to Jesus first, of course. Is it not, I look at myself as I look too him? Are they not one and the same? Please, although I value the insightful quotes and instruction they can provide, I'm hoping more for a way in which You model this for the church congregation you instruct, your family, staff, etc... as a preacher today in these modern times! If anyone else wants to weigh in, by all means, just hoping for a little more clarity.

Thanks Peter


February 28, 2011 at 06:44 PM

Wow! The sacred cow of accountability groups, I couldn't agree with you more. I will never be a part of another accountability group. They are destructive and the kindling of slander and blackmail. There are those in the "reformed movement" who need to hear this; in my opinion. Your book Surprised by Grace was freeing, a breath of fresh air, thank you!

John Thomson

February 27, 2011 at 12:09 PM


I think I am 100% with your analysis. Many thanks for such a full and clear explanation.

Steve Martin

February 27, 2011 at 10:31 AM

"Christ is the end of the law for all those who have faith"

Yes, He is.But we still need the law for civil order, and to convict us of sin. (over and over and over again)

Law demands good conduct, grace inspires it.


February 27, 2011 at 05:54 PM

Great! your very welcome my friend,

If everybody agreed with everybody the 1st time out nobody would have anything to talk about to anybody. That's one of the highlite's of these forums is bringing things into focus so like us in the end we can say feeling's mutual.


February 27, 2011 at 04:04 PM


What a wonderful service this morning...The communion service was different indeed as I have never had communion in such like manner. I was a bit sceptical and (partial)in my ways. not being a member not receiving that letter it stands to reason. But after all said and done it went very well I say. My wife and I took communion and we didn't even get our fingers wet. Though My wife doesn't comprehend English well yet she likes coming and says your eyes are big (what ever that means but it's a good thing in her own way) and she recognises your voice on radio, that was cool. Oh! I also want to say I was surprised when I saw you as a actual participant in the communion service I didn't know that was Protestant doctrine(I thought only catholics did that) and I thought that was a good thing. well who knows maybe someday I won't be a no person.


February 26, 2011 at 12:21 PM

One more thing popped into my mind before I hop off here. There are so many facets to the Gospel and how it affects and enriches our lives as believers. I was reminded of John 3:16, and how it has become known as one of the key verses to sum up the Gospel. However, John 17:3 came to mind, and I'd like to share it here, because I think it really expresses the heart of the Gospel as we are to experience it on a daily basis. I love how the Amplified Bible (although sometimes a little "wordy") states it:

"And this is eternal life: [it means] to know (to perceive, recognize, become acquainted with, and understand) You, the only true and real God, and [likewise] to know Him, Jesus [as the] Christ (the Anointed One, the Messiah), Whom You have sent."

This is one of the verses that brings the Gospel into day-to-day reality for me....not some pie-in-the-sky, hoped for, ultimate expectation of eternal life. The more I come to know Him, the more I relax and rest in Him. I am learning to cease the striving and learn of Him. And the kind of accountability that Tullian spoke of in his original post on the topic---the accountability of reminding vs. pressuring and holding one to task has caused me to experience the reality of His yoke being easy, and His burden light.


February 26, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Re: "I think the secret of Christian growth in the gospel is that we only begin to mature spiritually as we stop obsessing over our need to mature spiritually. I know that’s counter-intuitive, but so is the gospel!"...... WORD !!!!! You're speaking my language.

This is so beautifully and accurately stated. It is rich in truth and freedom.


February 26, 2011 at 11:33 AM

Pastor Tchividjian,

Fabulous quote in your comment above: "I think the secret of Christian growth in the gospel is that we only begin to mature spiritually as we stop obsessing over our need to mature spiritually. I know that’s counter-intuitive, but so is the gospel!"

I hope you don't mind if I quote you on that.

Tullian Tchividjian

February 26, 2011 at 11:23 AM

You're welcome Peter! I have to get back to work on my sermon, but my quick reply would simply be to summarize something C.S. Lewis once said about humility: "You will know a truly humble man, not when you encounter a man who thinks less of himself, but when you encounter a man who doesn't think about himself at all."

I think the secret of Christian growth in the gospel is that we only begin to mature spiritually as we stop obsessing over our need to mature spiritually. I know that's counter-intuitive, but so is the gospel!

