Did Jesus hang out with sinners and tax collectors? Should Christians hang out with ungodly friends? What’s up with Jesus hanging with the sinners? Why would Jesus hang out with sinners if Christians should not?
Why Did Jesus Associate and Spend Time with Sinners?
Christians who are on the verge of backsliding, or attempting to hang out with ungodly friends, often try to cite Jesus’ own experience. “But Jesus was friends with sinners,” they often say.
There is some truth to that. In many ways, Jesus is the very best friend of sinners. Given that all humans have sinned, and Jesus has died so that we may be saved, He is indeed a great friend to us. But one should never confuse Jesus’ ministry with Jesus’ social preferences or friend choices.
It is very important to understand what Jesus was doing when he “hung” with the sinners, because this sometimes gets blown out of proportion and people use it as a crutch to hang with people they shouldn’t be hanging with.
Did Jesus hang with the sinners so He could sin (or to listen to their sinful life)? Or did Jesus hang with the sinners to reveal sin? Did he engage in sinful behavior along with the sinner? Did he tolerate sinful behavior or rebuke their sinful behavior? Let’s See:
How Jesus Dealt With Sinners and Sin in Friendship
First, Jesus tells us the exact reason why he hung with sinners with his own lips. The Pharisees accused him of hanging with sinners, and how did Jesus reply?
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17
Clearly, Jesus didn’t view his hanging out with sinners as fun or just hanging out. We don’t go to the doctor to hang out do we? Of course not. We go to the doctor to get healed. We go with purpose and intent. And doctors don’t go to work to hang out. They go to heal the sick.
So Jesus reveals His intent when ‘hanging’ with sinners: Not to hang, but to heal.
He isn’t hanging with sinful people to party or because He thinks they are cool, He is hanging with them to reveal their sin, bring them to repentance, and to follow God’s word. Repentance means to turn or to change. So how could Jesus urge them to repent if he condoned their behavior? He couldn’t!
And let’s not forget: Jesus was blunt! He told people the truth. He preached truth and didn’t care what they thought about it. If He offended them when he preached (as he often did offend the Pharisees), then oh well. Jesus certainly didn’t care about stepping on toes.
Here is what Jesus said to the Pharisees:
Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
Another quick example of the bluntness of Jesus is when He says this to his disciples:
“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.” ( Mark 6:11).
Jesus is basically saying that people who do not receive His word will meet an even worse fate than Sodom or Gomorrah. If they receive you and repent, great. If not, just shake off your shoes, and move on to the next “patient to heal.” The town that didn’t repent will suffer a severe consequence. Wouldn’t that be an odd thing for Jesus to say if He truly loved to hang with unrepentant sinners?
Jesus never advocates friendship evangelism. He calls us to love and witness. He calls us to pray. He calls us to be kind to all. But Jesus never commands us to become entangled in a close fellowship with those who reject His truths.
Again we see a very sharp distinction of how Jesus views dealing with sinners. Here is yet another extreme example of Jesus’ views on this. In this passage, we can see what commands Jesus gave regarding “brothers” who sin against us:
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will bed bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will bee loosed in heaven. Matthew 18:15-19
Here, Jesus warns that if someone sins against us, we should try to reconcile privately. If that doesn’t work, get a few witnesses. If that doesn’t work, tell it to the church. If that doesn’t work, excommunicate them so as to remove their influence.
We are to love our enemies, but we certainly shouldn’t hang with those sinning against us or God in an unrepentant way. Loving enemies and hanging with enemies are two different things. Love your enemy does NOT mean hang with your enemy. It means feel compassion on your enemy, to have a love in your heart for them, and pray they come to Christ.
In fact, this is even reinforced by examining the scriptures each time Jesus was with one of these “sinners.” Just take a look at what Jesus is doing while “hanging.” One of these so called “sinners” Jesus befriended was a man named Levi:
And after that He went out, and noticed a tax-gatherer named Levi [more commonly known as Matthew], sitting in the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow Me.” And he left everything behind, and rose and began to follow Him. And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax-gatherers and other people who were reclining at the table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax-gatherers and sinners?” (Luke 5:27-30)
Jesus certainly befriended this man (who was labeled as a sinner), but did the man continue in sin or follow Christ? He COMPLETELY repented and turned from sin and followed Christ of course (Matthew). He becomes a disciple of Jesus.
So to use the comment about Jesus hanging with sinners as an excuse for Christians to be best friends with people who are not willing to repent and follow God’s word goes against all scriptures. What kind of friendship could Jesus have with Satan? What kind of fellowship does light have with darkness? How could Billy Graham hang out with Marilyn Manson?
Does God not cast Satan into the lake of fire? Or does God hang with Satan in the end?
The Bible also warns that we should choose friends wisely, and avoid certain types of people as friends:
Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men.
My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.
Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go
What Would Jesus Do If a Friend Sinned?
It is interesting to speculate about how Jesus would have responded if he had befriended a person, and that person committed a sin. Luckily, we have quite a few examples of this exact thing.
Jesus sharply rebukes His disciples when they fail to cast out a demon due to their unbelief and doubt:
” ‘I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”
‘O unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.’ ” (9:40-41)
And again, Peter merely suggests that perhaps Jesus is out of line with saying He must die. What is Jesus’ reply?
Then he began to teach them that the Son of man would have to suffer a great deal and be rejected by the elders and the high priests and the scribes, and be killed, and rise again on the 3rd day.
And he spoke that word openly. So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But he turned around and looked on his disciples, and he rebuked Simon, saying, Get behind me, Satan; for you are not thinking of the things of God, but of men. Mark 8:31-33
How Would Jesus Respond to Friends Sinning in This Century?
