Sinners Should Always Be Tolerated

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Two things you never want to do. Never scream “Fire!” in a crowded theater, and never whisper the word tolerance in church, unless you want to be tied to a stake and burned. OK, I’m being facetious and a little unfair, but some Christians don’t seem to want anything to do with anything that has the word tolerance in it.

We Christians love God and want to stand up for—and stand on—his Word, so we refuse to ignore, compromise on, or water down any of the clear teachings of Scripture about sinful lifestyles, wrong beliefs, sexually deviant behavior, socialism, secular humanism, Muzak, and domesticated cats. And this is good because none of these things should be tolerated, but in this chapter I’m not encouraging anyone to be tolerant of sinful lifestyles, beliefs, or things; I’m talking about being tolerant of sinful people.

Tolerance is allowing someone, or something, to be.


Continued unrepentant sin should never be tolerated in the person of any Christian. As Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1, 2).

Despite what my five-year-old daughter Payton thought, we are all sinners (Romans 3:23). In home school a few years ago, my wife was sitting on the couch with our two young boys, teaching a lesson about sin. My youngest son, Sylas, asked, “Mommy, what is sin?” so Rhonda explained to him that sin is when we disobey God. She then went on to explain to the boys that we are all sinners. Payton was in the kitchen getting a drink of water—and not a part of the lesson—but when she heard this, she announced with a look of horror on her face, “I’m not a sinner!”

Rhonda replied, “Well, sweetie, you actually are—we all are.”

“But I’m not a sinner!” Payton exclaimed again.

Always the wise teacher, Rhonda said, “Well, sweetie, you’re actually sinning a little bit right now.”

Sin in the church is like a cancer that, if left untreated, leads to death.

Continued unrepentant sin should never be tolerated in the body of Christ. Sin in the church is like a cancer that, if left untreated, leads to death. We are supposed to eat with non-Christian sinners but not with unrepentant Christian ones. The apostle Paul wrote to Christians who were tolerating an incestuous relationship within their congregation:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 1 Corinthians 5:9-11

Sinners should always be allowed in our presence. It’s their only hope. It’s our only hope for reaching them.

But we are commanded not to eat with another Christian who is tolerating sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, slander, drunkenness, or swindling in his or her life.


Sinners should always be tolerated.

Jesus made this point when he allowed a sinful woman to be in his presence, wiping his feet with her hair, kissing his feet, and pouring perfume on them while he ate at Simon the Pharisee’s house (Luke 7:36-50).

This confused Simon. He didn’t understand why a man of Jesus’ stature would tolerate this woman. Luke doesn’t tell us the nature of her sin, but from Luke’s comment that she was “a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town,” we infer that she most likely was a prostitute. Simon was befuddled. If Jesus really was a prophet of God—as the people claimed—why would he allow a woman like this to be in his presence?

Why would Jesus allow himself to be contaminated by the proceeds of that woman’s evil work? Wasn’t he condoning her lifestyle by receiving her attention and allowing her to anoint his feet with the spoils of her evil trade?

Of course not!

He wasn’t condoning her actions. He was just loving her.

Jesus was more tolerant of lost people than most of us will ever be, because he loved lost people more than most of us ever will. Tolerance is viewed by many in the church as watering down the message of Jesus, but when we look at how Jesus interacted with sinners who were in need of salvation, we learn that tolerance toward sinners was key to how he reached out to them. He chose to be with sinners because he wanted them to have hope. He allowed this prostitute to be in his presence at this dinner because he wanted her to be with him at the banquet he will host in eternity.

It’s all about the choices we make, and sometimes we make bad choices. Sin is about choice. We choose to sin.

Faith is also about choice. We choose to believe.

This woman had made some bad choices in the past, but those choices hadn’t made her intolerable, just sinful, so Jesus chose to have faith in the power of love lived out in her presence.

Tolerance is really an act of faith.

We must believe that people can change. We can’t forget that we are all sinners who sin. We are not sin. There’a clear difference. When it comes to sharing our faith in Jesus, allowing someone to be in our presence is a statement of our faith that coexistence between Christians and non-Christians will result in positive changes.