Have a great day, my friend!


February 26, 2011 at 11:13 AM

Cool... I like what you're saying, but does our need to look at Christ first, which is most important, negate looking at ourselves? Are we not to joyfully look at ourselves because of what Christ has done? How do the two intersect?

Thanks for responding,


Tullian Tchividjian

February 26, 2011 at 10:46 AM

Hi Peter!

As I mention in this post, I reprinted my comment with some minor editing. I added a couple things and took a couple things out so that it would be able to stand on it's own apart from the context in which it was originally given. I deleted the line you mention because it was redundant to this discussion. I make the same point in this post before I re-print my comment from the previous post.

I state above the reason I made this follow-up post: "So, I wanted to do a follow up post to simply reiterate, firmly stand by, and perhaps clarify the main point I was trying to get across."

As I say above, the response of some people indicated to me that they simply couldn't get past the first paragraph to hear what I was truly calling for. So I wanted to reiterate my main point here, which is quite simple: My greatest need and yours is to look at Christ more than we look at ourselves.

Thanks for stopping by!


February 26, 2011 at 10:39 AM


Can you explain your desire to edit this line from your original response, to the one that is reiterated here in your follow-up post...?


Did you feel it was a tad defensive or something?

Was there an applicable lesson you learned from the time you made the original post, to the time you felt led to post a follow-up?

I was just wondering if these particular posts and subsequent discussions impacted you in such a
way that you might share!

Thanks for hosting this,


February 26, 2011 at 08:33 AM

Frankly, as a human in a fallen condition, the mere word 'accountability' brings about concepts like condemnation, debt, works and is my default mode to look to myself and my own works. Even the best most loving accountability partners are flawed and beset with conditions. Exhortation can only have an effect when it is bathed in the freedom of total acceptance in spite of my inability to be holy. Then they become descriptive of a me as a justified sinner and not requirements apart from the sufficiency of Christ.


February 26, 2011 at 06:08 PM


I hope this will clarify where I place it in terms of Christian experience as a whole. There is a ruinous spiritual proneness that resides in every human being. It is "the law of sin and death." This indwelling principle is always pulling people downward into sin and spiritual deadness. It comes from being physically born into a fallen race of sinners who are like their earthly father, Adam. Being born anew spiritually does not remove this problem, since this principle still operates within our natural humanity (the flesh) as paul reveals. Yet, becoming a child of God does make His remedy constantly available to us. God's remedy for"the law of sin and death" is a higher, more powerful principal. "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus." This superior principle involves the Holy Spirit making the life that is in Christ Jesus our resource for living (as you stated)(Only in the gospel life in Christ where we live daily depending on the Holy Spirit is real growth in godliness possible.) This principle is operating in the life of any new creature in Christ who is not walking "according to the flesh but [is walking] according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:4b). This approach to Christian living is the only one that can liberate us from the internal carnal tendencies that influence us all.In fact this is the only hope of growing in the godliness that the law demanded: "that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us" (Romans 8:4a). Our lives can only measure up to the holy will of God when we are walking in the Spirit, because Christ is then being allowed to express His life through us. Jesus was (and is) the only one who could ever walk fully pleasing to the Father. Jesus said, "I always do those things that please Him" (John 8:29). For a victorious Christian experience, we need this same life of Jesus living in and through us now, by the working of the Holy Spirit. We need the higher law ("the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus") setting us free from the lower law ("the law of sin and death"). Again, what is our responsibility in this? We are to relate to the Lord in humility and faith. Humility can develop as we agree with our Lord that "the law of sin and death" characterizes our flesh (our best natural resources). Faith can be exercised as we look to our Lord to demonstrate that "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death." I hope my position is clear the Christian experience is - the Holy Spirit making the life that is in Christ Jesus our resource for living daily depending on the Holy Spirit where real growth in godliness is possible.

John Thomson

February 26, 2011 at 05:53 AM

Agree with much Tullian says and especially want to approve looking at Christ and the gospel as the constant motive and energy for godly living but must add that a commitment to godly living too is part of gospel living. Working out our own salvation is not simply looking at Christ vital though this is it is 'willing and doing for his good pleasure' (God himself the source of this willing and doing).

2Pet 1:5-11 (ESV)
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

1Cor 9:24-27 (ESV)
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Consider text after text that exhorts to holiness.

