January 17, 2016

Personhood, Preborn Children, & Our Role as a Local Church

Topic: Sanctity of Human Life

Sermon from selected texts by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Sanctity of Human Life Sunday
Delivered on January 17, 2016

Normally, we preach through books or specific passages in the Bible, and we make the main point of that passage the main point of the sermon. But occasionally we break from that pattern and make observations from a number of Bible passages to equip you on a particular topic. The topic I’ll address this morning is personhood, preborn children, and our role as a local church in caring for them.

This is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. It’s a day we set aside to speak directly to the church about the darkness of abortion, about the light of Jesus Christ who shines in the darkness, and about ways that we’re morally obligated to respond as a church in this dark world of abortion.

Friday will be the anniversary of Roe versus Wade. Forty-three years ago, the Supreme Court legalized elective abortion. They forced every state to give to every woman the free access to abort their preborn children on demand. That decision has now provided legal protection for the killing of almost 59 million babies.

The evil was further exposed this past year as ten undercover videos against Planned Parenthood were released by the Center for Medical Progress, the contents of which are too shameful to mention in this setting. In the face of this kind of evil, we need guidance on how to respond. If we are to take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them, as Ephesians 5:11 says, then we need to be equipped to do so.

And that’s my aim: to equip the church with God’s word in relation to abortion and protecting preborn children. I don’t want to raise up a generation that just regurgitates positions that their parents and church leaders told them without having any idea where it comes from in the Bible. But before I spend some time equipping you on this topic, I need to spend some time preparing you to cover this topic.

Preparing Us to Address Abortion

So let me begin with what’s of first importance, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-4). I’m teaching on a topic with full knowledge of people in this room who’ve had an abortion, or who’ve counseled girlfriends to have an abortion, or who’ve used “birth control” methods that are abortifacient. And sometimes you feel shame before God and others, fearful of judgment, trapped in guilt, grief over the consequences of your decision, anger at others who deceived you along the way, and even depression over the seemingly endless cycle of gnawing memories. A message like this isn’t easy to bear, and perhaps you didn’t even want to come.

But I’m glad you’re here; and I want to say to you first that God knows you intimately. He knows your sins and your past and your struggles and your tears and your longings and your mess, and he has loved you still and sent you an all-sufficient Savior. God loved us while we were still sinners. He loved us by sending his only Son to die under the punishment we deserved—whether that was for abortion or anger, murder or murmuring. God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Jesus Christ took all your sins—including all the sin bound up with an abortion—and he condemned sin in his flesh. He became a shameful spectacle on the cross, so you would be free from shame. He bore the punishment, so you no longer have to fear judgment. He provides you forgiveness and cleansing and righteousness, so you can stand before God cleared of your guilt, washed, and free to love others. And Jesus rose again as the firstborn, so you would be his new creation—the old has passed away, brothers and sisters, and, behold, the new has come for you.

If you trust in Jesus, you’re a new creation. The things we cover today—yes, they will likely remind you of the true nature of your sin and it’s gravity before God—but Jesus still remains the Savior of your life. You can run to him with your guilt and find assurance of forgiveness, and even help living for him as his new creation.

That means that these words are meant to equip you to promote the order of the new creation of which you’ve already been made a part. And as your pastor, I count each of you as a partner in God’s grace as we learn how to live in this world and interact with the world about abortion.

Second, when I use the word abortion, I’m talking about the intentional, premature expulsion of a preborn child through surgical or chemical procedures. Sometimes it’s called “elective abortion.” We’re asking the Bible to tell us if it’s morally right or wrong to intentionally end the life of a preborn child at any stage following conception.

Third, God reveals himself in Scripture as the sovereign Lord of everything, and that includes things that are very personal to us. God made all of Adam’s parts and all of Eve’s parts and all of your parts. He commanded Abraham to circumcise every male in his family line. That shows lordship over the most intimate body parts. Or take the woman in Matthew’s Gospel, who had a discharge of blood for twelve years; and when she touches the hem of Jesus’ robe his power heals her insides.

