by R. York Moore
Getting up the nerve to share Jesus with others around us takes all the courage we can muster. We pray and ask God for wisdom, we review what we’ll say in our minds and perhaps a few Bible verses, and with palpitations in our chest, we begin to share Jesus.
For many Christians, it is the hardest thing they do. Sharing Jesus with others puts us at both God’s mercy as well as the mercy of those with whom we share. One of the most challenging things in this exercise of faith often comes when the person we are sharing with rejects the good news.
A ‘no’ to Jesus can feel like a failure to us; it can call into question whether or not God is with us, leading us, empowering us as we share Jesus. Additionally, for Christians, it is hard to imagine how people could say ‘no’ to such a great message and promise of forgiveness, love, and new life. What we do with a ‘no’ to Jesus is perhaps the most important exercise of faith in our witness.
#1. Realize your Role
Jesus sends us out as His witnesses to faithfully and powerfully proclaim Him. He does not promise positive results. In fact, rejection ought to be expected as a normal part of faithful witness. We are successful in evangelism if we proclaim lovingly and truthfully the gospel.
Success in evangelism isn’t counted by people’s response. A ‘no’ or a ‘yes’ is not under our control. To be sure, we can learn to do a better job—to be more prophetic, more pastoral, more accurate, more persuasive, but in the end a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is under the control of the person hearing.
Our job is to hold forth Jesus.
#2. Reassure the Person
Frequently, when the person we are sharing with has a relationship with us, the pressure and awkwardness of a religious conversation weighs on him or her as much as it does on us. When a person ultimately says ‘no’ to Jesus, it can feel like he or she is saying no to us as well. As we tell our mothers and siblings, life-long friends, co-workers, and neighbors about Jesus, there will naturally be tension because the relationship has value.
Introducing Jesus into any relationship has the potential to forever alter (and sometimes end) that relationship. As people reject Jesus, we often need to reassure them that we will remain committed to them regardless of how they respond. This can not only relieve some of the pressure and awkwardness from our witness, but also leave the door open for future opportunities.
#3. Reassess the Conversation
Many times, as we explain the gospel and invite someone to respond positively to Jesus, we have a limited understanding of what is actually going on in his or her head and heart. When a person says ‘no’ to Jesus, it should not always immediately end our efforts. We need to stop and reassess the conversation.
When someone rejects the entire message or parts of the message, we need to get into the weeds about what exactly he or she responding negatively to. What is being rejected can be an incorrect understanding of what was presented, an easily-corrected misapplication, or a significant block such as a resistance to the Lordship of Jesus or an unwillingness to believe a critical truth aspect of the gospel.
Reassessing the tone of the conversation is important as well. Often, when sharing Jesus, there are many other factors in play outside of the believability of the gospel. For many, a ‘yes’ to Jesus is perceived as a rejection of one’s heritage, a rejection of one’s family, or a rejection of a way of life (this is frequently the perception of those coming from other religious backgrounds). Reassessing the content of the conversation and the other social and cultural factors is important in processing a response to Jesus with others.
#4. Relate to the Response
Entering into a person’s concerns and reasons for rejecting Jesus can be powerful where it is appropriate. Frequently, the very reasons why a person would say ‘no’ to Jesus are the same reasons we said no ourselves or represent areas where we continue to struggle in our relationship to God.
As we explain the gospel, it is important to stop and check for understanding. Asking questions like, “Am I making sense with this?” or “How is this connecting with you at this point?” give a person the opportunity to absorb and process, as well as respond. Often, as a person responds to these kinds of questions we see areas where a ‘no’ to Jesus is rooted.
The person may express concern over the believability of Jesus’ death for the entirety of the world’s sins or express hesitancy over whether or not Jesus could ever forgive a particular sin. There are countless reasons why people say ‘no’ to Jesus. Relating to these reasons can be powerful and disarming. Saying things like, “Before I received God’s forgiveness, I too felt like I was unforgiveable,” or “I still struggle with how the death of one person could really make a difference for the whole world but I’ve seen personally what a difference Jesus makes in my life and in the life of others around me.”
While these are not definitive answers to complex questions, relating to the person’s concerns and hesitancy leaves the door open for reconsideration and correction.
