Guilty By Association

Ben on the street corner

Authored by Ben Tagg

As we were discussing ministry and a bunch of other things, a friend of mine said something that stopped me in my tracks.

“If you want to do evangelism, you’re often going to be guilty by association”

It took a moment to sink in, but it resonated with me at the depths of my core.

People will make assumptions about who you are and what you believe based upon who they see you with. I think it’s a part of human nature (not saying it’s a good part of human nature). 

The Contact High Story

I remember witnessing to a group of teens in my earlier days with Steps. They were older teens that were closer to my age at the time. I would talk to them a lot and try to encourage them to accept Christ and come into Steps. One day they were all going back to one of their houses and I naturally went along with them. We went into the house and into a bedroom where one of them proceeded to light up and pass around a blunt. They offered it to me. I said no thanks and kept talking with them.

Now, I don’t want you to think I was completely brainless. I knew what was happening, but I so wanted these kids to know Jesus that I stayed a bit longer than I should have and walked home with a not insignificant contact high.

At first it was a funny story I told the other people at Steps, but then I started to get really uneasy. What if someone saw me leaving the house, who knew about the group of teens getting high. What if one of the parents found out I was there and didn’t immediately call the police. I’ve always looked back on that story and used it to illustrate how monumentally unwise I was back then, but I’ve never used it to show the glory of God before.

If we’re going to be salt and light in this world, Jesus is calling us to drop our fear of being guilty by association.

Jesus Was Guilty By Association

When the Pharisees saw Jesus supping with tax collectors, prostitutes and the like, they ridiculed him. “Who is this who eats with tax collectors and sinners?” They considered their disassociation with the sinners as a badge of honor. They probably thought Jesus was foolish and immature.

Jesus retorts, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” He’s implying. You want me to spend time with you even though you think you don’t actually need what I have to offer.

If we claim to carry the name of Jesus and claim to care about those who are utterly lost, dead in their trespasses and sins, and wallowing in the muck of their own shame, then we can’t be afraid of getting a bit mucky and dirty. We can’t be afraid of what people will think of us. We need to go to them and spend time with them and know them.

Please, Take Him Some Food!

Last summer, I remember an occasion when we were giving away food to people in the neighborhood. I was standing on the corner with Elijah on my shoulders. An older gentleman walked up and I asked if he’d like some food (as I’d do with anyone). Before he even had a chance to answer I heard murmurings in the crowd “Ben, no! He’s a pedophile!” I told him I would get him some food but not to come on the premises. At that point people began to shoo him away (To their credit, Steps is a youth facility and he had no business being there).

I realized that he was scurrying away, so I grabbed the nearest guy in the line and said, please take him some food. “No way” came the response. Grabbed another, “nope”. I quickly dropped Elijah off with Ruth, grabbed a container of food and started running down the street. But alas, he was gone.

I so wanted him to know that we knew what he was and still loved him and wanted to bless him with food. Well, not that day. People didn’t want to be associated with him, or go near him. Perhaps they were so disgusted with him that they didn’t even want him to taste the goodness of the food or be nourished by it.

Are You Willing To Look Guilty For The Sake Of The Gospel?

If we’re going to be salt and light in this world, Jesus is calling us to drop our fear of being guilty by association. Christian friends and family might raise an eyebrow when they see you going along to happy hour with work colleagues, or having dinner with a family of a different faith, or hanging out with people who are loitering and drinking on the streets of Seneca-Babcock. We can’t let that stop us. In an increasingly post-christian climate, we can’t expect the average person to get saved in church. We need to go to them. And we can’t do that if we’re scared of being stained by them.