Let’s face it, we are not Jesus. It is one thing for Jesus to hang out with prostitutes, gluttons, and tax collectors (thieves). It is a completely different thing for a Christian to do the same.
For one, Jesus is the Son of God. We know that Jesus lived a perfect life completely free from sin. We know that Jesus had a perfect attitude, a perfect heart, and a perfect mind. His eyes never strayed, his mind never became greedy, he never sinfully overindulged.
We, on the other hand, sinful humans, are in a completely different boat. While we might enter the house of a sinner with the intention to convert them, let’s face it, you don’t hang out with prostitutes in order to convert them to Christianity, or go to a casino in order to share the gospel. Perhaps if you were a pastor who never struggled with gambling you could get away with going to a casino as the mission of an evangelist, and with an evangelist team, but never to the Red Light District.
Most people, however, may have never even met a prostitute or stepped into a casino. I haven’t, at least not knowingly. When people make the argument that it’s okay for Christians to hang out with sinners because they are supposed to spread the light of Jesus, the truth is that all this is is a justification for why they don’t want to end their friendship with bad company.
On another level, the story of Jesus hanging out with sinners is very much twisted out of context. Jesus did not just go to random sinners’ houses and hope for the best. Jesus specifically sought out repentant sinners open to turning from their sins. Moreover, Jesus already knew the heart of people because of supernatural wisdom imparted directly by God.
You can bet that when Jesus entered a room, especially a sinner’s house, almost certainly everyone became quiet and self-conscious. Everyone there was probably going out of their way to be on their best behavior, because after all they were in the presence of a Rabbi, a holy teacher.
Even though they did not know Jesus was the Son of God at the time, they did know that Jesus was a wise and spiritual teacher, a holy man. What happens when the pastor enters the room with a bunch of normal teenagers? They act on their best possible behavior. Even more so with adults.
Jesus didn’t go to a brothel, ever, and he didn’t go to the bar to drink with the guys or try to fit in with people telling dirty jokes. Jesus likely never entered anyone’s home that was full of evil unrepentant people or mockers.
We know that the times when Jesus did hang out with “sinners”, it was people such as Matthew, the sinful tax collector who dropped everything and became one of the apostles and the writer of the first book in the New Testament – as well as turning from the thieving life entirely. Zacchaeus, another tax collector, paid back four times times what he pilfered during his tax collector days, and gave half his wealth to the poor (Luke 19:8).
Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, cried at Jesus feet and washed his feet with expensive perfume, wiping his feet with her hair in humility, brokenness, and repentance at her former sinful lifestyle (John 12:3). This same woman followed Jesus and after Jesus’ death on the cross. Mary Magdalene was among the first people who came to his grave (with Mary the mother of Jesus) to anoint his body (only to find him gone, risen) (John 20:1-18).
We know about Jesus entering the “house of sinners”, which according to the Bible were actually followers of Jesus. Mark 2:15 says, “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.” Notice how the Bible says these people were sinners, but they were followers of Jesus. Not unrepentant sinners acting sinfully. Would you say that those druggies or just general bad company who you like to hang out with would consider themselves to be “followers of Jesus”? Probably not.
So when people say that “Jesus hung out with sinners so it’s ok for me to also”, Christians are just setting themselves up for temptation and sin. They are putting themselves in a situation where the devil can use social influence to cause them to sin. It probably would be an accurate estimate that far more than 99% of the time, hanging out with sinners does not lead to the Christian sharing the gospel with their secular drunk, druggie, or promiscuous friends who then all turn from their sins and sing Kumbaya around a campfire while reading the Bible and evangelizing to the lost for the rest of their days.
What does the Bible really say? The Bible says, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.'” (1 Corinthians 15:33). The Bible also says,
” 24 Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, 25 or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.” (Proverbs 22:24-25)
Additionally, the Bible says to “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
By hanging around unrepentant sinners, a Christian is not giving themselves an opportunity to witness to unbelievers, unless that is the sole and only purpose for being there. In reality, hanging around sinners is going to cause the enemy to have an opportunity to pull a Christian down and into sin.
Could something good come out of it in rare cases? Sure, but almost never. Surely, you could do a lot more godly work in good company than in bad company.
Therefore, avoid ungodly people, and if it is lonely to do so, just remember that Jesus and the apostles felt a lot more lonely as they were ostracized, rejected, and murdered gruesome deaths. The Bible never says being a Christian is supposed to be easy. In fact, it is supposed to be hard, because we are instructed to:
” 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:11-13).
Remember to be honest with yourself the next time you are tempted to hang out with sinful people, at parties, the bar, with ungodly friends, or other places where you go without the direct intention of evangelism (and with the support of one or more other Christians who can support your evangelism efforts and keep you from getting distracted). Almost certainly the real reason you want to hang around ungodly people is not to spread the light of Jesus in a dark place, but because you simply don’t want to give up your ungodly and unwholesome friendships.