Making Every Effort to Preserve Life
January 20, 2019 Speaker: Bret Rogers
Topic: Sanctity of Human Life Passage: Genesis 1:26–28, Exodus 21:22–25, Exodus 21:28–29, Deuteronomy 22:8, Matthew 5:21–22
I’ll pick up our series in Acts next Sunday. But the topic I’ll address today is the sanctity of life and how love demands we make every effort to preserve life and help it flourish from conception to natural death.
Precious Life Saved
On June 23 last year, twelve boys in Thailand went exploring with their soccer coach. It started as a birthday party. But the day ended with none returning home. They journeyed deep into a cave, almost two miles, and were trapped by rising water. Little food, no light, fleeting oxygen, and no way out.
Media coverage was abundant. Navy Seals prepared for dangerous rescues. National police and response teams worked tirelessly. Engineers pumped water out, while calculating where to drill. Villagers donated money. Food support came for the families. The US air force, Britain, Belgium, Australia, Scandinavia, and others got involved. One diver lost his life. Eighteen days later all were rescued.[i] The world made every effort to save them. Why? Because precious life was in the cave.
Precious Life Disregarded
Sadly, we don’t find the same efforts in America when it comes to the precious life in the womb. Tuesday marks forty-six years since Roe versus Wade, when America looked at a preborn child and stopped treating that child with dignity and rights. In 1973 our Supreme Court forced every state to give every woman the free access to terminate the life of their preborn child on demand. The result? Legal protection for killing over 60 million babies. A number nearing the combined population of Texas and California.
There’s no question anymore over what an abortion is. Biologists and medical professionals who support abortion, do so with full knowledge that abortion terminates human life. They just question the baby’s personhood and rights. Even leading advocates for abortion now frankly admit the same. In 2008 Camille Paglia wrote,
…I have always frankly admitted that abortion is murder, the extermination of the powerless by the powerful. Liberals for the most part have shrunk from facing the ethical consequences of their embrace of abortion, which results in the annihilation of concrete individuals and not just clumps of insensate tissue.[ii]
Yet despite acknowledging the murder, she then justifies abortion on grounds that it protects a woman’s right to abortion.
In the face of this blatant evil, we need guidance on how to respond. Science continues to prove that life begins at conception, when there’s formed a new living human organism that’s not part of the mother and with its own DNA. But Science can’t tell us what to do about that. God’s word, however, does. God reveals what life is and how we must treat it. My aim is to show you God’s view of human life and the demand of love and what both imply for our decisions in life and our interaction with others.
1. God Made All People in His Image
In order to do this, I want to make four observations from Scripture and then tease out some implications. The first observation is this: God made all people in his image and gave them special dignity as his image bearers.
According to Scripture, humans are not the result of a cosmic coincidence but the result of a careful Creator. Genesis 1:26-28 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
God created many things for his glory—angels and seraphs, the sun and stars, clouds and birds, elephants and chinchillas, whales and turtles, rocks and trees. But only one creation was made in his image. Humans are the crowning work of God’s creation. God made us to mirror his glory in a unique way. As image-bearers we reflect his glorious character in our person and in our rule.
Now, it’s also true that sin greatly marred the image of God in us. We don’t mirror God’s glory like we ought to. One translation of Romans 3:23 even says “all have sinned and lack the glory of God.” But that doesn’t mean the image of God is lost altogether. All people maintain this special dignity endowed by their Creator.
That can be seen in Genesis 5:3. After the fall of man into sin, we find the image of God passed on to Adam’s children. Then also in Genesis 9:6, we find the special dignity of man reasserted. God puts severe consequences in place for those who take human life: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” James 3:9 also says, “…with [our tongue] we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” So even after sin enters the world, God’s image in mankind persists. Image-bearers shouldn’t be treated lightly. We shouldn’t even degrade them with words.
2. Preborn Children Are Moral, Legal Persons with Intrinsic Value
Second observation: from the moment of conception, preborn children are moral and legal persons who have intrinsic value as God’s image-bearers. In Psalm 139, David describes his preborn state in ways that are fully personal: “you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together…my frame wasn’t hidden from you when I was being made.” 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.
Jesus’ birth narrative is another great example. Elizabeth is twenty-four weeks pregnant with John the Baptist. Mary visits Elizabeth and it says, “when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” The baby—Luke then uses the same word of Jesus laying in the manger later in Luke 2:16. In other words, passing through the birth canal doesn’t change something that wasn’t a baby into a baby. Luke calls both John in the womb and Jesus in the manger “the baby.” It’s a baby with personal feelings, who kicks for joy at Mary’s voice. If anything, medical research on what babies can sense in the womb only confirms what the Bible already assumes. At sixteen weeks a baby discerns sounds; at eight weeks old a baby can suck his thumb and feel pain.