David Atkisson

February 26, 2011 at 04:47 PM

Pastor Tchividjian,

Have you seen the book "Fight Clubs: Gospel-Centered Discipleship" by Jonathan Dodson? He is an Acts 29 church planter in Austin, TX. I have found this book to be a "breath of fresh air" in relation to accountability groups. I would encourage you to investigate it. The book can be an "e-book" or printed through

John Thomson

February 26, 2011 at 03:05 PM


Re your interpretation of holiness. I totally agree with you final position that Paul found freedom for holiness through living in the Spirit. I don't disagree with the psychology of your previous verses, what I disagree with is where you place it in terms of Christian experience.

Roms 7, in my view, describes an OT saint living under law. Paul is saying that life (even regenerate life) that is lived simply with a legal code as a rule of life leads only to frustration and failure. There is no power for holiness in the command. Only in the gospel life in Christ where we live daily depending on the Holy Spirit is real growth in godliness possible.

While I believe Paul's description in Roms 7 is primarily redemptive-historical, I think it is possible for NT believers to put themselves there functionally. I feel that within a lot of reformed thinking a 'law-mentality' to holiness that places growth in grace in more lew-keeping terms that 'keeping in step with the Spirit' terms can lead to experiences similar to Roms 7. Look constantly at 'law' and seeing obedience in terms of 'law-keeping' will lead to 'o wretched man that I am experiences (not the height of godliness as sometimes taught but a pitiable position.

paul st.jean

February 26, 2011 at 02:19 PM

Pastor Tullian
Do you recognize this excerpt from a recently revised book?
"years ago, Ruth told me a story about the early mountain
people near our home. They used wooden cradles with slated
sides to put their laundry in. The cradle was placed in a
rushing creek, and as the water flowed through the slats,
the laundry was continuously cleansed. Ruth laughing said,
"this was probable the first automatic washing machine in
North Carolina"

"When sin and failure come into our lives, as they most
certainly will, we still have the wonderful promise that
"the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin"
(1john1:17) this is a promise written to believers. And
the word purify means "continuous cleaning." What a comfort
to know that Christ is working in our daily lives in this
this is an excerpt from Billy Grahams "Storm Warning" also
"Let us pray God will make us sensitive to sin wherever it
is found. We must reach out in Christian love to those whose
lives are battered and bruised by sin, point them to the only
One who can bring healing and new life, and welcome them into
our fellowship.


February 26, 2011 at 01:58 PM

Every believer in Christ has had the frustrating experience of wanting to do what pleases the Lord, but being unable to actually accomplish such. We are told here that a spiritual struggle is behind that failure. "For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh." The Spirit of God dwells within our lives. He is the "Spirit of holiness" (Romans 1:4). He desires that we be "partakers of His holiness" (Hebrews 12:10) and thereby walk in godliness. However, the flesh (natural humanity) is also present in our lives. The natural desires of man are not toward holiness, but rather toward self-indulgence and self-sufficiency. Thus, what the Spirit desires and what our flesh craves are set against each other. "These are contrary to one another." The consequence of this internal conflict is "that you do not do the things that you wish." Even though godly desires develop in us as new creatures in Christ, we find ourselves unable to implement these new longings by our good intentions.

The Apostle Paul gave testimony to his own failure in this battle. "For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice" (Romans 7:19). The problem was that Paul's personal resources (the flesh) were not adequate to produce the desired results. "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find" (Romans 7:18). Yes, Paul had some godly desires. "For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man" (Romans 7:22). Nevertheless, there was a problem that he could not resolve on his own. "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (Romans 7:23). A tendency to sin that dwelt in Paul's human members (his body, his brain) pulled him down to defeat. He needed help.

Access to that necessary divine rescue was through a humble cry for a deliverer. "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). This appropriate confession of the spiritual bankruptcy of his flesh led to another confession of certain victory. "I thank God—[it is] through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25). This humble turning from self to Christ allows one to walk in the Spirit, living by His victorious resources. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2).

[...] It is his main point in a couple of excellently thoughtful posts on Christian ‘accountability.’ Read the whole thing here. [...]

