Jesus demonstrated his great love and compassion for all people, and in many cases, those who were considered outcasts by society and the religious elites of the day. His interactions with tax collectors and sinners illustrate this, as he was often criticized by the Scribes and Pharisees for eating and associating with them. These individuals were deemed immoral and unworthy of attention by the Pharisees, but Jesus’s purpose was greater than their. Jesus did not see past their sin, but instead, recognized the lost spiritual state of these people and their great need for a savior.
Jesus’s mission was to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10)—all that the Father had given to him (John 6:37). He accomplished this through his work of propitiation on the cross, where he took upon himself the punishment for the sins of his people and reconciled them to God. Through faith in Jesus and repentance of their sins, individuals can experience the forgiveness and transformation that Jesus offers.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus reached out to a wide range of people, including Samaritans, the sexually immoral, Syro-Phoenicians, lepers, and Zacchaeus, and even the Scribes and Pharisees, who were false teachers. He would show many of them compassion and genuine love by leading many to repentance and faith in him. It is true that despite criticism from the self-righteous legalists of his day, Jesus did not let social status or cultural norms dictate his relationships with people. He sought out the lost and met them where they were, but his purpose in doing so was to extend grace to those who would come to him in true repentance and faith.
His purpose for “hanging out with sinners” was never to affirm their sin or to teach others to accept, tolerate, or especially, celebrate their lifestyles. Instead, it was always to urge them to forsake their sin and to come to him instead.
Progressive Christianity, a false expression of the Christian faith, completely misunderstands this concept and often uses it to push back against conservative Christians who call the sexually immoral, the idolaters, the swindlers, and people who are given over to all kinds of sin to repentance. Below is an example of a “pastor” who says that Jesus would rather hang out with queers than with conservative Evangelicals. Of course, he completely misses the point, too.