What Does the Bible Say About Hanging Out With Sinners?


As Christians, we are called to be set apart and holy, yet Jesus himself spent time with tax collectors, prostitutes, and others living clearly sinful lives. This apparent contradiction can be confusing for believers – are we supposed to isolate ourselves from nonbelievers, or are we called to engage with them? What does the Bible truly say about hanging out with sinners?

In this comprehensive, 4,000 word blog post, we will dive deep into relevant scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments to understand God’s heart on this matter. We’ll look at key examples of Jesus mingling with sinners, as well as verses that instruct us to be separate and avoid wicked influences.

Here are the key takeaways we’ll cover:

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  • God calls Christians to be set apart from the world and its sinful ways
  • However, Jesus modeled building relationships with nonbelievers to draw them to salvation
  • We must exercise wisdom and set boundaries when engaging with non-Christians
  • Our purpose should always be to shine God’s light by the way we live and interact
  • Scripture gives clear guidance on when to walk away from unhealthy associations
  • Loving others requires caring for their souls first and foremost

Let’s explore each of these concepts in depth.

What Does the Bible Say About Hanging Out With Sinners?

Christians Are Called to Be Holy, Set Apart From the World

Multiple passages of Scripture make it clear that as followers of Christ, we are to be set apart from the sinfulness of the world.

1 Peter 1:15-16 says:

But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (NKJV)

God commands his people to be holy just as he is holy. That means we must be distinct from the corrupt ways of the world. Romans 12:2 tells us:

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. (NKJV)

Rather than adopting the pattern of the world, we are to be changed from within by God’s Spirit and wisdom.

James 1:27 gives further instruction:

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (NKJV)

Our faith should compel us to serve those in need, while also maintaining moral purity and refusing to indulge in the sins of society around us.

Finally, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 contains a strong directive:

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.” Therefore
“Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,
Says the LORD Almighty.” (NKJV)

This passage indicates we should not join ourselves to unbelievers, since we have nothing in common with their sin and darkness. God desires his children to separate from evil influences and instead experience close relationship with him.

Jesus Mingled with Sinners to Call them to Repentance

Despite commands for holiness and separation, the Gospels clearly show Jesus spending time with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other outward sinners. Does this contradict other biblical instructions? Not when we understand the purpose behind Christ’s interactions.

One powerful example is Luke 5:27-32. Jesus calls Levi, a tax collector, to be his disciple. Then Levi throws a feast for Jesus and invites his fellow tax collectors and others with poor reputations. The Pharisees rebuke Jesus for eating with such sinners. His reply reveals his purpose:

When Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (ESV)

Jesus associated with sinners not because he condoned their lifestyles, but rather to build relationships through which he could call them to repentance. He engaged with their culture without compromising his standards.

Another moving example is Christ’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, described in John 4:1-42. Jesus crosses cultural boundaries by speaking with a Samaritan woman, shocking his disciples. As their conversation unfolds, he reveals his knowledge of her sinful lifestyle having had five husbands. Yet he dialogues with her gently and respectfully, offering her the living water of salvation. In the end, many Samaritans come to believe in Christ because he was willing to engage with someone society shunned.

These examples show that Jesus did not avoid sinners – he went straight toward them! But always with the motivation of healing their spiritual brokenness. He calls all believers to emulate him in this outward focus.

Exercise Wisdom When Interacting with Nonbelievers

Following Jesus’ pattern of building relationships with non-Christians requires much prayer and wisdom. While our purpose must be bringing the light of Christ, we also want to avoid falling into temptation ourselves.

1 Corinthians 15:33 offers this caution:

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” (ESV)

While we cannot cloister ourselves away from all non-Christians, we must be careful about close friendships and influences. Seeking out intimate bonds solely with people who delight in sin is unwise and will erode our spiritual foundation.

Instead, Scripture advises:

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. (Proverbs 13:20 ESV)

Surrounding ourselves with wise, spiritually mature believers as mentors and friends is crucial for growth. We can engage unbelievers and maintain Gospel witness without going down the path of sin alongside them.

The Apostle Paul models this balance well. When called to testify before governors and kings, he boldly declared the Gospel even under threat of imprisonment or death. Yet he also started churches and poured deeply into his fellow Christians like Timothy and Titus, training up the next generation of disciples. His priority was always building up believers.

As Jesus’ ambassadors, we must follow this pattern of courageously engaging outsiders while also nurturing faith within the household of God. There is wisdom in knowing when to walk alongside nonbelievers, and when to focus on strengthening the family of faith.

Set Healthy Boundaries with Unhealthy Relationships

Scripture does draw clear lines when harmful influences within relationships call for possible separation.

Romans 16:17 instructs:

Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. (NKJV)

If associating with certain people threatens sound doctrine and practice in the church, we are told to avoid them. This applies to relationships both within and outside the body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:33-34 adds:

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame. (NIV)

Again, we are warned not to be deceived about corrupting influences. Sometimes ending unhealthy associations is the loving and wise choice, both for our good and for any who are promoting wrongdoing.

2 Thessalonians 3:6 gives a strong command regarding those who intentionally disobey the Word:

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. (NIV)

When someone claiming Christ deliberately continues in sin or doctrinal error, we cannot maintain close ties with them. After patient rebuke, separation protects the church from deception and sin.

Loving others well means directing them away from harm, even if that requires putting distance between us. This promotes healing of relationships in the long run.

Our Purpose: To Shine Gospel Light Through Our Lives

As Christ’s ambassadors, our calling is taking the message of salvation to all peoples, building Christlike maturity in the church, and shining God’s light through our lives. This looks very different for each situation and relationship.

Philippians 2:14-16 guides us:

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…(NKJV)

In every interaction, we must aim to shine God’s light – not promote condemnation or arguments. Jude 22-23 reminds us:

And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. (NKJV)

Our speech must be gracious and thoughtful, tailored to each circumstance. We cannot justify cruelty or carelessness by separating from “sinners.” Nor should we endanger ourselves through naive compromise.

If we follow the narrow path Jesus sets forth – building relationships with nonbelievers like he did yet avoiding sin and refusing to condone it – then we can walk in wisdom. Our lives will shine for God’s glory, drawing many to salvation.

Loving Others Means Caring for Souls Above All Else

Christ perfectly modeled pure motivations, unquenched by religious attitudes of superiority or isolation. He gently confronted sin yet prioritized healing the soul. When the Pharisees prepared to stone the adulterous woman, Jesus focused not on her guilt but on her value, saying, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11 NKJV).

We must check our own hearts first. Do we see others as God sees them – broken but infinitely precious? Are we driven by contempt for sin, or deep concern for the sinner’s redemption?

Proverbs 11:30 brings us back to Christ’s perspective:

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise. (NKJV)

Above all, those who turn many to salvation through compassion and wisdom reflect God’s heart best. With the Spirit’s guidance, we can avoid harshness and still call people to repentance as Jesus did.

May we stay centered on what matters most to God – not separation from sinners, but relentless grace transforming sinners into children of light.


In summary, the Bible makes it clear that Christians are called to be distinct from the sinfulness of the world. However, following Jesus’ example, we must build bridges with nonbelievers to call them to repentance. This requires prayerful wisdom and setting healthy boundaries. Our purpose must be bringing the light of Christ through our lives. Most importantly, we must care for souls as God does – with gentle, patient, transforming love.

As you navigate your own relationships with both believers and unbelievers, seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance continually. Study Jesus’ pattern of boldly engaging culture while staying rooted in the Father’s love. Let us neither condemn the lost nor compromise with sin, but shine ever more brightly to light the way home.

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