Mitchell Hammonds

February 25, 2011 at 11:31 AM

One question: I agree that the Spirit indwells the believer... but I want to know what does "your victorious life"... that you live... look like? Further, what do you tell someone who literally "struggles" (Romans 7) with sin. Do you tell them to "try to live the victorious life with more intensity?" Or... do you tell them to remind themselves of the "victorious life, death and resurrection of Christ the Lord?" If your answer is "try harder"... you do nothing more than attempt to give a drowning man swimming lessons. Nobody... and I mean nobody can flail or kick hard enough to live the "victorious christian life." The answer is "outside of you" in the "historical work of Christ's life death and resurrection. The Christian life is a struggle between two natures... the flesh which will never submit to the law of God and the Spirit which is our victorious life given to us through Christ (Romans 7). Even after you are a Christian you and I both need to be reminded of the Gospel of Christ... and this I believe... is Tullian's point.


February 25, 2011 at 09:46 AM

I appreciate your graciousness in writing yet another article about this subject to encourage a more correct understanding of your original post, and I enjoyed and identified with both of your posts.

Like pduggie, the first thing that struck me about Horton's comment was the "Christ being outside of ourselves" issue. Yes, before we first accept Christ's sacrifice for us and forgiveness of us, He definitely is "outside" of us. But once we are "in Christ", He is in us through His Holy Spirit, as you stated. I think that is the key realization, in addition to realizing His great love for us, that is continuously required to live the victorious Christian life. (The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is INSIDE of us ! What glorious power is available to us for all aspects of our lives !)

I want to revisit the whole accountability issue briefly. What I also have serious concerns about regarding the "sin sniffing", works-oriented accountability groups is that there is a strong tendency toward a shepherding practice here....the unhealthy shepherding practice whereby pastors and elders lord it over the lowly church members and over-examine and micromanage their lives to a very ungodly, unhealthy extreme. And while this practice, which is more common than we realize and is hiding incognito among many well-known pastors and church groups, is totally anti-grace and against the true gospel and heart of God, it is also exceedingly abusive in every way. I was involved in one of these "churches" a few decades ago where this unhealthy accountability reigned supreme. The group I was involved in still thrives today and has aligned with many well-known, respected Christian groups. There is great deception in this "ultra accountability" movement. One must really seek God for wisdom and rely on the Spirit of Truth to expose these abusive groups and practices for what they really are.

Jim McNeely

February 25, 2011 at 06:21 PM

Well, I think a beer and theology party is in order. I'll host it in the pacific northwest - I live north of Seattle. Everyone come visit, you reformed guys can come set me straight!


February 25, 2011 at 06:07 PM

Jim McNeely,

Ha! Funny. It's good to see some humor here once in a while. it's mostly like hay you get that smile off your face this is a theology forum - right. There was this something right from the get go about you that I had a good vibe. looking at your previous history and your site it's obvious your a well educated man and did I say has a good sense of humor. The one sad thing I do have to tell you but you almost make me believe you know already that J.M. wouldn't have a beer with you but if it's any consolation shhh I will.


February 25, 2011 at 03:22 PM

Mitchell Hammonds,

I agree with you whole heartedly except for no.1 Try harder to beat ourselves into submission and convince ourselves that we are pulling it off… which I think in this life we never do. This is by no-means the teaching of J.M. I don't even think you really believe that. I don't know how savy you are with gty's site but if you go there under resourses type in Sin and give yourself the benefit of the doubt in revaluating that position with J.M. There's plenty there and I'm confident you'll find a better rendering, other then that were good. Your friend J.R.


February 25, 2011 at 03:21 PM

Thanks for your post, Kristen. It rings true for me as well.

Mitchell, to answer your question with specifics and great details would take up a lot more space on here than I'm sure anyone would care to read! However, I will say that what the victorious life "looks like" to me has changed a lot over the past 40 years. Suffice it to say that it is definitely not about trying harder nor is it "works oriented". Nor is it about lamenting over my unworthiness. I would say it is more about coming to a place of rest and of recognizing the finished work that Jesus has accomplished for me--saturating my mind in His Word and renewing my mind with His promises and with what He says about me, and who I am in Him. Obviously, I cannot rejoice in who I am in Christ without first realizing the great sacrifice He made for me, but I cannot dwell on what I am without him, simply because I am not without Him. I have found that my thoughts greatly influence how I live. I really could go into a lot more detail but, unfortunately, do not have the time to do so.

