Romans 4:16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
Clear translation often requires looking at large chunks of content at one time, because different grammar requires different word order. Here, the Japanese pulls the quote that the NIV puts in verse 17, “I have made you a father of many nations,” into verse 16, ahead of the statement that “He is the father of us all,” in order for that statement to be understandable. One of my biggest frustrations in interpreting between Japanese and English is speakers who say a sentence fragment and expect that to be interpreted before they complete the sentence, which leaves me completely up in the air. They probably think they are being kind, not taxing my memory, but they don’t understand the differences between languages. That’s why interpreting for myself is much easier, since I know what I’m actually saying! It is also interesting that the Japanese translation I use inserts the detail that the promise mentioned here is that of inheriting the world, since Japanese readers wouldn’t be likely to have a firm grasp on that. All such things aside, this is an enormously important passage, both for Jews and for Gentiles. The Jews are naturally very proud of their descent from Abraham, with all the promises of God to him, but this states that those promises are rooted in faith and are by grace, and not simply automatic. The flip side of that is that those who have the faith of Abraham receive the promises equally with the physical descendants, and that was and is earth shattering for Jews. Stating it brought Paul a great deal of persecution, including the imprisonment that sent him to Rome. It is all part of the paradox that God is simultaneously both strictly exclusive and totally inclusive. I have had people attack me for saying that Jesus is the only way of salvation, (John 14:6, Acts 4:12) but Jesus died for the sins of all mankind, so that anyone at all may be saved. (John 3:16) We don’t deal with that paradox very well! I think that’s a major reason why people don’t evangelize, because they don’t realize that God loves the next guy as much as He does them, but if that next guy doesn’t believe, and acknowledge Jesus as Lord, he’s headed for eternity in hell. God’s promises are eternal and are open to all, but we have to believe to receive.
I deal with this constantly, trying to communicate the Gospel in Japan. My impression is that American Gentiles, even, seem to think that they are “in line for” God’s promises, since the Bible is part of American culture, but that isn’t the case in Japan. I need to communicate the reality that it is miraculous that anyone can be saved, since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) The twin problems are in getting people to acknowledge that they are indeed sinners, and then in persuading them to believe that God has truly provided salvation, free of charge for those who will receive it by faith. That’s a far stretch, particularly in Japan where “sin” is conflated with “crime,” so in a sense I’m asking people to say that they are criminals. Actually, by God’s laws that’s exactly what we are! I can’t do that my be own intellect and powers of persuasion, but the Holy Spirit can, even using me. I’m not to give up because of the magnitude of the task, but rather praise God that He can and does do such an impossible thing, even using me at times.
Father, thank You for this powerful reminder. Help me indeed never give up, but rather keep proclaiming Your Gospel, offering myself and my words for Your use to draw people to Yourself, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!