It is not uncommon to hear people say, “Jesus hung out with sinners.” This statement is false from the first letter of its first word to its grammatical closing period.
For it implies that Jesus had fellowship with sinners. Something easily disproven by the Scriptures.
Of course, “hung out” is not a biblical phrase; it’s colloquial. It’s informal, commonly understood speech used to convey an idea. What idea does this saying convey?
What Does it Mean to Say Jesus Hangs Out with Sinners?
Well, let’s not get spooky spiritual or dried out theological here. Let’s simply use ourselves as an example. What do we mean when we say we’re going to hang out with someone?
People reasonably assume we’re speaking of spending fun or recreational time with a friend. We don’t wake up at four in the morning to go “hang out” with the employer. But we do wake up at four in the morning to hang out with a friend at a fishing spot.
This is why the concept of Jesus hanging out with sinners is not only misleading, it’s grossly misleading.
Let me illustrate.
The police officer who goes to a whore house to make an arrest is quite different than the officer who goes there to hang out. Everyone knows what it means to hang out with a whore.
When people say Jesus hung out with sinners, they either deliberately or inadvertently imply a recreational element that simply was not there. As far as they are concerned, Jesus hung out with sinners because He had a lot in common with them.
They imply that even though He did not sin, He didn’t see sin as a big deal. What proof do we have Jesus was soft on sin? Why, it’s the fact that He hung out with them.
We certainly don’t hang out with people we find repulsive, do we?
Jesus Came to Earth Because He Had Nothing in Common with Sinners–with Us
My answer to the errant notion Jesus went to parties and dinners and other social gatherings to hang out is that He went to social gatherings for the same reason He came to earth.
Now what reason does the Bible give for Jesus coming to earth? Was it to hang out with friends? Don’t we find the exact opposite?
Isn’t it the basic message of the gospel that we separated ourselves from God through our sin? That we are in fact and practice enemies of God?
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.Colossians 1:21
Alienated from God. Separated from Him. Why? It’s because we were enemies in our minds. Naturally, our evil behavior followed our evil minds. But what if we did a New Year’s resolution and promised to do better?
Isn’t it basic Christianity that humanity is irreparably morally damaged? That not only is there nothing we can do to fix ourselves, there is nothing in us apart from God’s help that is capable of desiring to do or be better?
There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is not even one.
Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness;
Their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace have they not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.Romans 3:10-18
This is how God sees us without Christ. It is how he saw those whom He supposedly “hung out” with in the Gospels.
Absolutely horrible in every way.
But if we are so naturally irredeemably bad and He is so infinitely good, why did Jesus come to earth? My friend, it is for that very reason the Lord came to earth.
He came to earth to live among sinners because He wanted to change the sad fact that there was absolutely nothing good in us, and consequently He had absolutely nothing in common with us.
Jesus Came to Earth to Save Sinners
It should not be necessary to have to repeat this among the saints. However, the American church is in such a compromised state it no longer understands what sin is or how much the Lord loathes it.
This makes it necessary to strongly emphasize that Jesus didn’t come to earth because He saw something beautiful in people; He didn’t. He saw nothing beautiful in us.
For what is beautiful about sin and darkness and depravity?
What is beautiful about a person who is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1)? A dead person has no desire or ability to change.
What is beautiful about people who are “sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2)? Disobedience is in their DNA.
What is beautiful about people who are “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3)? God would not have marked these people for wrath if He were not furious at them.
The Backslidden and False Church Misreads God’s Patience and Love As Him Liking Sinners and Being Soft On Sin
The biblically untrained mind has a hard time reconciling the negative things God says about sinners with the outrageously positive things he has done to save sinners.
They flipped a coin with two heads, called heads, and took their good luck as a sign they were correct about how God sees sinners.
As basically good people who just need to hear “the gospel” of how much God loves them.
And if God loves them, He must like them. And if He likes them, He mustn’t be too put off by their sins.
Champions of the Lie That Jesus “Hangs Out” With Sinners
This group of errant Christians are the primary champions of the lie that Jesus hangs out with sinners. The truth is Jesus didn’t even hang out with His apostles.
We don’t have one record of Jesus doing a first-century version of cracking jokes, playing cards, or getting lit up with His apostles.
What we do have are many examples of Jesus turning every single discussion and event into a platform to preach the true gospel of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
Some of these discussions resulted in people being deeply offended.
(The biblical gospel is nothing like the popular American gospel of compromise and false love.)
If Jesus didn’t hang out with His own apostles, how is it legitimate to say He hung out with His enemies? Those whom He had marked for wrath and eternal damnation?
It is not legitimate, but it’s the best explanation a compromised church can devise. It serves several of their fleshly purposes
- It allows them to give the appearance of godliness, while they deny through silence the true gospel’s power to deliver from sin.
- It justifies them saying nothing that would closely align them with the unpopular Jesus of the Bible. That could make them unpopular.
- It makes their worldliness and attraction to ungodliness appear to be cutting-edge love for sinners. Hey, I’m only doing what Jesus did!
- It satisfies their cowardice by temporarily delivering them from the obligation to tell sinners how they have offended God. They will answer to God for cowardice and twisting the holy Scriptures.
Let’s close this article by allowing Jesus to explain what we might call “hanging out” with sinners.
The Accusation of Jesus Hanging Out with Sinners
In the Gospels, Jesus was accused of many things.
He was accused of being crazy:
And when His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, “He has lost His senses.”Mark 3:21
He was accused of having a demon:
Many of them were saying, “He has a demon and is insane. Why do you listen to Him?”John 10:20
He was accused of using white magic:
But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.”Matthew 12:24
He was accused of being a glutton and a drunk:
The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunk…Luke 7:34
Not surprisingly, He was also accused of being a friend of sinners. Or in other words, “hanging out” with sinners:
The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’Luke 7:34 (NKJV)
What Jesus Said About Himself Hanging Out with Sinners
There are several places in the Gospels where someone may say Jesus hung out with sinners. Thus far my emphasis has been on what this does not mean.
Here is one representative biblical incident where Jesus tells first-century critics and twenty-first-century seducers what it means to biblically hang out with sinners:
And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”Matthew 9:11-13
The Pharisees were ultra religious. They were righteous in their own eyes and looked with contempt upon common people. Therefore, they were careful to separate themselves from the sinners and thus not be contaminated.
That’s funny. These dudes were like our modern super anointed Charismatic preachers who have body guards to keep the common people from them. Or those who have to fly on private jets to protect the anointing when they go preach.
You know the Holy Ghost is quite fragile!
Jesus was radically different from these rascals. He loved being around people. The worse they were, the more He wanted to be around them. But why?
Was He like our modern crew? Was He looking for an excuse to get back into the bar? Was His old lust pulling Him back to places that war against the soul?
Beloved, I urge you as foreigners and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.1 Peter 2:11
Jesus Gave Three Reasons Why He Was Around the Ungodly
First, Jesus said these people were “sick” (Matthew 9:12).
Second, He said they were “sinners” (Matthew 9:13).
Third, He said He was calling them to repentance (Matthew 9:13).
So, there you have it. Jesus considered them sick sinners in need of repentance. He did not consider them buddies.
These were not private musings. This is what Jesus preached publicly everywhere He went. So, if you invited Jesus to a party or a wedding or a feast, you knew He would inevitably turn your event into a platform to preach the gospel.
As I said earlier in the article, there is a big difference in arresting a prostitute and hanging out with her! Which one are you doing?
Eric has written a bunch of books. You can check them out on Amazon.
Article header and feature image by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash.
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