Ezekiel 18:30-32 “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offences; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”
From the perspective of the world’s religions, this is an astonishing passage. That the Creator of the universe would care so intensely about His creation seems almost bizarre. He is literally pleading for people to repent! There are a few differences in the turn of phrase between the Japanese and the English that strike me. For starters, where the NIV starts off by saying God will judge each one “according to his ways,” the Japanese says, “according to his attitude.” Even if we aren’t active in what most people would call sin, if our attitude is that it doesn’t matter, then before God that’s no different than being active in those sins. Actions certainly matter, but they originate from attitudes. That’s why God offers us a new heart and a new spirit.. What we were born with has the wrong attitude! When God speaks of death here He isn’t just talking about the heart stopping, or even brain death, but rather the utter destruction of eternal separation from Him. Understanding that, it makes perfectly good sense that He would take no pleasure in anyone’s death, since He created us for fellowship with Him. That’s why He went so far as to send His only Son to take the penalty for our rebellion against Him, so that we might live eternally with Him. (John 3:16) We have such trouble really grasping that, but once we do, it makes all the difference in the world.
This of course is the Gospel I proclaim. I do so in a culture that has no foundation of belief in a singular God, the Creator, so the obstacles are countless, but God still loves each Japanese person as much as He loves anyone from a “Christian” nation. I have realized just within this past year how shaky even the majority of Israelites were on the monotheism that Americans tend to take for granted, so my thinking about the Japanese has shifted somewhat. Absolute monotheism is certainly desirable, but perhaps not necessary for salvation. What matters is a wholehearted commitment to Jesus as Lord, whether you believe any other gods exist or not. When that is in place, the Holy Spirit will take care of everything else. I am reminded of what a brother in the Lord told me just recently, of how his mother was a strong Christian, but she still was respectful to some of the roadside idols. Last night I was on the phone with someone who is struggling with faith. His mental capacity is limited, and the devil lies to him regularly (as he does to most of us). The Lord gave me words that seemed to cut through the fog, and this passage assures me that God wants that man to live eternally with Him, and by His grace he will.
Father, thank You for Your absolutely incredible love and grace. Help me respond to You more and more fully, expressing Your love and grace more and more effectively to those around me so that they too may fulfill the purpose for which You created them, for Your pleasure and glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!