For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Rom. 5:19)

For several years, I directed a program for women coming out of prison. Our goal was to offer them an opportunity to readjust into a society that seldom welcomed their return. There were strict rules created for their safety. Some of those rules had to do with the company they kept. If they were found in the company of other offenders, or of drug addicts, they could be asked to leave the program—guilt by association.

The term guilt by association does not usually hold any legal weight, but it has often been used to cast suspicion in an attempt to indict suspects. The charges may not hold, but the suspicion can follow a person’s life forever. Guilty or not, they will always carry the stigma.

There is one association of which we are all guilty. We cannot help it; we were born into it. We are all unavoidably associated with Adam and the sin that his disobedience brought upon us. Sadly, some people will remain associated with him. The unavoidable verdict is “Guilty!” And the sentence is death.

The gift of grace allows us to change our association! Jesus’ act of righteousness offers the verdict “Not Guilty!” There is no sentence and we are free to live forever. My freedom allows me now to associate with the guilty and offer them the same verdict—free by association!

Examine your associations today. To whom could you offer Christ’s freedom?

Dianne Swaim is a chaplain at the VA Hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas. Married to Gordon, she is the mother of three and grandmother of nine.