By Randy S. Reese, Sr.
In teaching the Bible in Japan, the subject of our having sinned in our relationship to God (Rom. 3:23), frequently evokes many Japanese to quickly say, “I have never sinned, I’ve never stolen or killed!”
“There has never been nor is there today any sense of guilt before an Absolute God in Japanese thinking. Hence the word ‘sin’ is always used in the legalistic sense; a person at fault and proven guilty in a public court becomes a sinner.”(1)
The Kanji (Chinese character) for tsumi (sin) is made up of two characters written together, one is net the other criminal. In other words, the term tsumi today means, “to trap the criminal.” “The Japanese term Isumi brings before the Japanese mind a picture of police stations, law courts, crime and criminals; it is a legal, technical term. In other words a man does not become a sinner until he is convicted by a human court.
“If a moral fault is brought to the surface and discovered by another person, the erring one is gripped with a sense of shame, but there is no conviction of sin. The average Japanese is more concerned about social relations and the maintaining of harmony with nature. His moral impurity is easily cleansed by the wave of the (Shinto) priest’s brush at the Shinto shrine, once or twice a year.”(2)
Biblical sin is the interruption of man’s relationship with God. When man trespasses God’s boundary, he misses the mark and falls into self-idolization, pride, and moral perversion.
1 John 1:8 tells us, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” This concept of universal sin is completely alien to Japanese logic.
It is difficult for the Japanese to understand how one man (Christ) could die for all the sins of the world. I explain it to them by drawing a comparison between Christ’s sacrifice and a custom here in Japan. When a scandal arises, like the recent high-level bribery cases, the Japanese custom calls for one man to take all the responsibility for the wrong done by many. In the most recent example Prime Minister Takeshita resigned in order to take responsibility for the misdeeds of some in his political party. Christ, by his own free choice, chose to die on the cross in order to save all men of the world from their sins.
Only after we realize that Christ loved us enough to die for us can we fully appreciate what he has done for us.
The Japanese must first accept the idea that Christ loved us. Then they can embrace the concept that he would choose to die for us. This usually takes two to three years of continuous teaching and nurturing.
I pray that this article helps to give you a better insight into the difficulties of teaching the gospel in Japan.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 6, p. 169
March 21, 1991