But another text supporting a preborn child’s personhood is Exodus 21:22-25. It says,
When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there’s 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’s 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 law presents two cases where a pregnant woman is accidently hit during a scuffle. In the first, the woman gets hit and the injury causes premature labor, but there’s no harm to mom or the child. In that case, the father names a penalty and the man who caused the labor must pay the penalty with the judges’ approval. The point is that both the mother and the child are legal persons under the law’s protection.
But the second case goes further. It shows to what extent the law values both the mother and the preborn child. In the second case, there is harm done to either the mother or the preborn child. In that case, the severest penalties apply. The highest is “life for life.” If the man accidently killed the woman or her preborn child, it’s life for life.
Again, the point is that God’s Law views both the mother 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. Think about that: God established this life-for-life consequence in Genesis 9:6, “…for God made man in his own image.” Exodus 21 builds on that moral framework and says the same applies to the child in the womb. In other words, alongside the woman the preborn child has intrinsic value as God’s image-bearer.
Therefore, we should do all we can to prevent accidental harm and especially prevent intentional harm as in the case with abortion.
3. Neighbor Love Demands Diligent Care for God’s Image-Bearers
And this leads to our third observation: neighbor love demands diligent action to protect and promote the life of all God’s image-bearers. In the Law we get a group of commands that reveal this principle well.
One is Exodus 21:28-29,
When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.
What do we observe in the second scenario? The owner’s negligence proves how little he values human life, and God doesn’t tolerate it. If the man valued human life, he would’ve acted to protect life. So the command ends up teaching God’s people to do everything you can to protect human life.
Another is Deuteronomy 22:8. “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.” Think flat roof. Back then, a roof also functioned like a room with multiple uses—storage, leisure, a place for visitors. A parapet surrounded the roof to keep folks from falling. Without it the roof was hazardous to human life. Again, the law teaches God’s people to value life with their actions and not just their mouth. Do everything you can to protect life. Plan it out in your blueprints and costs and so forth.
Deuteronomy 19:5 also presents a situation where “someone goes into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and his hand swings the axe to cut down a tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies.” The question of course is, “What should we do when that happens?” The passage then goes on to show how that accidental killing differs from outright murder. Murder deserves capital punishment. But in the case of an accidental killing, you had cities of refuge; and the manslayer had to stay in that city until the death of the high priest.
The point, though, is to protect life in a couple ways. One was by providing refuge for the man who swung the axe. There’s still a penalty—he has to stay put in the city. But they’d also protect him from those who might be seeking swift vengeance. But the other way it protected life was by saying, “Secure your axe head before you swing it!” Right? I tell my kids, “Turn on your neighbor radar!”* Be alert to how your actions will affect others. Why? They’re God’s image-bearers.
Again and again, this is the attitude of the Law toward God’s image-bearers from conception to natural death. Make every effort to protect and promote life, because people are made in God’s image. Basically, this is how the command to love your neighbor gets fleshed out in the Law. The Law isn’t merely about avoiding murder. Its true intent promotes diligent care for God’s image bearers that plans and makes decisions and ensures environments for life to flourish.
4. Christ Fulfills the Law and Creates a People Who Fulfill the Law
That’s even truer under the new covenant in Christ. Observation number four: Christ fulfills the law and creates a people who fulfill the law through neighbor love. Jesus says in Matthew 5:17, “Don’t think that I’ve come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I’ve not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” He came to bring the Law to its truest intent, to become for us all that the Law pointed toward.
Think of Jesus’ teaching on murder, for example.
You’ve heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who’s angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire (Matt 5:21-22).
The religious leaders boasted that they kept the law by simply avoiding badness; in this case avoiding murder. Jesus then exposes how badly they misunderstood the law and how unrighteous they truly were. If they understood the law’s truest intent, they would’ve also eliminated every cause that can lead to murder like anger in their hearts. They should’ve pursued reconciliation and peace as well, he goes on to say.
In terms of the sanctity of life, then, Jesus ups the ante for his kingdom citizens. Not only will his citizens not murder; they will repent of any cause in the heart that could lead to the loss of life and then actively seek ways to help life and relationships prosper. See, it’s not a matter of choosing which Old Testament laws apply and which don’t, but how those laws are fulfilled and brought to their truest intent in Christ and our union with Christ. Yes, the apostles teach us to use the Law for prophecy. It’s prophecy in that it points us to Jesus our true sacrifice, our true Passover, our superior Priest, King, and so on. But the Law is also used for wisdom. God promised a new people who internalize his Law, such that it shaped their moral outlook and their ethics.
