Romans 9:30-32 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.
Reading this chapter makes it very clear that Paul really agonized over why the Jews weren’t accepting the Gospel, for the most part, when the Gentiles were. He couldn’t deny the clear evidence of the results of his ministry, yet it flew in the face of a very deeply ingrained prejudice in favor of the Jews. That prejudice was shared, I think, by virtually all of the earliest believers, and it’s something that even today Gentiles have trouble understanding emotionally. However, God used that very prejudice to force Paul to understand the very important truth expressed here, which is also expressed a little more famously in Ephesians 2:8-9. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no-one can boast.” There is a natural human tendency, stronger in some people than in others, to want to set up systems, to automate things, you might say. What Paul is saying here is that the Jews tried to set up a system of laws that would automate righteousness: plug a person into the Law, and they would become righteous. The problem is, that doesn’t really change people’s hearts, and as a result, it was the most “law abiding” people who condemned Jesus to death. The negative, from the human standpoint, in God’s way of salvation is that it eliminates pride, and we do love our pride! That’s why it is the poor, the weak, the humble, who are welcomed most readily into God’s kingdom. When we are done with our pride, we are ready to receive what God has prepared for us.
Apart from my own struggles with pride, I think this issue is key to the slow reception of the Gospel in Japan. The Japanese are an extremely capable people. At one point the Guinness people said that the Japanese had the highest average IQ of any racial group. Their genius for taking anything and perfecting it is well known. That makes them want to study something, even including religion, decide what they like about it and what they don’t, and make improvements. The problem is, you can’t improve on the grace of God! Japanese also have a very strong racial identity, and as long as they see Christianity as a foreign religion they are hesitant to get fully involved, thinking it will dilute that identity. Actually it does, because in Christ all barriers are erased. (Galatians 3:28) That produces an incredible freedom and joy, but for someone who hasn’t experienced it yet, it is scary indeed. These issues and others have caused Japan to be labeled, accurately enough, “a (or the) graveyard of missionaries.” I know of many who simply gave up and went back to their home countries. I can’t exactly do that, since in many ways Japan is my home country, but the temptation to give up and just “bide time” has been real. I must not do that! I’ve got to keep my eyes on my Lord and remember, on every level, that nothing is impossible for Him. I’ve got to keep myself available to Him, not limiting by my unbelief what He wants to do in and through me. It is indeed heartbreaking to see people to whom I have witnessed for years go to the grave without Christ, but I’ve got to release them to God and rejoice in those who do receive Christ and choose to grow in Him.
Father, this has been a struggle for the past 34 years, as it was for my parents before me. Help me indeed not give up, but expect great things of You, for the salvation of the Japanese people and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!