Here is the reaction which people in Rome had when they heard the apostle Paul preached the gospel: “And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved” (Acts 28:24). Does such a “mixed” response to the gospel surprise you?
It is quite common to hear people refer to the book of Acts as “the book of conversions.” Indeed, it records a number of specific cases of people coming out of darkness and turning to the Lord. Have you ever stopped to consider, though, that this marvelous book also tells us of several instances of people not being converted? It is true: Acts is also “the book of non-conversions.” While we do not rejoice to read of lost people remaining in a lost state, the reality of their non-conversion remains.
A number of times throughout the book of Acts, we read of various groups being converted. Sometimes the number of folks who obeyed the gospel on a particular occasion or during a certain time period was quite large. For example, on the Day of Pentecost, about 3,000 accepted the apostles’ message (Acts 2:41). How exciting! Yet, think about the other side of that. There were Jews present “from every nation under heaven” (2:5), a huge multitude of people. In fact, only a small percentage of those who heard the truth that day obeyed it. Thus, there were far more “non-conversions” than conversions.
Consider Acts 7. Stephen’s message not only was rejected by the Jewish council, it resulted in them murdering him. The young man at whose feet “the witnesses” laid their clothing, Saul, would later become a follower of the Christ. He is an example of a person who at the outset was a rejecter of truth (a “non-conversion”), but later accepted it (a “conversion”). Thank God for such changes!
We think of Elymas, also known as Bar-Jesus, who was a false prophet on the island of Paphos (Acts 13:6). Not only did he himself not submit to the truth, but he also attempted to hinder the proconsul from accepting the faith (13:7,8). Paul called him “son of the devil” and “enemy of all righteousness” (13:10). Some today resemble him in the sense that they reject the truth and also go out of their way to try and keep others from obeying it.
Later on that same preaching journey of Paul, in Antioch of Pisidia the Jews contradicted, blasphemed, and “opposed the things spoken by Paul” (13:45). Such took place time after time as Paul went throughout the Roman Empire spreading the good news. He was a passionate, powerful preacher, but his message of salvation often fell on deaf ears. The list of people in whose conversion he played a big part was a notably long one. The truth is, the list of non-converts would have been much lengthier.
In Athens, when Paul spoke about the true Lord of heaven and earth, for the most part, the curious, intellectual Athenians who heard him said “No” to the gospel. Some mocked; others said they would hear him again at a later time (17:24,32).
Do you recall the Bible’s account of Felix the governor? He was known in history as a man of low morals. When Paul encountered him, Felix was with his third wife, Drusilla. Paul proclaimed to him “the faith in Christ” and “reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come” (24:24,25). What a blessing for this man of authority to be able to hear the message that could change his life and change his eternal destiny.
And how did Felix respond to the gospel? Three specific things are written in the text. First, he was afraid. Second, he said, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.” Finally, because he hoped that Paul would give him money, he often conversed with Paul (24:25,26). Felix’ fear certainly was not godly fear that leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). There is no indication that this man ever became a Christian. Sadly, to this day he remains one of the most well-known cases of non-conversion in human history.
A number of other cases of non-conversion could be highlighted, but now let us try and put things in perspective. Every non-conversion is a tragedy. God does not want any person to perish (2 Peter 3:9), nor do we.
Every non-conversion represents a failure – not a failure on the part of those teaching the gospel, but on the part of the ones who hear the truth but fail to obey it. They are the real losers, denying themselves the chance to receive God’s great gift of salvation.
Every non-conversion is a challenge to our commitment. Any time that we make an effort to teach the truth and a person rejects it, we must not waver in our commitment to continue teaching God’s word. We must not allow someone’s non-conversion to arouse doubts within us, to dishearten us, or cause us to shrink back from sowing the seed when future opportunities arise. We must stay committed to our Lord, regardless of how others respond to the gospel. Let us teach, teach, and teach some more, believing that God will give the increase.
— Roger D. Campbell