The argument goes that, since Jesus ate with people that the Pharisees regarded as sinners, He accepted them as they were. As a result, He would embrace those whom conservative Christians supposedly reject today. In particular, He would champion members of the LBGTQ community, and shame on conservative Christians for calling their sexual orientation sinful!
Christians who believe that homosexuality and transgenderism require repentance constantly hear that we should follow Jesus rather than following Bible verses that condemn homosexuality and transgenderism. Jesus, they remind us, hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes, giving us an example to follow. When we dare to speak out against sexual sin — especially those sins under the LBGTQ umbrella — we face enormous censure for evidently failing to be Christlike.
But maybe we ought to look at an instance of Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors. In this episode, Jesus has just called Levi (also known as Matthew) to follow Him. Luke 5:28 plainly says, please notice, that Levi immediately left his lucrative but sinful business to follow Jesus.
Let’s pick up the narrative at verse 29.
29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” ~~Luke 5:29-32 (ESV)
The Pharisees interpreted Christ’s willingness to eat with sinners as His acceptance of their lifestyle. How interesting that the very people who call Bible-believing Christians Pharisees arrive at the very same conclusion (just something to think about).
Jesus answered that He came for the purpose of calling sinners to repentance.
There were two components to His response that I want to bring to your attention. Firstly, He stated that He didn’t come to call the righteous. Of course, no one is actually righteous (Romans 3:10). But the Pharisees both considered themselves righteous and convinced the general population to regard them as righteous. The Lord’s point was that self-righteous people don’t acknowledge their sinfulness, so they can’t receive His message.
Similarly, many people in the LBGTQ community and their supporters no longer believe their lifestyle is sinful. In fact, now it’s wrong to say that their desires and behaviors violate God’s law. Like First Century Pharisees, they refuse to believe that they have any reason to repent.
And the idea of repentance leads into the second component of Jesus’ answer. In eating with tax collectors and sinners, He in no way condoned their sin! Quite the opposite: He used the occasion for the express purpose of offering them opportunities to repent.
These people knew that they were sinners, and they had no hope of enjoying God’s forgiveness. They felt trapped by their sinful lifestyle, and didn’t believe they had any alternative. But Jesus graciously let them know that they actually could turn from their sin to follow Him in holiness.
Jesus indeed welcomes sinners (including LBGTQ sinners) who acknowledge their sinfulness and exhibit a willingness to repent for His sake. Instead of hanging out with them simply to unnerve Bible-believing Christians, He lovingly calls them to repent and follow Him. He calls all of us sinners to the same repentance.