I think I get what Tullian is trying to say in his posts about "accountability". However, regardless of if I get all or some of it or if I agree with all of what he says (and I'm not saying I disagree), I can still glean wonderful truths from what he has shared and apply them to my life.

Sheilah Abadines

February 25, 2011 at 02:49 PM

Thank you for the blogs you post here. I have been too busy worrying about my performance instead of focussing fully and wholly on the Savior. I am blessed by your blogs and how God has used them to move in my heart. Thank you!

Jim McNeely

February 25, 2011 at 02:23 PM


Thanks for your kind words! I appreciate all of the discussion around this, it really helps me. I really do consider myself to be uninformed and largely ignorant. I think we are all fellow brothers and sisters and we are all under the Holy Spirit's unction trying to walk the best way possible, with the best understanding possible. That's why I frequent some sites and blogs that don't always agree 100% with, I'm sure there are a lot of people who peruse my site that don't really agree with me. I hope we could all edify one another anyway. I would sit down with Luther and Calvin any day in heaven and sip beers and talk, same with anyone on here. Maybe even John MacArthur, if he drinks beer!


February 25, 2011 at 02:15 PM

Jim McNeely,

Ok, so your not a J.M. fan so be it. after going to your site isn't it ironic how one would almost think that the material you use is closely related to J.M's lesson on 'the call to Repentance" .It was said the book of psalms could be called the book of Human emotions and knowing that we could learn how to talk to God, as David spoke to God for just about everything and we also can speake back these very same verse's (personifying them according to our specific circumstance as God Loves to hear his word being used in it's proper perspective according to it's purpose. Anyway I enjoyed your site and will most likely be returning for the psalms study and who knows what else. in His Service J.R.

Kristen Johnson

February 25, 2011 at 02:15 PM

This is absolutely excellent. We are so quick so often to make everything about us; to focus far too much on the mistakes that we have made and feeling guilty. In doing that, we subtract from God's unbelievable sacrifice and the grace that is freely extended to us.
I think that security for many (like myself) is a constant work in progress. But it has only been through realizing the security that I have in Christ (as you said) that I have been able to grow more fully in Him.

Thanks for great words.

Mitchell Hammonds

February 25, 2011 at 01:54 PM

Hey James,
Completely agree with your assessment of the Christian life as one being aware of our sin (conviction). I guess where J.M. loses me is in how we deal with the conviction. Do we: 1. Try harder to beat ourselves into submission and convince ourselves that we are pulling it off... which I think in this life we never do. This seems to be what the main issue was when Jesus addressed the Pharisees... don't think you're pulling it off. 2. Recount the actual historical events of why Christ lived died and rose from the grave. As I mentioned to Pam above... all Christians struggle with sin (sin being specific acts but also sin as the 'condition' of all humanity). We are born into sin (our condition) and therefore it's fruit is sinful acts. J.M. wants us to resort to option #1 which according to scripture is impossible... even for a christian. I say we still sin... even as Christians... sometimes willfully because of our identity in Adam through "the flesh". What then will you advise me to reassure me of my salvation... redouble my efforts or simply trust in the work of Christ. Your Bro. in Christ as well.


February 25, 2011 at 01:14 PM

Brett Maragni,

Thank you.

February 25, 2011 at 01:05 PM

[...] Can’t resist posting a quote from Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, this morning [...]


February 25, 2011 at 01:03 PM


Hi Mitchell,
Certainly we agree J.M. is not a legalist and again Amen! I prefere to use the word conviction over harsh. Paul could of been called a legalist by many because of his straight forward no-nonsence teachings and he paid dearly. I like to believe usually when one is offended by the word of God... by (well respected and God fearing teachers) is because the Holy Spirit wants your attention. J.M. said if your not convicted over your sin maybe it's because your not a Christian at all. I agree with that.I'm reading his book "Reckless Faith" when the church loses it's will to discern. I'm also waiting on his new book "slave". I appreciate your reply. (M.H. - I say we are incapable of loving God completely and our neighbor as we should) Phil 1:6 but we will when it IS completed. your friend J.R.


February 24, 2011 at 12:50 PM

A thousand Amens.....and one very hearty Thank you.


