The Third Sunday after Pentecost June 13, 2010


Guilt by Association

2 Corinthians 11:12-15

Scripture Readings

Revelation 21:10-23
Acts 14:8-18


7, 336, 334, 616(1-4)

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

God the Holy Spirit clear from your thoughts all that detracts from His Word and from your lives all that draws your hearts away from that one thing needful. Amen.

Dear Fellow Christians:

Today’s theme is “Guilt by Association.” What exactly comes to mind? My guess is your initial thoughts would range from your teenager and the company he is keeping to any number of public figures who have not been proven guilty, but were clearly associated with those who have. Though the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that guilt by association has no place in any legal proceeding, you and I feel no such constraints. At times our assumptions are justified, and at times they are not.

If, for example, you see a young man loitering on a street corner in the company of gang members, most rational people would assume that he had been drawn into that perverse mentality and way of life. If you were to see a young woman in garish clothing late at night calling out to passing cars on a street corner with known prostitutes, most would again assume that she was caught up in that sin.

So what would you think of a man who routinely shunned the higher, more honorable classes of society and hung around instead with known criminal elements—like prostitutes and thieves? It would certainly tell you something about that person, wouldn’t it? Except, of course, when that is a description of Jesus. This probably explains, at least in part, why guilt by association is routinely barred from our courtrooms and should be used only with great care by Christians.

We are going to examine the topic of “guilt by association” from a little different angle. The text that will guide us this morning is found in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, the 11th chapter:

But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.

So far the very words of God. What a blessing to have and study the precious words of almighty God. May that same God teach us to rightly honor these words as His and to learn from them accordingly. To this end we pray, “sanctify us through the truth, O Lord, Your Word is truth!” Amen.

Clearly we need to be very careful when it comes to guilt by association. The Jews used it to condemn Jesus, “The Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them’(Luke 15:2). In Matthew 11:19 we read Jesus’ words: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

To Christians this sort of thing ought to be self-evident. The eighth commandment reminds us of God’s will that we “put the best construction on everything.” “Association” gives us a right to gently question, but not to assume guilt.

Yet there is a far more diabolical and clever means by which Satan is employing “guilt by association” against God’s children, and it is on that use that we focus our attention.

I wonder if any of you can relate to what I have been experiencing lately. Not long ago my wife and I were watching a documentary on the Mormons. The two-part series was both kind and candid. The spokesmen for the Mormon Church were, as you would expect, polite, gentle, and articulate. They stated their case as un-obnoxiously and as matter-of-factly as I would consider humanly possible.

These dignified, well-dressed men and women were defending a religious organization that claims its members will one day be gods, creating with their celestial wife or wives the spirits that would descend to populate their own personal planet somewhere in the galaxy. With pleasantly smiling faces they spoke glowingly of Joseph Smith (the writer of the Book of Mormon), baptisms for the dead, and secret, creepy temple rituals. All were devout adherents of a religion that claims to be Christian, but is thoroughly work-righteous and therefore damning.

So where does “guilt by association” come in? It occurred to me, as I watched these kind, misguided souls (with a mixture of sadness and revulsion) that this is exactly how the godless in our society see you and me and our religion. To the unconverted there is probably little difference between, on the one hand, a man who believes that the golden plates of the Book of Mormon ascended into Heaven after their translation by Joseph Smith, and on the other hand, the ascension into Heaven of a crucified Jewish man named Jesus of Nazareth. The unconverted would see little difference between the Mormon’s eternal marriage and the Christian’s eternal life.

Now change the channel and watch the aftermath of yet another religious act in the Middle East where a devout young follower of the Prophet Mohammed strapped about 50 pounds of high explosives, ball bearing, and nails to his chest and blew up women and children in the name of Allah. See hundreds, or even thousands, as they bow in unison to the god and his prophet who supposedly condone such actions—just another religion and they are all pretty much alike.

Change the channel again and you find yourself in Tibet. See a Buddhist monk who believes that he, through mediation, is very close to being “assumed into the deity”—just another religion, and they are all pretty much alike.

