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It could be a stranger who brushes you off. It could be a friend who wants to agree to disagree. Or it could be a family member who doesn’t want to talk about faith.

Seeing someone reject the gospel, the only hope for salvation, is never easy. The Bible says not everyone will accept the gospel (John 3:36), but rejection can still stir up insecurities and questions.

Did I say something wrong? Should I have said more? Should I try again? Should I let it go?

Jesus tells His followers what to do when someone decides to follow Him (Matthew 28:19-20), but what should believers do when someone rejects the gospel?

Your Role Vs. the Trinity’s Role

First, it’s important to remember what the believer’s job is in evangelism. Believers are called to share the gospel with the world (Matthew 28:19, 1 Peter 3:15, 2 Timothy 4:1-2), but people are incapable of saving other people. That’s the job of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Father chooses the elect (Ephesians 1:4), the Son came to Earth to purchase salvation (Mark 10:45), and the Spirit seals a believer’s salvation (Ephesians 1:13). If someone refuses to accept the gospel after you delivered the good news, you didn’t fail in your role because it is not your responsibility to save; rather, your job is to faithfully be an ambassador for Christ and help disciple new believers.

Shake Off the Dust or Stay in the Game?

Just because someone rejects the gospel once does not necessarily mean the door to salvation is closed forever. But how can believers know whether they should let go of the situation or keep going? Two passages in Scripture can help guide believers in these instances.

When Jesus sent His disciples to “‘the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 10:6)’” to proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was near, He told them to look for homes that would receive them.

“‘If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.’” -Matthew 10:14

This act of shaking the dust off of their feet served as a judgment on the town that rejected the gospel; the people there would be accountable to God for their rejection.

But there are a few key things to note in this passage before cleaning off your feet. Notice how Jesus told the disciples to take very little for their journey—no extra money or change of clothes (Matthew 10:9-10). That’s because this assignment was supposed to be relatively quick. They weren’t going to stay long in these areas, similar to someone taking a short-term mission trip today. If a town they entered rejected the gospel, they didn’t have time to stay and keep working; they had to move on.

Some commentators also note that Jews who returned to Israel from Gentile regions were supposed to shake the dust off of their feet as a form of ceremonial cleansing. Since the disciples were going to their own people instead of the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5), the Jews in the towns would have understood the cultural significance of this act.

Therefore, the literal act of shaking the dust off shouldn’t apply to every gospel rejection, and it may not even be relevant in this day and age. However, evangelists can still learn something from this passage. There may be times when you won’t be able to continue having gospel conversations with a person, either because you don’t know if or when you’ll return to their location or have no way of contacting them in the future. If that person rejects the gospel, can you shake off the dust of resentment and trust that God is sovereign over their fate?

Another passage of Scripture shows the gospel being shared over a longer period of time. When Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea, Governor Felix sent for him often to hear him talk about faith in Jesus (Acts 24:24-27). During the first visit, Felix became afraid and sent Paul away. But Felix met with Paul repeatedly over the two years he was held in prison.

The text makes no indication that Felix ever came to faith, but Paul kept preaching the gospel anyway. Granted, Paul couldn’t go anywhere else, but he never refused an opportunity to talk to Felix about Jesus.

Some sources estimate that a person will hear the gospel 15 to 18 times on average before accepting it. If you are able to continue talking to someone about Jesus and that person is willing to listen, there’s no reason to stop trying.

In the end, every situation is unique. God may tug on your heart to keep evangelizing in a place you thought you would be for a short time, and He may prompt you to stop sharing with someone you see every day. It’s important to stay in tune with how the Holy Spirit is guiding you to respond to each circumstance.

And even if someone never wants to hear the gospel again, you can always pray for the Lord to soften their heart. God’s timing is perfect, even if someone’s faith journey takes years. Meanwhile, rejection should not stop believers from sharing the gospel with all creation. Rejection will come, but so will Jesus when the gospel reaches all nations (Matthew 24:14).