February 24, 2011 at 12:45 PM

Thanks for the clarification. I did have a negative reaction to your initial blog, but I'm with you 100% on this one. Beautiful. In Christ I can dare to be a sinner--but also a gloriously redeemed sinner. I have nothing to hide and nothing to lose. I am standing in grace. Justification makes authentic community possible.

paul st.jean

February 24, 2011 at 12:42 PM

I understand exactly what you are trying to say.

[...] of Evangelicalism Feb.24, 2011 by Eric Landry in Friends Our friend, Tullian Tchividjian, has a follow-up post to his great article last week, “Why I Hate Accountability Groups.” In it he quotes [...]

Clark Dunlap

February 24, 2011 at 11:19 AM

I grew tired a number of years ago with all the talk about "Who I am in Christ." I began to exhort people to know Christ is in us. I propose an accountability group based on success in the areas of discipline unto which we are called, encouragement to persevere, and joy in knowing Christ.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bob Kellemen, Nathan Meyers, Yinthze Lynvia, Elise Schafer, natasha washburn and others. natasha washburn said: RT @PastorTullian: Guilt doesn’t produce holiness; grace does. READ: [...]


February 24, 2011 at 11:03 AM

This is exactly the issue that caused my husband and I to leave mainstream evangelicalism for the conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran Church.

The cross of Jesus Christ, the Gospel, the message that our sins are freely forgiven for Christ's sake is not just a pass that gets us in at the door, and can then be tossed aside in favor of moralistic righteousness. It's almost as if many Christians see Christ's sacrifice as providing them with a divine "do-over;" giving them the chance to set about showing God by their works just how "worthy" of salvation they were in the first place. That takes us out of the place of repentant sinner, and renders the cross of Christ useless to us. I lived that way for 40 years, but no more.

As Martin Luther reminds us, we are simul justus et peccator: at the same time saints and sinners. As a Christian sinner, I need the constant preaching of the cross; the constant reminder that my sins are forgiven in Christ, and that there is now no condemnation for me because of His blood shed on my behalf.

When we leave this behind, we have left everything.

Thank you so much for your excellent post.

Brett Maragni

February 24, 2011 at 10:47 AM

I told my wife that I found your post last week to be one of the most profitable blog posts that had rolled through my blog reader in a very long time. We have such a tendency to want to jump back on the treadmill of self-improvement, don't we?

Thanks for continually pointing me to the Good News. Keep it up!

hannah anderson

February 24, 2011 at 09:20 PM

Beautiful, necessary thoughts both here and in your original post. This whole dilemma reminds me of Nehemiah 8 when the returned exiles repented and mourned at realizing they had strayed so far from God's law. Yet the priests and Levites commanded them to leave their mourning, remember God, and rejoice in His mercy. "Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." God is bigger and Christ more merciful than any of our sin. Thank you for the reminder.

Mitchell Hammonds

February 24, 2011 at 09:16 PM

Thanks for the info bro. I really like John MacArthur but he almost seems borderline legalistic in some of his approaches to the christian life. I have listened to him numerous times and I must say that at the least his tone is much more harsh. Not knocking the guy... just saying. I would not even say he is unbiblical... but I have been studying repentance and find some of his views a bit unrealistic. For example, how do we repent when we don't love God and neighbor as self. According to MacArthur true repentance only occurs when one turns completely from their sin. I say we are incapable of loving God completely and our neighbor as we should.

Brett Maragni

February 24, 2011 at 07:23 PM

@Jim - I, for one, don't see any conflict at all between what Tullian is writing here and the message of "The Gospel According to Jesus." I see here an emphasis on making sure we have a Christo-centric view of justification and sanctification. I see MacArthur emphasizing that true Christians are committed to sanctification. I can see how some might mistakenly read into Tullian's post anti-nominianism, but I believe a careful reading of exactly what he has written in no way denies a historic Reformational understanding of the guarantee of progressive sanctification in the life of a true believer. I am interested, though, in seeing how Tullian would respond to your question. I certainly cannot speak for him.

At the same time, I can also see how some can read into MacArthur's book legalism, but I think a careful reading reveals that legalism is not really there.

