Guilt by Association

I apologize this post is a day late. I try very hard to be consistent, but I was at a writing conference yesterday and didn’t get home in time to post.

My junior high  pride was definitely offended. The principal called my mother. About me. Me. A pretty much straight A student who consistently did her work and did it well. A student who had never had a detention or even the threat of one. A student who didn’t have a bad relationship with any of her teachers and had never seen the inside of the principal’s office.

So why did the principal decide to chat with my mom about me? Because I was hanging out with what he considered the wrong kids. Though it made no difference to me at the time, he was trying to protect me from making the mistake of following in their footsteps. They made choices that did occasionally land them in trouble. I was hanging out with the only group that didn’t mind me hanging out with them. I was not amused. The only reason he called was because of who I associated with.

Our associations with people or with our past decisions can cloud people’s perceptions of us in the present. Tess Spencer wrestles with this idea in a very personal way in the book, Guilt By Association by Heather Day Gilbert.  The childhood memories she carries of life with her mother are less than stellar. Of course, if your mother had been imprisoned for dealing drugs to neighborhood kids, you might not have a lot of pleasant memories to cling to either.

Now that her mother is out and claiming to be living clean, Tess is giving her a tentative chance at forging a new relationship. But the past comes back to haunt them when a teenage boy is found murdered on her mom’s lawn. Everything, including her mother running from the law, points to Tess’ mom as the murderer. Coupled with her past, it’s easy to draw that conclusion. But it simply doesn’t sit right with Tess who puts her amateur sleuthing skills into practice to try to clear her mother’s name. But even she has doubts about her mom’s innocence as damaging clues are associated with the sins in her mother’s past.

As much as we may not like it, there is danger in associating with the wrong things or people. The first Psalm tells us “blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” And Proverbs 13:20 warns that “the companion of fools will suffer harm”. Even the New Testament in 1 Corinthians warns believers to avoid companionship with those who claim to be believers but are living an unrepentant lifestyle of sin.

The warnings are clear. When we align ourselves with the wrong people, that association can cause us harm physically. It can also harm our witness. Even if we aren’t doing the things they’re doing, it becomes associated with us. Scripture points out another danger too. In 1 Corinthians 15:33 we learn “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Constant exposure to immoral behavior first desensitizes us to it and then begs us to participate in it. Guilt by association gradually turns into guilt by action.

I can already hear some of the arguments. “How can we reach people with God’s message of salvation if we won’t go where they go?” “Even Jesus hung out with sinners.” But I think you misunderstand me. I’m not saying we shun those who are living sinful lives. We are called to love them, and love requires action. To know the best actions, we have to know the person.

However, Jesus didn’t spend time with sinners in the place and time of their sin. He didn’t stand next to them while it was happening leaving his silence to be interpreted as acceptance of the sin. He confronted the sin as wrong and encouraged them to “go and sin no more”. He was accepted and sought out by those in sin not because he overlooked their sin but because he loved them despite their sin. And when he chose people to confide in, trust, and go to for encouragement and support, Jesus chose his friends carefully. His confidants were far from perfect, but when confronted with their sin, they repented. They actively pursued a lifestyle that glorified God, not one that glorified self or sin.

It may seem like a small difference, but it is a little difference that makes a huge difference. Choosing the right friends can keep us from both future sin and guilt by association.

By the Book: It’s not enough to choose the right friends. We have to be the right kind of friend. Think about your own life. What would keep you from being a godly friend to those in your life? Are you holding onto a sinful habit or sinful attitude even though you know it goes against God’s will?

3 thoughts on “Guilt by Association

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