This, again, is how Satan is employing his “guilt by association” against the Christian Church today. No one wants to be seen by society as a demented nut-ball. No one wants to be regarded as lesser or delusional. Nor are Satan’s attacks an on-again, off-again proposition. The attacks are cumulative and relentless. It’s like he straps a pack on your back and continually adds one rock after another. Christians who imagine that they are immune to his attacks make that assumption to their own peril.

Our text describes this very thing when it speaks of Satan “transforming himself into an angel of light.[v.14] There is no doubt in my mind that those souls who have been caught up in these pagan religions are absolutely convinced of their “rightness.” They speak of supernatural, religious experiences that transcend both human description and understanding. They speak of blissful assurance and of the unimaginable joys that await them. In short, they are absolutely convinced that they have the truth, though what they are experiencing are demonic forces aping the truth.

Satan knows the truth. He knows the one true God and he knows that the one path to Heaven is through faith alone in Jesus Christ. What better plan to discredit God’s salvation plan than by erecting crude caricatures of the original? What better way to discredit Christianity than to lump it together with a whole raft of nonsense that he himself devised?

While the effect of the devil’s mimicry on unbelievers is bad enough, the effect on Christians is no less dangerous. The message he wants to drill down into our sub-conscience is not so much “I want to become a Mormon” as it is “My religion is as nutty as those,” and “I’m as foolish as those poor misguided goofballs on television.”

Paul recognized the same forces at work already in his day. Again his words from our text: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.[v.13-15]

Note well the ominous declaration pronounced by the Holy Spirit through Paul over against all of the false religions that the Devil has manufactured: “…whose end will be according to their works.” Their end is destruction—our reminder that the stakes here could not be more serious or more consequential. All other paths lead always and only to eternal destruction in Hell. No matter how peaceful or how convinced its proponents might appear, they and those that follow share a common, terrible destination. “He who believes not (in Jesus Christ) shall be condemned(Mark 16:16).

Paul’s solution? Again from our text: “But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast.[v.12] Paul, in other words, recognized that the solution was not to radically alter his message and his methods. The solution was to redouble his efforts and to keep doing exactly what he was doing—preaching the pure, sweet, life-saving Word of God, the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Nothing but light can dispel darkness. When Jesus was condemned by the self-righteous skeptics of His day for associating with sinners, His solution wasn’t to abandon those sinners but to continue sharing with them His message of truth and life. What is more, this is not just the right course of action in reaching out to others; it is the right course of actions for our own personal preservation. Again, the fact that only light dispels darkness is true not only in the hearts of others, it is true also in our own hearts. God’s Word, when it is read and studied, has the marvelous power to cleanse the human heart of the doubts and uncertainties that Satan relentlessly and cleverly tries to sow there. God’s Word is more than just information. It is power—pure, raw, divine power—for in and through His Word God has promised to dispel the gloom and uncertainty of all that is false and impure. It is through exposure to that Word that the Holy Spirit enables us to rightly judge between true and false, wise and foolish, saving truth and damning lie.

All, again, comes back to the simple, central truth of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This is the truth that saves, namely, that by His life and death Jesus has supplied the goodness that makes up for our sin. No man—no matter how deeply he meditates or in what rituals he participates or how much he denies himself—can satisfy God’s demand for perfection. Jesus alone could do that. Jesus alone has done that. That perfection is not paid to us as our due, it is given to us as a gift. The only way any human being can forfeit that full, complete payment is to reject or deny that Jesus did what He said He did. Believing, that payment is yours. You are forgiven, and since you are forgiven nothing and no one can prevent you from inheriting Heaven and existing for all eternity in the presence of your holy God.

When he stood before the doubting King Agrippa, Paul recounted the event when he was given to know the difference between God’s truth and Satan’s lies. To Agrippa Paul relayed Jesus’ words of life and light: “Jesus said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’(Acts 26:15-18).

You and I have been given this same priceless information, this same priceless gift. Guilt by association? More like salvation by association—with Jesus Christ. Amen.

—Pastor Michael J. Roehl

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