In the book, “Jesus: The Path to Human Flourishing – The Gospel for Cultural Chinese”, I’Ching Thomas poses a penetrating question, “(For Cultural Chinese) how is accepting the lordship of a foreign man, who was shamefully executed as a criminal in time past, be good news?” According to Thomas, Cultural Chinese take pride in being one of the most self-sufficient people that ever lived.
It should not be surprising that Chinese students don’t see the relevance of Christ’s death. Since they don’t perceive themselves as weak they don’t have any need from him. More so, they don’t comprehend why there’s a need to embrace one who is powerless, weak and easily died.
A Severe Punishment
How then might we explain the truth of Romans 5:8 that Christ died for us, taking our punishment upon Himself? We need to help Chinese students understand the severity of sinning against a holy God. One practical way is to use an illustration where someone punches different kinds of people.
Here is what you might say to the Chinese student. Suppose you walked up to a classmate and punched them. They might not be your friend or they might punch you back! Yet, what would happen if you punched one of your teachers? They would probably kick you out of school. Or what do you think would happen if you walked up to a government official or policeman in your homeland? Might you be thrown into jail? And I know you would never do this but what would happen if you punched your Chairman, or if I punched our President? Probably something terrible would happen!
This simple illustration could help the Chinese student understand that the same action, committed against different levels of set-apartness or “holiness” becomes increasingly offensive, shameful and sinful as the party who gets offended changes.
You could explain that in the same way, even the smallest offense committed against a perfect and holy God is exceedingly awful. The punishment must be severe. It must be death. So, when we rejected the road that God had chosen for us to walk with Him we committed sin against Him. That was incredibly shameful and wantonly rebellious all at the same time.
A Perfect Substitute
As we present the Gospel to Chinese students, it’s crucial to explain only through Jesus can we know and experience God’s love and forgiveness. It is because God sent Jesus to die on the cross to become “the bridge” between God and us. You want to help the Chinese student understand the ‘substitutionary nature’ of the atonement. You could also share another illustration.
Here is what you might say to the Chinese student. Imagine that a criminal stands in court before a judge and is pronounced guilty. Usually after this verdict the criminal is taken to jail or possibly executed. Surprisingly, this time the judge decides that he will step down from his seat of power and instead take the criminal’s punishment upon himself. Because of this act the criminal may go free and the judge himself goes to prison or is executed.
This illustration portrays what God did through Jesus as he took the punishment for our sin. To be punished for something one did wrong is logical, but willingly be punished for things one didn’t do wrong, so that the offender can repent and turn towards good is unheard of. It is important for the Chinese student to understand that our punishment for sin is separation from God. Either we are separated from Him as we live our lives, or we are separated from Him in death forever. When Jesus died for us on the cross He made it so that we can have abundant life now and eternal life after we die.
In his book, “Saving God’s Face: A Chinese Contextualization through Honor and Shame”, Jackson Wu asserts, “What Jesus did on the Cross becomes very powerful for the Cultural Chinese when it is seen as ‘Christ’s shame-bearing death’ (for sinners).” And because of Christ’s display of power and authority through resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3), they are able to share in his ‘honor’.
Only through Jesus can we know God and experience His love. May our Chinese friends know and embrace what Christ has done for them.
Questions to consider:
- What are key issues to consider when explaining Romans 5:8 to Chinese students?
- Do you remember a time when someone took the blame or punishment for something you deserved? How did that make you feel? What can you say so that a Chinese student may understand the nature of Christ’s substitutionary death?