Romans 9:16 It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.
This chapter shows that Paul, too, labored under the burden of trying to understand the infinity of God, even though he, like us, was obviously finite. The whole matter of salvation is a mystery, because we can’t grasp why the Creator of the universe would care enough about His puny little creatures to personally come down and become one of them, dying a horrible death to take the penalty for their sin and give them the privilege of eternal life with Him. That He did that is absolutely glorious, but the flip side is that not everyone accepts that salvation, however much we might want them to. This chapter shows Paul’s heartbreaking desire that the Jews all acknowledge the Messiah for whom they had prayed, running into his inability to make them do so. He himself was called as an apostle to the Gentiles, as he acknowledges in this same letter, (Romans 11:3) but that never meant that he ceased to care about the Jews. This is all part of the mystery of free will. As I tell people frequently, it’s obvious that God didn’t want puppets, or even puppies, but real children. He placed in every human being the capacity to choose, in a wide variety of areas. He made it clear, through the Bible and in our consciences, which choices were desirable and which not, and mankind quickly racked up quite a track record of wrong choices. However much we may desire that people repent of their wrong choices and choose to believe and obey God, we can’t force them to do so, and we wear ourselves out trying. That’s what this verse is saying. All we can do is speak the truth in love and pray for God’s mercy, on us and on those for whom we pray.
You could say this is my life in a nutshell. Born in Japan, though of American parents, I desire the salvation of the Japanese much like Paul desired the salvation of the Jews. Like him, I am impotent to make it happen. In my years of ministry in Omura I have baptized people of various nations and not just Japanese, and I have to say that it has generally been easier to win the non-Japanese! I have a good friend who ministers in the Immigration Detention Center that happens to be located in Omura, alongside pastoring a Japanese congregation. Though Japanese himself, he has said that it’s far easier to minister to the non-Japanese, and he has even won Burmese Muslims to Christ. Like Paul, we have to live with the conflict of knowing God loves the Japanese, yet seeing so few of them love Him in return. I am not to despair or run from my calling, but simply walk in consistent faithfulness, praying for God’s will to be done on His schedule for His glory.
Father, this is a conflict I deal with constantly, as did my parents before me. Thank You for the Japanese who do turn to You in full repentance and discipleship. I pray that more and more believers would understand what it is to be a disciple, a witness to Christ, so that their family and friends may also be brought into Your family, Your kingdom, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!