That’s close. That shows a divine interest and involvement in the most intimate areas of our lives. God is Lord over our bodies. Therefore, we should listen to what he has to say about preborn children and abortion. It’s arrogant to speak first and primarily of, “my body; my choice,” or “this is my uterus.” The Bible teaches that we belong first to our Creator. We are stewards of all that he gives us inside and out.

Fourth, some churches in recent decades have opted not to take a position on abortion. They argue—even basing it on the principle of sola Scriptura—that since the Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn abortion, then we shouldn’t take a stand on it. But that’s not what the principle of sola Scriptura teaches. The Bible also doesn’t say anything about me running my Jeep into your living room; but there are really clear indications that that wouldn’t be a way to love your neighbor as yourself.

Sola Scriptura doesn’t restrict us to taking a stand only on what’s explicitly commanded or prohibited. Rather, it teaches us that the Scriptures alone give us divine words, and as divine words the Scriptures are the final rule for the church’s faith and practice. The question the church must ask, then, in relation to a topic like abortion is this: do these divine words help us understand the personhood and intrinsic value of a preborn human being? And if the Scriptures indicate—whether explicitly or implicitly—that a preborn human being is a person from conception and possesses intrinsic value as God’s image bearer, then all the other commandments apply to that preborn child—like “you shall not murder” and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Bible Passages on the Sanctity of Preborn Human Life

So, having said all that, let me now take you to a few places in the Bible that imply that preborn children are moral persons and they have intrinsic value as God’s image bearers, and, therefore, deserve our care and protection.

Judges 13:3-5 - Samson is a Nazarite from conception

Let’s go first to Judges 13:3-5 (p. 213). An angel comes to Samson’s mother and says this: “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb…”

If we go back in our Bibles to Numbers 6:1-8, we will find that the Nazirite vow was something voluntary by a man who was mature enough to make such a decision. But God has a different plan for Samson. His plan is to make Samson a Nazirite even from the point of conception. That’s why God tells the mother to go ahead and start observing the Nazirite terms: “drink no wine…eat nothing unclean.” Why? Samson will be a Nazarite from conception.

What does this imply? Well, someone has to be a person in order to be a Nazarite. And if God is making Samson a Nazarite from the point of conception, then it seems to follow that God counts Samson as a person from the point of his conception. That’s not the point of this passage. But it does reflect this underlying assumption that a child and human being is God’s special creation from the point of conception. He can even make him a Nazarite at that point if he wants to.

Psalms 51:5 - David is a sinner from conception

Another example: Psalm 51:5 (p. 474). David is confessing his sin to God and crying out for God to cleanse him and forgive him; and verse 5 goes like this: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

Something to remember is that sin is always personal in the Bible. It’s personal separation from God that we all experience simply because of our link with the person of Adam. We inherit Adam’s guilt and we’re born with his sinful nature. So if sin is personal, and David is saying that he is a sinner from the point of conception, then it follows that the Bible views David as a person from the point of conception.[1. Cf. also Job 31:15; Psalm 22:9.]

Psalm 139:13-16 - David is God's special creation in the womb

Then Psalm 139:13-16 (p. 522): “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

David doesn’t say that God didn’t knit together some clumps of tissue that wasn’t yet David, or that would only later become David. God knitted David together: “you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” David describes his preborn state in ways that are fully personal—“my inward parts…my frame…I was being made.” David’s words imply that we should view preborn children as God’s special creation,[2. Cf. the same Hebrew verb for "made" used in Genesis 1:26; 2:18] who have personhood and intrinsic value.

Luke 1:35-44 - "the baby" in the womb kicks for joy

Another one is Luke 1:39-44 (p. 855). This is part of Jesus’ birth narrative. The angel comes. Mary is going to conceive Jesus by the Holy Spirit. And then she learns that Elizabeth is twenty-four weeks pregnant. Verse 39, “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.”