Finally, almost always re-ask for a different response! This is perhaps one of the most difficult but most effective ways to deal with a ‘no’ to the gospel. We don’t like rejection and when we hear ‘no’ to our efforts in witness, the temptation is to begin to back pedal, wind down our efforts, and retreat. We feel rejected when people reject Jesus, and while sometimes this is the case, most of the time we need to pause, take a breath, and press back in for a different response.
Begin by asking, “What is holding you back from receiving God’s love today?” or “Can you explain what is stopping you from saying yes to Jesus?” Frame the ‘re-ask’ around the positive elements of the good news. This can help people see what they are actually saying no to.
The majority of the time I’ve asked for an explanation, I’ve found the reasons usually are ones I can deal with. People have said things like, “I think I need to get my act together before I get religious,” “I’m not sure I can live up to God’s standards,” “I just can’t believe that God would judge me when I am basically a good person,” and “I think Christians are really a bunch of hypocrites and I want to be a real person.” These and countless other easily-correctible concerns to the gospel have allowed me time and time again to answer a person’s concern and ask for a different response.
As I’ve corrected misunderstanding, corrected the person’s attitude about him or herself or others, and answered some apologetic questions, I always re-ask, “Now that we’ve dealt with that, would you like to say ‘yes’ to Jesus?”
Not always, but often a person will then retract their ‘no’ and say ‘yes’ to Jesus!
Case Study: Wanting to Know God
#1. Realizing my role: I recently gave a call to faith at a large student conference. After the call to faith, Todd approached me and said, “I didn’t respond to your invitation to Jesus tonight. I’m just not feeling it.” I smiled at Todd and said, “That’s alright, my job tonight wasn’t to make anyone feel anything. I’m just trying to explain what Jesus said and give people the opportunity to make the right decision—to say ‘yes’ to Jesus!” I did this with a smile and laughing as I punched him lightly in the arm.
#2. Reassuring the person: I continued, “Regardless of your response tonight, I’m glad you are here at a Christian conference. Can I ask what it is that you are hoping for by being here this weekend?” Todd very passionately said, “Well, I want to believe. I want to know God for real, you know? I figure if I am going to be a Christian, I want to be a real Christian. I want to feel it and know it. I don’t want to be religious, I want to know God for real!” I said, “I think that is awesome Todd and I’m sure the people you are here with are excited by your sincerity. I know I am. Regardless of what happens this weekend, I’m glad you are here.”
#3. Reassessing the conversation: “You know, your comment makes me wonder,” I continued, “You say you want to know God but what do you mean when you say you want to ‘feel it and know it?’” Todd explained, “Well, I’ve known Christians my whole life and it just seems that the real ones always have a feeling. They know deep down that God is real, and I don’t have that feeling. I guess I am just waiting to feel something that tells me God is for real. I understand the message and I don’t have a problem with believing it, but I want it to be more than just a story. I want to know God is for real and I’m waiting until I can feel that inside me, you know?” Right there, I knew I was on to the kernel of misunderstanding and misapplication in Todd’s spiritual journey, so I continued…
#4. Relate to the response: “Todd, I can really relate to that. I dislike false Christians,” I said. “It is obvious you are a person of integrity. You aren’t interested in living a false religious life like many Americans. I think that is commendable, but there is a problem with your assumption.” I continued, “You see, feelings are incredibly important. They are connected to our souls, and if you have a relationship with Jesus, then you should feel it. Having said that, however, relationships don’t start with feelings; they cultivate feelings. As you grow to know God and love God, you cultivate feelings and emotions, falling deeper and deeper in love with Him. But right now, you don’t know Him, you haven’t yielded your life to Him.”
#5. Re-Ask: Todd said, “That makes sense. I never thought of it that way.” I finished by saying, “Don’t you think it is unreasonable to expect intense feelings before any relationship is established? Don’t you think the first thing you should do is tell God that you DO believe the message and that you WANT to know Him? This is really what I was inviting people to do tonight, Todd, and from what I’ve heard from you, that is something you ARE ready to do.”
Todd agreed and I prayed with him. He prayed these words, “God, I do want to know you. I do believe this message about you and I want you in my life. Help me to know you.”
R. York Moore (@yorkmoore) is national evangelist for InterVarsity USA. He is the author of Growing Your Faith by Giving it Away and Making All Things New: God’s Dream for Global Justice. Learn more: http://tellthestory.net
Editor’s note: For help in sharing your faith this Christmas, click here.