Jesus has commanded us to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20), so we invite our friends to church, to Alpha, and to Christmas events where believers talk about Jesus. Many times, non-Christians turn down our invitations.
But Jesus taught believers what to do in the face of rejection, because even He faced it. Crowds saw the supernatural acts He performed and still determined He was not the Messiah or, if He was the Christ, He wasn’t the one they wanted.
When Christians try to share their faith with others and are hit with rejection, Jesus models what to do next.
1. Don’t take it personally.
Jesus was well-liked. He had lots to offer, including free bread. The people followed because He was wise and inclusive; gentle and generous. They were often amazed by what He did and what He said.
Still, Christ had some hard things to say: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” (John 6:56) One disciple said “this is hard teaching; who can accept it?” (John 6:60) The trouble was not with the teaching but with the person hearing it. Jesus explained to the twelve who remained that “no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” (John 6:65)
If people are turned off by the truth, God has not spoken into their hearts yet. It’s not time, and only God knows when that time will come.
2. Pray for those who reject you.
Anyone who does not love Jesus hates Him. (Matthew 12:30)
Some of these people will also hate the believer. Christ encourages us not to respond to rejection with bitterness: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
Jesus’ message is attractive, but people lose patience with the church and are angry about what religion has done to societies throughout history. Some religious mistakes and even atrocities have left a bitter legacy. If you are a Bible-believer and still wrestle with elements of Scripture, imagine how someone feels who can’t separate Christ from the Christian church.
The former is sinless, perfect, beautiful; the latter is full of people and where there are people, sin follows. We’re a mess. Often, non-believers are rejecting that mess, not Jesus, and not you.
3. Assess your motives.
Assess your feelings: were you really hurt? If so, then what was the motivation behind your invitation to dinner with an unbeliever? Why did you start that conversation about Christ? If your motives were sound, then there is nothing to be hurt about. People aren’t rejecting you but Jesus, and He can handle it. He sympathizes with their fear and understands their suspicion.
We have to respect other people’s experiences and remember that Jesus will direct hearts to Himself. If, however, your motive was to win brownie points with God or to gain acclaim among Christians as some great evangelist, your heart is in the wrong place.
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)
4. Reconsider your methods.
Are you too strident? Attacking? Is your language full of “should” and “must?” Have you let your guard down enough to show your need for Jesus or do you try to behave like a righteous do-gooder? Are you arguing, trying to be “right” or just gently sharing truth?
Don’t debate; that leads to argument. “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” (2 Timothy 2:24)
Share your testimony whenever you get a chance. And realize we cannot refute others’ personal experiences. This is a long-haul journey and we must be patient.
5. Imagine how hopelessness feels.
Imagine what it must feel like to live life without the truth of salvation by grace through Christ. Giving up self-righteous denial and admitting to mistaken beliefs is hard when a person is unacquainted with the freedom confession can bring.
Giving one’s life to Christ can seem like asking to be told “you’re a sinner” all day long and feeling guilty constantly. We are sinners, but Jesus “canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14)
Carrying sin around tires out the soul; letting it go lightens that spiritual burden. At the same time, admitting to sin means accepting authority from someone other than ourselves and that’s difficult. We might not be lost anymore, but perhaps we can remember what it felt like to be dead in our trespasses.
Empathize with the unbeliever who might secretly wish for a way to relieve this burden.
6. Ask for God’s timing.
As we yearn for loved ones to know Christ, we are tempted to force the subject of “Jesus” into conversation. Until the Holy Spirit prompts you or warms the heart of your friend, however, you are choosing a terrible time which suits you but not the other person and not the Lord.
Sharing the Gospel starts with relationship, and your relationship with this person might not be strong enough yet. Invest time so she knows you aren’t just trying to convert her in order to be a “good Christian.”
If your motives are right, that won’t be the case at all. Your sincere love will become more evident and, as it does, that friend will want to know where such deep love comes from. Trust God to give you the words when He is ready, through the Holy Spirit which works powerfully within you.
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
7. Keep trying.
Okay, so the conversation was not successful this time. Your plans to run Alpha tanked. You thought God wanted you to invite a girlfriend to ladies’ night at the church but she said “no.” Were you wrong? Is it possible you just planted a seed for later conversations?
Maybe the invitation was turned down today, but that same individual was prompted to think about God on her own. Marketing experts say that consumers are more likely to consider buying something after they are exposed to advertising numerous times.
We’re not trying to sell a product, but repetition leads to curiosity. A colleague might think “why is she so persistent?” Over time, the consistency of your character and of the message you share will sink in. A friend who rejected your invitation last week and the week before might seek you out privately with questions about what you believe and why.
8. Rejoice as part of the body of Christ.
Picture the scene: your co-worker’s mother calls one night for a chat, then asks “Dear, have you thought about coming back to church?” You have been talking to her about Jesus and the topic is fresh in her mind. Perhaps you planted a seed, or watered one, or added fertilizer to the soil, but for some reason her mother’s question inspires a visit to the local church. She turned down your invitation, but Jesus still used you.
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)
This is not your battle, it’s not about you, so don’t expect to reap the rewards. Somewhere down the line, if you’re faithful, a person might enter your life whose seed of faith has been planted, watered, and fertilized ready for you to guard her during the last steps towards accepting Christ. If not, don’t be discouraged. Pray for those God places on your heart.
Jesus was constantly rejected. Even His disciples abandoned Christ’s teaching after He died, so what can you expect? Following Christ is never going to be easy. At least you know the end of the story: we are following a resurrected King.
Simply behaving like one who knows this truth and has been freed by it will lead seekers to your side. And when they ask for a cup of cold water (Matthew 10:42), in Jesus name, you won’t reject them.
Candice Lucey is a writer who loves Jesus and lives in beautiful BC, Canada.
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