You’ve been reading with Arron Chambers from his book Eats With Sinners. Read the first chapter or watch Arron talk about his book here- Get your copy for personal or group use at

15 thoughts on “Sinners Should Always Be Tolerated”

  1. Have to disagree with the use of the word tolerant- Jesus never said tolerated one another as I have tolerated you- no He said LOVE one another as I have LOVED you.
    To tolerate someone is the worlds best offer
    If I tolerate you I am just barely putting up with you. If I said I am tolerating my husband you would think gee that marriage is not doing very well. Words are so important so use the right ones. We are to love- if you love the world as Jesus did you will be exercising His heart for the lost. We love him because He first loved us. Thank God for His great love. Now let us be followers of Jesus and LOVE!

    • Susan–Good afternoon! You are correct in the fact that we don’t read of Jesus using the word “tolerant” in the New Testament. As you noted, He loved people–and in a marvelous and life-changing way and taught us to love people, as well.

      I just believe that tolerating lost people is often a necessary first step in the process of introducing them to the great love of Jesus. If I had time I could give you a dozen examples of people who I’ve been blessed to lead to Christ who–when I first interacted with them and because of their choices/behavior/language/dress etc.–required a lot of grace, mercy, and tolerance on my part in the name of Jesus.

      I feel you may be missing the bigger and more significant point in light of smaller and less significant word: “tolerance.” Everything you say about tolerance (in the context of marriage and other relationships) is true–if don’t love my wife, but only tolerate her, I’ve doomed both of us to a horrible, empty, and ungodly marriage.

      That being said, that’s not what I was teaching or condoning in this article (or in my book).

      All I was pointing out was that Jesus allowed (or tolerated…def. of tolerance: allowing someone to be in your presence) this woman who had been labeled a “sinner” to be in His presence (which was a radical and unacceptable act according to Jewish religious rules of the day), because He wanted to show her His amazing and great love. In my experience, we sometimes miss the opportunity to share the love of Jesus with lost people because we sometimes practice intolerance of lost people.

      So, yes…Jesus never said “tolerate one another as I have tolerated you” or taught us that toleration is the ultimate goal. It is not. Love is, but in my experience, I’ve found it almost impossible to personally show the love of Christ to someone I’ve not allowed to be in my presence.

      Does that make sense? I really appreciated your insights and hope you now more clearly understand what I was trying to communicate.

  2. Acceptance might also define God’s live. Like a doctors diagnosing for effective treatment, we can’t really begin without it. God’s love allows us to see the sinners real condition so we can pray accurately for healing. I’m so grateful He accepted and cured me from the effects of sin in my life.

  3. Yes, yes! Totally agree! Love and accept sinners like Jesus did to display God’s unconditional love.
    I’m with Payton on the sinner thing though..Are you a sinner..or are you righteous? Who you are and what you do are 2 very different things.
    As long as one believes they are “a sinner” and not the righteousness of God, one will act according to their believed identity.
    Just as surely as doing good doesn’t save anyone before trusting in Jesus and His finished work through his, death, burial and resurrection.. Once saved, the sin one commits doesn’t negate your new identity in Christ. You ARE the righteousness of God in Christ. Believe it, say it! (Semantics are important)
    – and never tolerate a lifestyle of sin..that’ll only bring hurt, pain and death.

  4. Matthew 18:21(Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

    22.Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

    I agree what you’re saying when you say unrepented sins should not be tolerated tolerated. But who are we to determine that it is unrepented? The Bible does say confess your sins one to another that so that you may be healed,because the fervent prayer of a man availeth much. But what if a person hasn’t grown enough to where they feel comfortable asking forgiveness of men? But on the other hand they have repented to God and asked forgiveness. The Bible says that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak therefore tolerance is acceptable, we must be patient with one another kind-hearted, the Apostle Paul says one man eats meat another man eats herbs but whatever a man eats let it be for the glory of God. I think the flesh becomes involved when we put tolerance in the equation, because God is love.

  5. Jesus was not a ‘friend of sinners’ any more than he was a glutton or drunkard (it’s in the Word). I’ve thought a lot about Jesus’ own words regarding it. His own description was that he was ‘a physician among patients’. The last 2 verses if John 2 say Jesus didn’t trust his heart to any man. This includes his disciples for the most part, I believe.

    Believers don’t have fellowship with unbelievers, not true fellowship, because there is no fellowship between light and dark. But the wilfully sinning Christian is a leaven that leavens the whole.

