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When They Walk Away

“This man had approached Jesus asking how he might obtain eternal life. When Jesus pressed the demands of God’s Law on this man, in order to show him his sinfulness and need for redemption, the man went away sorrowful because he was unwilling to part with his possessions. Jesus didn’t run after him.”

I recently had a friend tell me how distraught she was over the fact that someone she had been discipling wanted to be left alone. My friend was expressing the pain that she felt over this experience. She had poured so many hours into pursuing another with the Gospel and with Scriptural counsel, only to watch her walk away. The reality is that, at times in their Christian lives, spiritually mature believers find themselves faced with the perplexing question about when they should stop pursuing someone they have been seeking to evangelize or disciple. For many of us who were converted as adults, the difficulty is heightened. We recognize how many believers pursued us when we were in deep and dark inward or outward rebellion. Those of us who experienced that dynamic are grateful to God for continuing to send believers to call us to repent and trust in Christ. However, we must resist the urge to answer this question based on personal experience alone. The Scriptures give us quite a number of examples and guiding principles to follow as we wrestle through this thorny subject.

Jesus pursued the rich, young ruler…only to let him walk away (Mark 10:17-22). This man had approached Jesus asking how he might obtain eternal life. When Jesus pressed the demands of God’s Law on this man, in order to show him his sinfulness and need for redemption, the man went away sorrowful because he was unwilling to part with his possessions. Jesus didn’t run after him. He didn’t beg him to follow Him. He didn’t say, “Now, I was just testing you to see how you would respond. You don’t really have to give away everything to be my disciple!” Jesus didn’t try to get His disciples to surround the young ruler in order to collectively convince him to follow the Savior. Jesus let him walk away. Additionally, Jesus let a crowd of 5,000 men (perhaps upwards of 20,000 people, including women and children) walk away from Him after telling them that they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have eternal life (John 6). Jesus let a mega-church depart from Him. He walked away with the 12 disciples, but even then knew He was leaving with 11 (John 6:70).

Jesus also clearly taught that there are times when we are to stop pursuing some with the truth. He candidly told his disciples, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matt. 7:6). The Apostle Paul exemplified what this looks like when he shook his garments and told the Jews in Macedonia, who had vehemently opposed him for preaching Christ, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6).

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