Gilt by Association

So who are you all-by-yourself-all-on-your-own?


No—I did not forget to do spell-check before publishing this post. I do mean ‘gilt,’ not ‘guilt.’ Decades ago, I coined this “pun” to describe a tendency I have—that I’ll tell you about in a moment. You’re likely familiar with the phrase “guilt by association,” when the people associated with a guilty person are judged guilty because of their association—even if their “guilt” is unfounded. “Gilt by association” is just the reverse.

Gilt is gold leaf or gold paint applied in a thin layer to a surface. It is a decorative feature, meant to give the impression of value and even “solid gold” beneath the surface. “Gilt by association” is the effort of trying to shine in the glow of another person’s importance. It’s all about impressing others. I fall into this when I “name drop” about people I know or who attend our church; or “place-drop” about places I’ve been in my travels. You get the idea. You can recognize it quickly in others but not see it in yourself so clearly. There are many dynamics at work in this “gilting,” but I want to focus on two.

First, let’s show ourselves some grace because this is one of the most natural tendencies we all have—to draw a sense of identity and worth from others. This is what being a sports fan is about, or being a part of a club or a special group. The danger lies in making that layer of gilt a primary factor in our self-worth and identity. If we do that, we make it part of our mask, our false self, our facade. It’s important to remember I am not who I know, or where I’ve been, or even what I do. In Christ, I am God’s child and all that means in being part of God’s family. Every other association pales in comparison with that!

Second, we dare not try to do this in the area of faith. Fake-faith, in-name-only faith, is a dead-end road. There’s a fascinating story about this in the Acts 19:11-16

God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled. A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.  (Acts 19:11-16 New Living Translation).

In my book Questions God Asks, Questions Satan Asks, (Tyndale House Publishers)—here I go my-book-dropping!!! – I spend a chapter on Acts 19:15, “…the evil spirit replied, ‘I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?’” The sons of Sceva made a tragic assumption in this passage. They assumed that knowledge of Jesus was the same as knowing Jesus.  Those are two very different realities. They tried to use Jesus’ name without believing in Jesus, without trusting Him, without relying upon Him.  The evil spirit challenged their presumption. When I let my imagination go, I picture this demon sitting back, kicking up his legs on a desk, folding his hands calmly across his chest and saying, “I know Jesus… and I know Paul,…. but (and now Demon takes his legs off the desk, looks right into the eyes of every single one of the sons of Sceva, and shouts) but WHO are you???!!!” Then Demon leaps on these guys, overpowering them.

Now, I don’t claim it happened that way… but that’s kinda what I’m picturing. There is no gilt by association with Jesus. Either you know Jesus or you don’t. And people, even demons, can tell the difference.

So who are you-all-by-yourself-all-on-your-own?

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12 New Living Translation NLT).

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure  (1 John 3:1-3 NLT)

The Punt

Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:29-31 New Living Translation).

The Punt
Photo by David Cobb /Chattanooga Times Free Press. This article implies nothing about this athlete or his team!

When I was in the 8th grade, I played on our junior high football and basketball teams. I had fun, though I wasn’t a starter. Still, I did get some playing time and had some experiences I will never forget– no matter how hard I try!

One of my most memorable experiences was playing in the football game against our arch rival, Mt. Healthy (or Oak Hills– since we had a number of arch rivals!). I was a safety– which meant I guarded against the pass and the long run– trying to tackle the guys everybody else missed. (It always bothered me that I got in so much trouble for missing a tackle when the bigger guys should have brought him down long before he reached me…).

Anyway, in this game, we kept them from getting a first down, so I went back to receive the punt. This was one of those dream situations for an eighth grader because, as I judged the distance he was likely to kick it, I ended up standing right across from our cheerleaders. There was, literally, a little red-haired girl that I had been interested in for some time.  (I hasten to add that Sarah and I grew up in different towns in Ohio and didn’t meet until my junior year in high school).

Like most junior high boys, I really thought the way to a girl’s heart was to impress them with some manly achievement like catching a dramatic pass and running for a touchdown, or getting knocked out, or suffering a severe injury that would require a transfusion– something like that. Little did I realize that the girls hardly ever noticed because they were talking– or else they just thought we guys were stupid.

So here, I thought, was my opportunity to make an impression. I hadn’t drawn blood on any tackles yet, but now all eyes were on me as the punter kicked the ball.

It was a high kick going right toward the sidelines in front of our cheerleaders. Oh, this was perfect! I can still feel it– the adrenaline pumping, the fans screaming wildly (or maybe that was just me!), and the thundering sound of tacklers bearing down on me like ferocious beasts.

The ball hung in the air forever. I waved for a fair catch. You do that when you know you can catch the ball but can’t run because the tacklers are too close. It’s really a smart move– as opposed to getting chased backwards, or just getting creamed when you catch the ball and are “unguarded.”

So I waved my hand for the fair catch. But– you probably guessed it– the one thing you must never do on a fair catch is drop the ball, because then all’s fair as far as tackling goes. You can get creamed and you can lose the ball…

and you can blow your chances of ever impressing the little red-haired girl…

and you can lose all confidence in ever putting on a football uniform again…

and you can decide to join the marching band instead…

and you can still have nightmares of dropping the ball…

Oh, sorry… got lost in my thoughts there for a moment. Guess you know what happened.

I did learn a basic lesson in life: Without the ball, you can’t do anything.

I also began to realize we cannot expect to be great or even good at everything. In Corinth, various church members were struggling with envy of others’ gifts, and some with pride in their gifts. It was dividing the community. As you may recall, Paul continued from the passage quoted above into “The Love Chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13 where he wrote,

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

No matter what else we do– or are unable to do–we are to demonstrate love as our way of life. That has implications not only for how we treat others, but how we treat ourselves. I am not loving myself when I condemn or devalue myself for not being “the best” at everything.

The key is exploring the opportunities God brings our way. Try as many things as you can. Takes some risks. Not everything will be a fit; not everything will be life-giving and fruitful. But all those experiences provide valuable information. Over time, we discover our gifts, talents and places where we’re more effective.  Along the way, we’ll have some amazing – and perhaps embarrassing and painful—adventures. But it’s worth it. Just think of the stories you’ll be able to tell.