Rejection is difficult no matter the circumstances in which it comes. But as believers in Jesus, we stand in a long line of those who have all, in one way or another, faced rejection for their commitment to follow Christ. Some have lost their families, others their reputations, and even others their lives.
Rejection is, in many ways, our heritage. As our Lord Himself said, if the world hated Him, it is not surprising that the world hates us, His slaves (John 15:18–21). If we are faithfully living out the Christian life and proclaiming the gospel with our words, we are sure to encounter rejection. In spite of this and other assurances from Scripture, though, many of us still shy away from evangelism for fear of being rejected.
So, what do we do when unbelievers reject the gospel we proclaim to them? Do we walk away? But their eternal souls are at stake. Do we push the conversation harder? But at what point are we casting pearls before swine? We need to have a plan for what to do when the gospel we preach is rejected.
When to Walk Away
We are responsible to present the gospel clearly and understandably. If you have been faithful to do this, you have not failed in your evangelism, regardless of the response of the unbeliever. God remains sovereign. He may see fit to use your proclamation and example in drawing someone to repentance in the future. However, it may be that, in this instance, your preaching of the gospel is ordained only to harden an unbeliever and to increase his accountability before God (Isaiah 55:10–11). In either case, we must remain faithful to our role as heralds, while trusting God to save as He sees fit.
But to those who are fixed in their rejection, how long should we continue to preach the gospel to them?
Here is a helpful rule of thumb: Leave when the message is openly mocked and resolutely rejected.
Both Matthew 10:14 and Luke 10:1–16 recount the instructions of Christ in sending out the seventy to proclaim the gospel. He told His disciples that in any place they went, they were to leave when the gospel message was rejected. When an unsaved person is fixed in his rejection of the gospel, when it is clear that they have no desire to repent, we must be good stewards of our time and focus our efforts elsewhere.
Let the rejection drive you to your knees, not to bitterness or self-pity.
We are to urge men to repentance (2 Corinthians 5:20). God is patient and long-suffering with us, not wishing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). We should persevere as long as there is even a glimmer of hope. But when they mock the message of God and reject you as its messenger, leave them to the Lord to deal with in the way He sees fit.
But note this: this is not a license to be judgmental or self-righteous. On the contrary, this is a call to humility, to recognize that we are not sovereign to save, no matter how clever or crafty our presentation. This is a call to persistently and sorrowfully pray for them (Luke 19:41–42) and to thank the Lord that in His grace He has opened our blind eyes.
But if we are rejected, what should we do next?
What to Do Next
Do not argue.
Do not jeopardize your testimony (and potentially build barriers for other believers who may engage this person in the future) by needless arguing simply to prove a point. Let the gospel, not your personality, be the only offense to the unbeliever.
Remember, the Word of God has not failed (Isaiah 55:10–11). He may even use your meek and gracious response to prick the person’s conscience. It only falls to us to be faithful to the message. The results are the work of God.
Do not take their rejection personally.
If you are being faithful to confront with the gospel, we must remember that they are ultimately not rejecting us, they are rejecting Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Be patient and kind, and do not abandon the friendship. Be faithful to get the message right, and then leave the rest to God. Having this understanding will keep you from being discouraged, because it isn’t up to you to save someone. That is the role of God alone.
Continue to pray for their repentance.
Your responsibility is now to ask God for the salvation of this person. Ask the Lord to make His hand heavy upon the person’s conscience and to draw him to Himself. Let the rejection drive you to your knees, not to bitterness or self-pity.
Continue to live out Christ-likeness and be available for future reference.
Make them aware of how to contact you if they ever have questions about spiritual issues. Assure them you will continue to pray for them, and then be faithful to do it.
End with a warning.
Every encounter with the gospel is dangerous for the unbeliever, as increased exposure to the message only increases one’s accountability (Luke 12:47–48). It is a fearful thing to hear the gospel proclaimed clearly and then to go on rejecting it (Matthew 11:21–24). Therefore, we should end such encounters with a gracious yet nevertheless firm warning.
Here are a few options of what to say in a warning:
- “You have made strong statements against what I showed you from Scripture, and I want you to know that what I showed you is the only way you may be forgiven of your sin…”
- “By not repenting you are making the decision to reject the only means of salvation…”
- “From what you have said, it is clear that you are unconcerned for your own soul. But what could be more valuable than your eternal soul? I will continue to pray for your salvation.”
- “The Bible tells us that punishment will be greater for those who have heard the gospel but reject it. Please continue to think about these things. I’ll be praying that you reconsider.”
Responding well to rejection requires discernment, grace, and practice. But it should motivate us to remember that we too once rejected the gospel, and that our eyes opened only by the grace of God. Our prayer is that God would open the eyes of the lost around us as well.