(First, if this thread is not placed in the correct forum, please feel free to move it.)
I have recently heard the argument that the sinners with whom Christ was wont to dine already had the desire to repent of their sins even before Christ asked them to dine with Him.
This would seem to nullify the argument that many make that it is fine to associate with those who are openly sinning which is largely based on the episodes where Christ dined with sinners.
The argument might be a valid one. After all, why would these sinners, presumably knowing who Christ was and, at least generally, what He preached and that what He preached was moral principles, desire to dine with Him in the first place if they knew their sin might be condemned, as it seemed that this sin was publicly know (by the Pharisees, at any rate)? Surely these sinners would have know that Christ would have known of their sin if also the Pharisees (and presumably others) did?
Still, when the Pharisees confronted Christ about his dining with sinners, He did not at all say that they had repented. He stated that it was the sick that needed a physician, not the healthy. So, presumably, at least not all of the sinners whom He invited had either the desire to repent or had already repented. Christ did not respond to the Pharisees that they had already repented so it was fine. He did not even say that they were leaning toward repentance. He made no effort to indicate this to the Pharisees in any way. Rather, he still called them “sick” and in need of the Great Physician.
I have always imagined in thsi scenario that Christ Himself invited these people to dine with Him, rather than them requesting to do so. Perhaps this plays a role here. Perhaps they themselves were surprised that Christ would invite them, though, again, there is no direct Scriptural indication of this. Perhaps they were surprised that He was showing them this type of kindness. Perhaps this even led to a greater number of them repenting.
So, what are we to make of all this? Were the sinners that ate with Christ not yet necessarily repentant before they ate with Him? Were they repentant? Were they leaning toward repentance? Please support your answers.