A Friend of Sinners?

A popular teaching today is that Jesus hung out with (was a friend of) the ungodly, while he avoided contact with the “super religious,” which is often a popular reference to the godly. But Jesus was not a friend of the ungodly. He was a friend to those who obeyed him (Jn 15:14-15; Jas 2:23).

So, I believe the Lord would have me examine this popular teaching, considering the teachings in Scripture. So, I will begin with the Scripture that is often taken out of context and is misinterpreted to say that Jesus was/is a friend of sinners.

Matthew 11:16-19 ESV

“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

The Scriptures do not teach that Jesus was a friend of sinners (the ungodly), i.e. that he had a personal, intimate, shared, close and loving affectionate bond (union) with them, and that he hung out with them regularly, and that he engaged in activities with them, and that he went places with them as one might do with a close friend.

He loved them! Yes! Which is why he gave his life up on a cross to die for us. And, he did eat with them, but it was so he could share the gospel of our salvation with them, and so he could teach them about the kingdom of heaven so that they would believe on him and have eternal life with God.

So, he was accused of being a close companion with the ungodly, but the accusations came mainly from hypocritical liars who were jealous of Jesus and of his ministry, who resented him, and who were threatened by him. They hated him because he spoke the truth, and because he didn’t play their games, and he didn’t dance to their tunes (their ways of doing things).

But, the hypocrisy in all of this is that those who were accusing him were the ungodly, who just thought they were righteous, while those Jesus ate with were those who knew they were sinners, and so they were open to listening to what Jesus taught them. And, many of them believed in him, and they became the godly, while Jesus’ accusers continued in their ungodly ways and in their false righteousness and hypocrisies.

So, who did Jesus call his friends? He referred to as his friends those who listened to him, who believed what he taught them, and who obeyed him as their master (Jn 15:14-15; Jas 2:23).

And, what do the Scriptures teach us regarding who our (close, intimate, bonded) friends should be or not be?

2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”

James 4:4 ESV

“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

We are not to love worldliness, godlessness, wickedness, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. We are to have no part in any of that, and we are not to be bonded together in close intimate fellowship with those who are godless and who love and who prefer what is of this world to (in place of) holiness, righteousness and godliness.

Yet, we are to love all people, Christian or not. And, we are to be in the world, and we are to associate with Christian and non-Christian. This is biblical. But we are not to be of the world so that the world loves us as its own. We are not to be bonded to in close intimate relations w/the ungodly.

In other words, if we don’t associate with or have any contact with the people of the world, we can’t share the love of God with them or share the gospel of Jesus with them. But the ungodly (Christian or not) are not to be our close intimate friends with whom we bond in fellowship. For, we are not to participate with them in ungodly ways or to be influenced by them.

So, what is the true message behind this popular message which teaches that Jesus was a friend (close companion) with sinners and that he avoided friendships with the “super religious”?

My Observations from Experience

From what I have experienced in hearing such messages over the years, it is my observation that the message is that we are to surround ourselves with the ungodly while we are to avoid close associations with the godly, who they call “hyper-religious.”

And, this is a message that has been loud and clear in today’s market-driven church. For, this appears to be the goal of these churches, to bring in the world, but to push out the mature in Christ.

And, why is that? Well, one good reason would be that the world is moldable to the cheap grace gospel and to false worldly teaching, whereas the mature in Christ are not.

I had one pastor tell me that he was trained (by men) to avoid people such as me who had “strong convictions.” He invited me to leave his church, and he offered to help me find somewhere where I would be a “better fit.” And, I did nothing to deserve that treatment, I assure you!

So, who is it that is giving out these messages that say we need to blend in with the world and to become one with the culture, and that we are to “be the gospel” by being “good deed doers” who go around “blessing” everyone? And, that we need to have the ungodly as our close friends and companions?

They are those who are following man-made religion and marketing techniques for how to grow their “churches” (businesses), and so they are also those who are promoting the cheap grace gospel which requires no submission to the Lordship of Christ, no obedience to God, and no repentance (turning away from sin).

So, what they are teaching is of the flesh of man, not of God, and not of his righteousness and holiness. So, we need to be studying the Scriptures, and we must be testing everything we hear, see, or read (or we think we see) against the Scriptures to make sure they align with the Word of God.

And, then we need to be those who follow the truth of God’s word, and not those who are following humanistic philosophy being passed off as though it is from God.

Trust and Obey

Words by John H. Sammis, 1887
Music by Daniel B. Towner, 1887

When we walk with the Lord
in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will,
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Chorus (Refrain):
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Not a shadow can rise,
not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear,
not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

Not a burden we bear,
not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss,
not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

But we never can prove
the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows,
for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet
We will sit at His feet.
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way.
What He says we will do,
Where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.

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