When we consider the relationship between learning Japanese and the gospel, we tend to think that language learning is merely a necessary step for sharing the gospel with people in their heart language. But the relationship between the two is far richer than that.
The recent emphasis (in some circles) on the central role of the gospel in our ongoing walk with God, reminds us that the good news of the gospel does not just save us for all eternity; it also touches every area of lives in the present. The gospel helps us to learn Japanese in at least three ways.
The gospel liberates us
The gospel sets us free to learn to the best of our ability. It assures us that we are deeply loved by God because of what he has done for us in Christ, rather than because of our performance in any area of life. This truth frees us from grounding our identity in our language ability and can level out the inevitable emotional roller coaster that accompanies language learning. Since our proficiency in Japanese does not affect our relationship with God, we won’t be devastated when we don’t progress as much as we hoped.
Similarly, the gospel releases us from comparison. I sometimes feel twinges of jealousy when I meet people whose Japanese has overtaken mine despite studying for a shorter time. The gospel is the antidote to such envy. It takes our focus off others and allows us to live our lives before God.
I was once placed in a Japanese class that was too advanced for me and found it quite intimidating being the worst in the class. But I decided I wouldn’t worry about how I fared in the class or the grades I got so long as my Japanese improved. In a similar way, knowing that all that really matters is God’s pleasure in our efforts to study Japanese sets us free from lesser concerns.
The gospel motivates us
People have many different motivations for studying Japanese. The businessman studies so that he can secure contracts with Japanese companies and so improve his career prospects, the literature student learns to gain a deeper appreciation of Japanese books and maybe pursue a doctorate in the field, the man in love with a Japanese girl studies so that he might deepen their communication and relationship.
But all motivations pale compared to the one the gospel presents. God sent his Son into the world to die for those who were alienated from him because of their sin, and he now offers free forgiveness and eternal life to anyone who believes in Jesus. There’s no greater message than that! But as Paul asks, “how can they believe, if they have not heard?” (Rom. 10:14 ESV). For Japanese people to come to know God and the peace he offers, they need to hear the gospel in a language that they can understand.
When we’re struggling and feeling that we’re not getting anywhere it can really help to remind ourselves of why we’re learning Japanese.
The gospel encourages us
When language acquisition is hard going, the gospel provides us with the encouragement we need to press on. God uses the challenges and trials of life to deepen our reliance on him and to produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. The gospel also provides hope for beyond this life. Paul says, “So we do not lose heart . . . For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:16,17). It holds out the certain hope that heaven will be populated with people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
Enjoy the gospel to enhance language learning
So resist the temptation to compartmentalise your life into religious and secular zones. Rather, take the time to luxuriate in the stupendous truths of the gospel and allow them to reinvigorate your language learning.
Simon Pleasants works as an editor in the Tokyo office of a scientific publishing company. Originally from Wales, UK, he moved to Australia in 1988. He helps maintain several Japanese-related websites, including Reaching Japanese for Christ.