    Tolerance, in this sense, then has no relebamce. Although it may be unpopular to say so. Jesus was not tolerating sinners (except, perhaps, the apostles) as much as he was going where He was sent, to be the light to those who needed it. As such, He was a branch cut off, not fellowshipping, but merely being a true island in the midst of sin.

    But, as for the lady at Simon’s dinner, perhaps she was a sinner when she got there, but she wasn’t when she left. But, one thing is certain… If she had not been repentant, she would not have been touching him that day…

    But, that’s where I see this sort of logic in this article breaking down… Because the type of ‘tolerance’ that most people think of when it is discussed in the church today is something different than we see in the life of Jesus and the church of the NT. The last thing we want is an arguing over words, where we defend living like Jesus from the Word, but use the same word ‘tolerate’ to practically apply to something else in our living.

    I prefer the word ‘longsuffering’, partly because it is Biblical, but also because of the apt description of putting up with sin–to suffer. And, as someone else pointed out, we already know how many times we need to forgive.

  6. I believe you are in error concerning the women mentioned in Luke. She was no longer a sinner as she was in His presence anointing Jesus. Read further “he who has been Forgiven much loves much” she was there as a woman who had been set free from her sin. It might be kind of important to mention that to your readers.

    • Christopher–Thanks for writing…
      In Luke 7:37 we read, “And behold a woman of the city, who was a sinner.” She was labeled a “sinner” before her anointing of Jesus and was forgiven by Jesus just after the anointing (Luke 7:48). She came to the house a sinner, Jesus showed tolerance (“allowed her to be in his presence”–even though she was a “woman of the city”), she anointed Jesus, Jesus praised her, and then Jesus forgave her. As you said, she was indeed set free from her sin and–as you also noted–she was no longer carrying the burden of her sins because of the extreme grace of Jesus.

      Do you see where I’m coming from? She was labeled by Luke a “sinner” before the anointing (Luke 7:37) and was pronounced by Jesus as “forgiven” after the anointing (Luke 7:48).

  7. I think you’re asking us to judge between the “wheat and tares”! Also, what about circumstances like a prodigal child that the parent is hoping against hope is in the faith, but not living it out?

  8. Yes, endurance or being patient with a sinner is a sure way of giving room for repentance. If you cannot tolerate a sinner for sometimes, you may not be able to love and forgive. Austin Oto

  9. I agree with Christopher that the woman was a repentant sinner who had already grasped the forgiveness that Jesus was offering before she came to Simon’s house. That was the reason that she came, to express her gratitude and love for what Jesus had done for her. As Jesus indicated, her actions toward him were an expression of her great love because she knew she had been forgiven much.
    This does not take away from your tolerance point. She had grasped Jesus’ offer of forgiveness because he has been eating with sinners and tax gatherers (Luke 7:34)
    This whole scene is a development of what Jesus says right before in Luke 7:35 “Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” The Pharisees were opposed to Jesus because they thought that his strategy of eating with sinners would result in Jews becoming lax about sin, which would be dishonoring of God’s holiness. But Jesus’ strategy would be proved wise when people responded with a great love for God because they were forgiven much. The woman’s treatment of Jesus reflected the traditional hospitality that would be showed to an honored guest, treatment that Simon the Pharisee did not give to Jesus. This scene demonstrates that sinners who are aware of being forgiven end up honoring God (out of love) more than those who are relatively more holy in their conduct.
    So Jesus eating with sinners was more than an act of tolerance. It was an offer of forgiveness for sin. And because first century Jews were steeped in the holiness of God, these “sinners” were very aware of their sin. They knew that sin separated them from God. They would never see Jesus’ tolerance of them as indicating that their sin did not matter. It was a sign that there was a chance to have sins forgiven and have fellowship with God, who is holy, even for them.
    That is where Jesus’ context and ours is very different. “Sinners” are not aware that they are sinners. That is a big problem. If you have little awareness of the depth of your sin, then you will not love God much even if you have a sense of being forgiven in Christ. Our biggest challenge is not to tolerate “sinners” but to figure out a way to help them realize that they are sinners.

  10. Is it not that the reason we reach out to unbelievers is for them to be changed? Is it not that the reason Christ died for the sinners is that they may be forgiven and that they may stop sinning? If that is so, is it tolerating sinners?


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