Remember, this is a preborn child at twenty-four weeks old (Luke 1:36). Verse 41, “And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

So Elizabeth’s twenty-four week preborn child—notice that he is called “the baby” twice (1:40, 44). The Greek word behind “the baby” is the same Greek word that’s behind “the baby” when Jesus is laying in the manger in Luke 2:16. John inside the womb and Jesus outside the womb—both of them are called “the baby.” So what the Bible thinks of the child outside the womb is what the Bible thinks of a child inside the womb. They are treated equally. In other words, it’s not just fetal tissue; it’s not just the product of conception; it’s “the baby in my womb.”

And it’s a baby with personal feelings—in this case, joy! The baby kicks for joy in response to Mary’s greeting. If anything, medical research on what babies can sense in the womb has only continued to confirm what the Bible already assumes. Ultrasound technology, for example, has shown us that at sixteen weeks, a baby can discern sounds; and at eight weeks old, a preborn child can suck his thumb and feel pain.

Exodus 21:22-25 - the Law values and protects preborn life

Finally, let’s look at one more: Exodus 21:22-25 (p. 62). It says, “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

This passage presents us with two situations where a pregnant woman is accidentally hit during a scuffle. In the first situation, the woman gets hit and the injury causes premature labor, but there’s no harm either to the mom or the child. In that situation, the father names a penalty and the man who caused the premature labor must pay the penalty with the judges’ approval. The point is that both the pregnant woman and the preborn child are considered legal persons under the protection of the law.

The second situation, though, goes even further and shows us to what extent the law values both the pregnant woman and the preborn child. In the second situation, there is harm done to either the pregnant woman or the preborn child. And when harm is done to either of them, the severest of consequences apply.

The highest penalty, of course, would be “life for life.” If the man accidentally killed the woman or her preborn child, it’s a capital offense. So, the penalty for harming the mother or the preborn child is the same. Again, the point is that God’s Law views both the pregnant woman and the preborn child as persons with legal value, and the Law does what it can to protect them, even to the degree of life for life.[3. Some take this passage differently. Instead of understanding “her children come out” as premature labor, they understand it to be talking about a miscarriage (cf. NRSV). And since the child would’ve already died, they limit the “harm” to the mother only in both situations. Some will then go on to say that the mother must be more valuable than the child since the man only had to pay a fine for causing a miscarriage (i.e., situation one) but he had to pay with his life for killing the mother (i.e., situation two). The problem with this interpretation is that there’s a specific Hebrew word for “miscarriage” used elsewhere in the Bible (e.g., Gen 31:38; Exod 23:26; Job 21:10; Hos 9:14), but that particular word does not appear in Exodus 21:22-25. The word that’s used in Exodus 21:22-25 applies to the live birth of a child (e.g., Gen 25:26; 38:29; Job 1:21). Yet even if the miscarriage interpretation was accurate, the Law still considers it morally wrong and a crime when someone accidentally causes a miscarriage. The legal value of the child is still protected by the Law for accidents; and we are way beyond accidents when we’re talking about abortion, the intentional killing of a preborn child. The whole passage is promoting a "doctrine of carefulness" in relation to both the pregnant woman and the preborn child.]

But think about this with me: this law applies the penalty of life-for-life in the case of accidentally causing harm to the preborn child. With abortion we’re talking about intentionally ending the life of a preborn child, which only compounds the punishment. In fact, if this law is recognizing the preborn child as a person deserving legal protection even to the degree of life for life, then we have every reason to believe that this law is in place because even a preborn child bears the image of God.

Genesis 9:6 - the Law is rooted in moral order of creation that values God's image bearers

I say that because God established this life-for-life consequence even after the flood in Genesis 9:6, which says this: “whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” The life-for-life penalty is rooted in the fact that God made man in his own image. It's taking us back to Genesis 1:27-28 where God makes man in his image, and then that image of God in man is passed down from generation to generation, with each human being still bearing the image of God (Gen 5:5; cf. 1 Cor 11:7; Jas 3:9).