Furthermore, although I do not know MacArthur personally, I have several friends who do. The completely consistent witness of all my friends who know him well is that there are few who are more gracious as a person than John MacArthur. The Gospel According to Jesus is a polemic. Polemic books, by nature, are confrontational and can, therefore, come across as harsh and graceless. But at the end of the day, is what MacArthur teaches in that book biblically true? I believe so. And what is more loving than to speak the truth?

Finally, although I am sure there are plenty of exceptions, I have found strong preaching/teaching on repentance produces soft hearts and gracious people.

Bruce Winter

February 24, 2011 at 05:08 PM

Thanks for the post, and the follow up. I thought the first one was excellent, but didn't read the comments. It's amazing how someone's points can get highjacked in the comments section and derail the entire conversation. I have so enjoyed your consistent message of gospel grace. We have such a bent towards our own goodness and performance we can find a way to work it into every doctrine of grace. I heard a pastor say the other week that the sin of our self-righteousness is the slipperiness of the gospel.

Jim McNeely

February 24, 2011 at 04:56 PM

That is so ironic! John MacArthur is the guy that is responsible more than anyone else for convincing me to NOT be a calvinist. I don't even understand how calvinism relates to the harsh message of 'The Gospel According to Jesus." It would be interesting to understand the grounds that Tullian Tchividjian and John MacArthur are in unity over. A lot of my fervor about grace was born in reaction to what I have always perceived to be John MacArthur's extreme gracelessness. I must be wrong about him somehow, and I am certainly open to correction on this point.


February 24, 2011 at 04:42 PM

Mitchell Hammonds

You said: I hope at some point you could address the issue of what true repentance is and how it works out in the life of the believer. Wow! If your interested if you go to, Resourses, under audio archives - Radio programs today's message just happens to be "The call to repentance" out of the series The gospel According to Jesus. John MacArthur's site. A sound teacher.

Jim McNeely

February 24, 2011 at 04:28 PM

I did a piece on repentance under grace that some here might find helpful. As a disclaimer, I don't claim to be reformed or calvinist, but I think it is very relevant to the discussion here.

[...] to “Accountability Groups” Here is Tullian Tchividjian follow up to his article posted a little over a week [...]

Mitchell Hammonds

February 24, 2011 at 02:08 PM

I hope at some point you could address the issue of what true repentance is and how it works out in the life of the believer. I have been truly blessed by your work along with Michael Horton and the folks at White Horse Inn. Much Thanks!

Mitchell Hammonds

February 24, 2011 at 01:46 PM

The message I get from Horton and Lutherans is that the grace that justifies you also sanctifies you... so relax God works it out in us. Horton (as well as Tullian) wants Christians to believe the promises given to us (through Christ's work) that we are forgiven... I would say in spite of the failures we may see many times in our daily lives (Romans 7:21-25). This is not license but the struggle in the life of the Christian. I believe you have entirely missed their point.

Tullian Tchividjian

February 24, 2011 at 01:18 PM

Thanks for your comment. I'm certainly not denying the work of the Spirit in us. I do think, however, that there's oftentimes confusion with regard to the "working out of our salvation" that the HS enables us to do. The work of the Spirit IN US is the work of constantly reminding us of, and reorienting us around, the finished work of Christ FOR US. We are sanctified on the inside, in other words, by being constantly reoriented back to the reality of our justification on the outside. Jesus said that the Spirit would come to "testify about me"--daily reminding us of who Jesus is and his accomplished work on our behalf. The hard work of sanctification is the hard work of taking my eyes off of me and fixing my eyes on Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Thanks for stopping by!

Robert Curtis

February 24, 2011 at 01:06 PM

Thank you so much for this post. God has indeed delt with our sin, so brothers and sisters - recognize you have been healed and "relax and rejoice."


February 24, 2011 at 01:04 PM

"Christ in you, the hope of glory". If we ONLY look to an external Christ imputing righteousness for justification, we overlook the imparted righteousness of sanctification, and the work of the Spirit IN us.

Horton is not a sound reformed teacher on the relationship of justification to sanctification. He's really gone Lutheran on this, and the reformed view is that both J and S are the result of union with Christ.

[...] Tchividjian has a good post and follow-up discussing accountability groups where the confession of sin is the focus rather than completed [...]

[...] Tchividjian has a good post and follow-up discussing accountability groups where the confession of sin is the focus rather than completed [...]