Jesus was certainly an acquaintance with any and everyone so he could attempt to “heal them.” But how would Jesus respond today if he was hanging out with someone and they sinned? We must remember that Jesus was unique in that He could touch sin, but sin couldn’t touch Him.
We are not Jesus, and we are tainted and influenced by sin. The Bible says we must choose our friends wisely, and if we walk with the wise we will become wise.
Did Jesus sometimes talk to or eat with sinners? Of course, otherwise, He would have never been able to talk with anyone (since we are all sinners). But they either repented, or Jesus went on His merry way preaching to others.
Did Jesus embrace sin? Oh absolutely NOT. This is a HUGE thing to understand Christians! Jesus didn’t tolerate it for one second.
In fact, we have so many commands in the Bible on how to deal with fellow Christians (or close friends) who sin against God:
“Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.” (1 Timothy 5:20)
“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it… Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith.” (Titus 1:9, 13)
Again, as I pointed out in the article, Christians are free to be friends with anyone. But should they be close friends with unrepentant sinners (non-Christians)? Absolutely not. There is no basis to subject yourself to a friendship of those who have made up their mind to reject God’s will, even after you try and bring them to repentance. Instead, you should approach them with a loving attitude, and view them as a human in need of God’s love, and be prepared to witness to them.
But Jesus Did Hang With Sinners, So Can I? Aren’t We Supposed to Be Like Christ?
I think it is obvious that God has clearly warned us of being unequally yoked with unrepentant sinners. Again, we are all sinners, but there is a big difference between sinning and repenting, and sinning without repenting.
The Jesus in the Bible did not tolerate unrepentant sin. He would have rebuked it. Remember, this same Jesus whipped a bunch of people and ran them out of the temple because they were selling stuff. This same Jesus rebuked tons of people and constantly preached to them about right and wrong. Would Jesus simply sit there and let someone talk about any kind of sinful behavior without strongly scolding them? Of course not.
Final Words on Christians Being Close Friends with Non-Christians
We must take ALL of the scriptures into consideration when seeking to follow God’s word. I think the scriptures are abundantly clear that Christians should be loving and kind to all. We can be friends with anyone (in terms of being an acquaintance or neighbor).
But we should limit spending time (or being close friends) with those who are simply not willing to follow God’s word. The scriptures give us ample warnings, and we must not ignore those. People can harm our walk with Christ, lead us into temptation and heartache, and worse.
Should a Christian drop non-Christian friends? They will probably drop you when you start sharing your faith and standing up for Christ. In fact, did you know that Jesus Himself even lost a few “friends” and “followers” because of His teachings. Look at what the scriptures say:
“Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.’ . . .
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you?’ . . . From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (John 6:53-56, 60-61, 66, NIV)
I would recommend remaining friends with any and everyone. However, your friendship will probably swing from a close friendship to a not-so-close friendship if you are preaching to your close friends all the time (like Jesus would have done). I addressed this in the article about friendships.
After all, why are your friends going to want to hang with you if you are not into the same things as they are? Why will they want to hang with you if you disapprove of them cheating on their spouse, having promiscuous sex, lying, cheating, stealing, watching porn, listening to inappropriate music, and so forth?
I can’t help but see that two opposites will not be too close for long. The same thing that happened to Jesus will probably happen to you. Will you have close and true friends that remain in Christ, and those who branch off and reject God’s will. You may find that after you’ve stood your ground for the Lord, some friends may not text message you as often. Some may stop inviting you to hang out. Some may even ignore you.
Should We Be Loved By the World and Despised by God? Or Loved by God and Despised by the World?
By Jesus’ own admission, if you are loved by the world and make close friends with everyone, you probably aren’t in the right. Why? Because here is what Jesus had to say:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.’ (John 15:18-20)
What is the world? Is Jesus talking about planet Earth, or the people in planet Earth? He is talking about society and people. It’s the world-system we all live in.
I would rather have 6 billion enemies and be loved by God, than to have 6 billion close friends while being despised by God. What would it profit anyone to have a world full of money, friends, and luxury, if they lose their own soul?
That doesn’t mean we can’t have friends. God wants us to have fellowship and love with all creation. But it does mean that our friendships will be limited if we adhere to following God’s word when our other friends choose to reject God’s word. While we can be friendly to all in a shallow (yet loving way), we certainly won’t be considered close friends with all. This is what the Bible teaches.
Conclusion: Jesus Was Not Friends With Unrepentant Sinners
Jesus was not close friends with any unrepentant sinners, and in fact, will throw the wicked people who reject His truth into a lake of fire for eternity because they have sinned against Him. Jesus rebuked those who didn’t follow God’s word. Isn’t it ridiculous to assume Jesus would ever be yoked with anyone who didn’t repent and follow Him, especially considering the future judgment the Bible says is coming? Who did Jesus hang with most anyway? His followers, right?
Who were Jesus’ friends? Here is who Jesus’ close friends were and still are:
Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matt. 12:49-50)
In other words, for those who don’t follow God’s will, Jesus doesn’t consider them a brother, sister, or close friend. For those who don’t follow God’s will, I have bad news…Jesus isn’t your friend. He said He will say this:
“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ (Matthew 7:23)
You may be interested in a separate article “should Christians be close friends with non-Christians?”
Are you a friend of Jesus? Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Do you love Christ? Are you walking in obedience to Him? Even more important: Have you been saved from your sins? The Bible says all have fallen short of God’s glory, and all have sinned. You are a sinner in the eyes of God if you have broken even one command in your life. But you can be saved from God’s judgment if you accept Christ right now. God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.