God wove into the moral fabric of his creation severe consequences for taking human life, because humans bear the image of God. And this law in Exodus 21 is building on that moral framework and saying the same applies to the humans in the womb. They have intrinsic value as human beings who bear God’s image and they are persons to be valued and protected, and, therefore, we should do all we can to prevent accidental harm, and we should do all we can to stop intentionally killing, as in the case of elective abortion.

And if anything has changed for us Christians under the new covenant versus the old covenant, love—which is the fulfillment of the law—would teach us to go even further. The love demonstrated in Jesus brings out the true goal of commands like this. When we see Jesus who fulfills all that the Law was pointing toward—when we see him giving up his life to protect us while we were helpless and vulnerable, how much more are we obligated to protect others who are helpless and vulnerable, like a pregnant woman or a preborn child!

Our Role as a Church

So, what have we seen the Bible implies about preborn children? The Bible implies that from the moment of conception, preborn children are moral and legal persons who have intrinsic value as God’s special image bearers, and therefore, we should do all we can to nurture and protect them, and any deliberate act to end the life of a preborn child amounts to murder. And if there are disabilities detected in utero—“Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” That’s how God puts it to Moses in Exodus 4:11. Even the disabled bear God’s image and must be protected.

Now, other ethical questions do enter the picture in the extremely rare case of an ectopic pregnancy, when the embryo implants somewhere outside the uterus, is unable to survive, and, barring miraculous resolution, the mother’s life is in jeopardy. In that extremely rare situation, two lives are at stake; and we must do all we can to save as many lives as possible. But keeping that extremely rare exception in mind, we’ve asked the Bible to tell us if it’s morally right or wrong to terminate life in the womb. And the Bible implies that it’s morally wrong. All children in the womb bear the image of God, are valuable persons, and to terminate their life is murder.

So, if that’s true, what’s our role as a church? What can we do if this is what is true everywhere? Christianity is true in all areas of life, not just personal conscience. The message you heard today isn’t just something we keep to ourselves, but a message that ought to influence what we think in the public arena. So how can we respond? I have many ways to share with you, and before I share them let me say this: none of us can do them all, but all of us can do some.

1. Pray and preach

So number one: one of the greatest things you can do is pray and preach. Ephesians 6 teaches us that the church penetrates the darkness through preaching the gospel and praying for God to act (Eph 6:15, 18). We don’t have the power to change the hearts of people in the abortion industry. We don’t have the power to change the moral tide of our culture. But God does, and he has determined to change the hearts of men through our preaching and our praying.

So pray for the protection of the unborn. Pray for your neighbors to change. Pray for the girls that meet Mary Leadbetter from week to week at the Pregnancy Help Center to keep their child’s life. Pray for the leaders of this nation as 1 Timothy 2 commands us. And then preach the message of the gospel. Only the gospel message—not the “pro-life” message—can make people new and remove their bias toward Scripture and help them choose what is right in God’s sight.

2. Educate yourself and the others in your life

Number two: educate yourself and the others in your life. Read up on this subject. Read up on what medical research is finding about preborn life. Understand the ways that the Bible promotes the sanctity of human life. And then educate others. If you have children, start teaching them from a very young age that God values all of life from conception to natural death. Help them understand the intrinsic value they have as humans created in God’s image. Show them the facts of development of the unborn.

Use things like your blog and Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about the evil of abortion and the sanctity of human life. Promote things on your Facebook account like the Pregnancy Help Center, or good articles you might read from the Gospel Coalition or the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Some of you are good writers: write to local newspapers. And if they snub your article, meet the editor and explain that you would expect a good newspaper to allow both sides to present their views. Write letters to your government representatives—take points from this sermon and others like it and mail them off occasionally.

