I have heard many people make statements like, “Jesus hung out with sinners,” or “If Jesus were here today, he would be partying with the sinners not with the religious, self-righteous church people.” I have been quite disturbed as I see many people who call themselves Christians, participate in activities that do not speak of a Christ-like life. They use the above statements to justify their own sinful decisions and to make their sin ‘okay.’ The Word of God shows me that, yes, Jesus did spend time around and with sinful people. He even ate with them and went to their homes. He was criticized and accused of breaking the law by doing so. However, in every instance Jesus sat down with a sinner, but when he left them, they were changed.
Take Zacchaeus for instance. In Luke Chapter 19:1-10
1 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him,[a] and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. 7 But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”
8 Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”
9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
As I read this, I see the perfect example of Jesus loving a sinner. He did not take on the views of those around him and hate Zacchaeus for being a mean, cheating, stealing tax-collector. He saw a man who needed salvation. He called Zacchaeus by name and went to his house. I would love to know what was spoken in that conversation. In that little bit of time over a meal, Jesus spoke to the heart of the matter as evidenced by Zacchaeus’ response. Zacchaeus changed. He changed in his heart. He became a giving, generous, loving man of God. He became a man that wanted to please God rather than gather riches. He turned from his sin and he became a Christian. The presence of Jesus changed a sinful man into a God-fearing man. When Jesus walked out of that house, he did not leave Zacchaeus in the same sinful condition he found him in when he came. Jesus did not participate in the sin, but left a man changed by His very presence.
This story played out over and over in the four gospels. Every person that came to Jesus was given the opportunity to change. The woman at the well, the twelve disciples, the blind man, the leper and the prostitute woman came into the presence of Jesus full of sin and living sinful lives. They were transformed and changed when Jesus spoke to them and addressed the condition of their heart. They were quickly and almost immediately washed and cleansed with new perspectives, new hearts and new minds. He came and changed lives.
He did not force them to change but gave them the message that sin needed to be forsaken and there needed to be a change in their hearts. There were those who did not accept this message even from Jesus. In Mark chapter 10 we read of the rich young ruler.
17 Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”
18 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’”[c]
20 And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”
21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”
22 But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
This rich young ruler had a habit of doing what he thought was good, but when challenged to put God first, to truly trust God, and be a sold-out follower, he was unwilling to give up what he thought was his security and salvation. He went away sorrowful and and sad. He did not find the joy in Jesus. He did not realize that a heart change was what Jesus offered. He loved his life and his things more than God. He was unwilling to let the presence of Jesus completely transform him from the inside out.
1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
This verse tells me that God is interesting changing our hearts. He does not send his presence just to spend time hanging out, but to transform and change the heart of man.
Romans 12:2 says, And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
He wants to transform the world, not the other way around.
Matthew 15:18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.
In college, I had a discussion a few times with a couple of bible study friends about going to frat parties. They would often cite the scriptures of Jesus going to the sinners. They would talk about reaching sinners by hanging out with them. My question was, if you are participating in their sinful acts, are you really going to win them to Christ? What are you showing them that is any different from what they are already doing? Was this christian influencing them to have a change or was this christian really the one being influenced by sin? More often than not, the christian is justifying participation in a sinful act or activity. There is no influence from the christian on the sinner to be different or seek the salvation Jesus is offering. Rather than a heart filled with the presence of God, the Holy Ghost, the things that ended up proceeding from them defiled the testimony they had hoped to have.
I see people “partying,” living lives full of hatred and destruction, using foul language, gossiping, back-biting, and down-right unloving to others. I see and hear many participating in sin all the while calling it witnessing, fun, and fellowship. I see arguments and attacks between those who say they are loving Christians on one another. I see Christians participating in the same activities and sinful nature rather than being an influence that causes Jesus’ presence to enter and make heart changes. There is self-righteousness on many sides. There is self-justification and excuses made for actions that are downright against the plan of God. What is truly in the heart is what is coming out and defiling the man not revealing Christ.
Luke 16:15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
I may be stepping on some toes and may even be speaking to myself as I write this, but it is time to examine ourselves through the lens of the scripture. Jesus may have sat down with sinners, but he left them changed. Have we entered a home with the presence of Jesus and left those in that home completely changed by the presence of the Almighty?
Jesus did. Peter did. Paul did. Those in the presence of Paul, even the soldiers guarding him, found the life changing presence of Jesus irresistible. Rather than allowing the influence of sin into our hearts, we need to allow the presence of the Holy Ghost to operate through us to draw all men to the life-changing experience of salvation. We should be leaving a trail of changed hearts and lives in our wake.
We cannot justify sin, participate in sin, and make sin okay even in the name of witnessing and being loving to sinners. Jesus may have sat down and ate with sinners, but He did not participate in their sin, nor did he excuse it. He did not tolerate the sin and He spoke against it. He called out those with sin in their hearts and condemned the sin. He did not allow those to continue in sin when he had a life saving message for them. He loved the sinner and made sure they understood the way of escape. He did not leave them in the same condition in which he found them. Because of the love he had for them, he spoke truth in that love and revealed the sinful nature that must be forgiven.
In John 10:10 Jesus said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
He did not want to leave sinners in the same condition without addressing the serious condition of their life. He gave them the life giving message of salvation and a way to leave sin behind. We, as Christ-like people, need to do the same. We were told to go preach the gospel in Mark 16:15 and by Jesus several times in his ministry. We are not called to participate in sin and just be friends with sin. Jesus would not have sat and hoped that just by being there and being friendly, the sinner might decide to change. He spoke life and spoke to their sinful nature. He addressed the heart issues and called them to repentance. Those of us that claim to be Christians (meaning: Christ-like) need to examine our own examples, our own hearts and lives. Are we living up to this title? It says in Acts 11:26 And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. They were called Christians. They did not call themselves Christians. Others saw Christ in their deeds, actions, words and lives. Others saw them as Christ-like.
Do others see us as Christ-like? Christians need to quit making excuses, quit playing with sin, quit allowing sin to be manifest in lives, quit being afraid to just be like Christ. If we don’t know what Christ was like, read the Bible and find out. Jesus Christ did not tolerate sin nor did he participate in sin. He was sinless and perfect. While loving others, he indeed spoke against sin and spoke truth. We need to speak truth and speak against sin. We need to declare the life-changing gospel to those who are trapped in sin. We need to be the light that shines in the darkness. We need to offer those around us a transformed life with eternal hope in Jesus. When we sit and talk with those who are controlled by sin, we must love them as Christ loved them and speak truth. We want to leave them changed because the presence of Jesus was evident and active in our lives. No longer should we be influenced by those in sin, but we should be the influence that transforms those who come into contact with Jesus Christ in us.
Be an example of the believers.
Titus 2:7-8 7 in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility,8 sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.
Pray that Christians become Christ-like and become the gospel message that changes the world. Pray that we love others enough to be truthful and speak life. Pray that we are strong enough to say no to sinful actions. Pray that our hearts are transformed and represent Christ. Pray that we are no longer tolerant of sin and no longer fearful of speaking the truth of the gospel. Pray that we are no longer afraid of offending and are bold in our declaration that Jesus Christ is the way the truth and the life. No man comes unto the Father but through Jesus alone. (John 14:6)
Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
Let us walk in newness of life and no longer in sin. Let us do the will of the Father and no longer our own sinful will. Let us crucify the flesh (Romans 6:6-7)and walk in the Spirit. Be separate from sin (2 Corinthians 6:17) and be the influence to those who need Christ. We need to be obedient the Word of God and truly represent Christ.