Part of the mission of the church, according to Ephesians 5:11, is to expose the unfruitful works of darkness. That can only happen through educating people about these matters and speaking into the conversations at work and at the coffee shop and when we have people in our homes and when they friend us on Facebook—whatever medium, seek to educate the others around you.

3. Don’t participate in the abortion culture

Number three, don’t participate in the abortion culture. Part of the church’s mission, according to Ephesians 5:11, is not participating in the unfruitful works of darkness. Yes, that means the obvious like choosing not to end the life of your preborn child or counseling others to do the same. But it also means not participating in the less obvious—like not using “birth-control” methods that are abortifacient in nature, or not using the artificial reproductive technologies that threaten the sanctity of life.

If human life begins at conception, then we should do all we can to protect the conceived but preborn child at every stage—which also means we have to be asking our doctors more questions; we have to be asking other brothers and sisters more questions; we have to be researching things for ourselves…so that all along the way, God’s word determines our sexual and reproductive ethics and not just our feelings or our wants—even as good as some of those wants might be, like bearing children.

But even deeper than that—and something that affects more than just someone’s stance on abortion—is this: we cannot join the abortion culture in bowing to self and the god of convenience. When we look at the cross of Christ, we learn very quickly that true love is never convenient. True love will cost the self everything. We must die to self in order to truly live. When children are viewed as an inconvenience, when children frustrate our plans and interrupt our dreams, when parents complain about how much children cost, subtly we’re giving in to the same mentality behind the abortionist culture that views children as a commodity instead of blessings from God.

Instead of crucifying our children’s well-being at the altar of selfish convenience, let us remember that in the cross of Christ, God crucified our slavery to convenience. God crucified the old self. So now we are free to live for him at all costs and serve our children’s well-being sacrificially. Christ died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2 Cor 5:15).

4. Be a family to pregnant women and their babies

Number four, be a family to pregnant women and their babies. Through Jesus Christ, God has made us a family. We’re not just another anti-abortion organization. We exist to bring light and life to a world that sits in darkness and death. Our family should show the world that a counter-cultural gospel builds a counter-cultural community where the greatest become servants of all—including servants of pregnant women, their children, and even those women who’ve had an abortion already.

We who know the forgiveness of our sins should be the first to extend mercy to women who’ve already had an abortion. We’re the only family that can hold out true and lasting hope for them in the gospel message. We’re the only family that can bring the balm of the gospel to their gaping wounds. The church should be a home for women grieving over the consequences of their actions.

There’s a reason God saved a murderer like Paul and made him an apostle of the church. First Timothy 1:16 says it was for this reason: “I received mercy, that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” God saves murderers to display his perfect patience, so that more people will believe in Jesus for eternal life.

The church should also provide a context for healing and restoration for victims of rape. I’ve heard of some churches even offering assistance for victims of rape, where sisters in the church teach these women various trades that they can do from home. That income not only provides an alternative to welfare, but also allows the young mothers to work from home so they can care for their child and finish school and so on.

The church can also be a family who provides help for those who are pregnant and facing the mountain of motherhood and counsel to those women running away from motherhood to abortion. We should even be ready and available to adopt their children when they come to us for help. When we ask them, “Hey, have you considered adoption instead of abortion?” there should be a real sense that we as a church can stand behind that question, and take responsibility to find that child a home if it’s not with his/her mother. Some of us may not be able to adopt, but others of us can—and you even set aside money as a church annually to help members adopt children, and in that way many of you are already doing something.

5. Keep celebrating new life together & grieve when it’s lost

Number five: keep celebrating new life together and also grieve when it’s lost. One tradition that I love in this church is how early families let us know they’re pregnant. They want others to rejoice with them and pray for them. We keep our pregnant mothers before the body in the weekly eNews, because we want people praying for them.

Next week will also be the Sunday when we pray for parents with new children. If you’re a member, and you want to participate, send your information to Chris Cronenworth. Whether through birth or adoption, the Lord has given us new life, and we want to commit ourselves again to caring for these little ones. Having these kinds of things cultivates in the church thanksgiving to God for the life he gives.

But we also must weep with those who weep. Sometimes the Lord sees it fitting to take the life he gives. The days he numbers for our children sometimes amount to only weeks or months in the womb. And so we grieve with our brothers and sisters in their loss. We grieve because we once had so much joy and perhaps we did hear a heartbeat and we got to see a hand, but now the baby was taken.

When Rachel and I went through two miscarriages, it was very clear that the people of Redeemer valued life with us. You came alongside us, so that we didn’t grieve alone and without hope, and so it should always be for our families in their loss. When we celebrate God’s good gift of life and grieve when it’s taken, we bear witness that God’s image is valuable and death is an enemy we long for Jesus to put under his feet once and for all.

6. Support crisis pregnancy centers that are pro-life

Number six: support crisis pregnancy centers that are pro-life. This is one good and very effective way to live out our pro-life ethic. Support pro-life crisis pregnancy centers with finances if you’re able to, and support them with services if you’re able to. As you can imagine, many of these pro-life pregnancy centers don’t get the kind of government funding that something like a pro-abortion Planned Parenthood gets. And much of the time they don’t want government funding either with all of its restrictions. So one way we can support them is by giving them our money, and you do this as a church with the Pregnancy Help Center on Camp Bowie.

In fact, bring your brown-bag lunch next Sunday, because Delana Brooks, who is the executive director of the PHC, will come and share with you how the Lord is using the PHC and how you can also get involved. We can also support them by volunteering our time. So if you’re gifted at cleaning facilities or counseling women, maybe you even have a nursing background, this might be one outlet for you to use your gifts. One way that Dale uses his gifts is by serving on the board of the PHC; and one way that Mary Leadbetter uses her gifts is by counseling the girls that come to her for a sonogram. And it serves as a great segue into gospel conversations.

7. Become a sidewalk counselor

Number seven: become a sidewalk counselor. That is, stand in front of abortion clinics and seek out ways to sit down and talk with the girls who are coming in for an abortion. Get a small group together. Have some literature ready that educates them on the alternatives to abortion, and even the dangers of abortion and its lasting consequences. Find out when women usually arrive for their appointments; and as they walk into the clinic, introduce yourself and tell them why you’re there and ask them if they’d like to hear about alternatives to abortion. Ask them if they’ve considered the life of the baby or just need to talk to someone for a minute.

If they speak with you, share with them the hope that Jesus offers. Share about the baby bearing God’s image. Share what Jesus offers them through the local church. Point them to the PHC and even offer to drive them there if they need help. And then don’t let them leave without praying for them and getting their contact information for follow-up. This doesn’t take a lot of people to operate; even if there’s only one person doing it, that’s one person we’ll stand behind and praise God for the opportunity.

8. Vote for pro-life candidates

Finally, number eight, vote for pro-life candidates. Vote for pro-life candidates and withhold support from those who are not pro-life. The political question that people must answer is this: should government make laws to protect the lives of the unborn and punish those who do not? The Bible implies, Yes, the government should.

Our government obviously hasn’t done that. But as a US citizen we have the tremendous privilege to vote our convictions; and if these convictions about the personhood of preborn children matter, then we should vote for candidates who will seek to uphold them—at the national level and at the state level. Texas Right to Life can help you at the state level if you check out their website. At the national level, vote for a pro-life president and vote for pro-life senators, who’ll then appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices, who will make it their aim to overturn Roe versus Wade.

I haven’t mentioned all the possible ways to nurture and protect preborn children, but these are good starting places for us. Consider them as you go home. Talk about them with your care group members. And begin praying about how your gifts and services and resources might be used to protect preborn children and to help stop the assault on God’s preborn image bearers. The task is daunting, the darkness is thick, but Jesus is risen above all rule, authority, and power, and he is with us to the end.