With respect to the sanctity of life and the demand of love, God’s law couldn’t be clearer. His love not only applies to the specifics of our lives; it also demands diligent action in those specifics to protect and promote the life of all God’s image-bearers.
In the New Testament church, we see this love play out in how they meet each other’s needs; how they give themselves to the poor; how husbands nurture and cherish their wives; how families provide for widows, and if they can’t, the church should; how James would tell them to visit orphans and widows in their distress. About that command in James 1:27 to visit orphans and widows in their distress, John Piper once said this: “…if God wants us to care about the orphan whose life is endangered because his parents are dead, he would want all the more that we care about the child whose life is endangered because his parents choose to make him dead.”[iii]
How Then Shall We Live?
So what now? If we’re the people who, by grace in Christ, fulfill the Law through neighbor love, what now? If neighbor love demands diligent action to protect and promote the life of all God’s image-bearers, what should we do?
For starters, we should repent from all that’s contrary to neighbor love in our hearts and turn to Christ for forgiveness. Perhaps you’re a woman who had an abortion. Maybe you’re a father or husband or boyfriend who encouraged an abortion. Maybe you’re a doctor who performed an abortion. Or maybe you’re a Christian who neglects doing anything against abortion. A situation rose in your family, someone brought up the subject at work, you learned of a pregnant neighbor wanting an abortion, and instead of speaking for life you remain silent and do nothing.
Or maybe you’re an angry, angry, verbally abusive person toward fellow image bearers; and what’s in your heart is really the same sin we see playing out in the abortion industry who wants control and their convenience unhindered. Don’t point the finger too quickly, if you’re still yelling at your kids. When we realize the true nature of our sin, our depravity, and how it dehumanizes us and others, it’s right for shame and guilt to consume our conscience. We’ve broken God’s law and failed to love.
But here’s the good news. The Bible also tells stories of God’s grace toward murderers and the negligent and the angry. David took his best man’s wife, then conspired to have Uriah killed to conceal his adultery. God exposed David. In Psalm 51 we find David confessing his sin and crying for the Lord’s forgiveness: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity…cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” David’s humble cry can become your own; and God will not despise that humble and contrite heart.
Paul also breathed murder against the church, against the Lord himself. Yet this same Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15-16: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” The good news is that God forgives sinners through the cross of Christ; and he transforms them into messengers who bring others the message of the cross of Christ. He holds our mercy for you in Christ. He holds out cleansing for your guilty conscience. Come to him and trust his saving grace.
Second, and I’m just taking this from Ephesians 5:11, take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness. That means the obvious, like choosing not to end the life of a preborn child. No matter if that child is unwanted, or has a disability, or the result of rape, it’s still a child made in the image of God.
But diligent action will also mean not participating in the less obvious—like not using “birth-control” methods that are abortifacient. Specifically, that includes IUDs, the “Morning-After Pill,” the “Minipill.”[iv] These create unstable environments for life to flourish after conception. More popular are combination oral contraceptives, also known as the “Pill.”[v] They offer more to prevent conception, but there’s still a small risk that conception occur and the life can’t flourish due to the drug thinning the endometrial wall.[vi]
Yes, some uncertainties exist with the Pill. But love strives to provide the safest environment for life to flourish and not even potentially die. Let’s say I’m out hunting with a friend; and we go our separate ways in the woods. Then, as I’m sitting there I see something moving in the bushes up ahead but don’t quite know what it is. It’s likely not my friend, but I’m uncertain. What do I do? Shoot first and ask questions later? No! I err on the side of life. The sanctity of life means I don’t act until I’m certain it’s not my friend or anybody else for that matter. Love strives to provide the safest environment for life to flourish and not even potentially die.
That also means avoiding artificial reproductive technologies that threaten life, like IVF, in which “…it’s common practice to fertilize several eggs and then freeze these children for an indefinite amount of time only to be used or discarded if the parents opt to forgo having any more children.” Köstenberger adds, “Such practices are both inherently disrespectful and use these children merely as a means to the parents’ chosen goals and must therefore be discarded as inappropriate avenues for Christians to pursue.”[vii]
But there’s also a deeper attitude we should want nothing to do with. It’s the same attitude that drives genocide and racism and road rage and verbal abuse. That attitude goes like this: dehumanize anybody who stands in the way of my plans, my wants, and my comforts. Beloved, take no part in these unfruitful works of darkness.
Instead, we must expose them as Ephesians 5:11 continues. That’s a second way to act: expose the darkness! Expose the horrors of abortion clinics. Expose the mass killing of babies and don’t cloak it with labels like reproductive health and pro-choice. Show them the arms and the legs in the trays, just like soldiers marched Germans through the concentration camps after the war. Expose how women’s rights are valuable, but they’re not absolute. We belong to a Creator. We must steward all he gives us inside and outside the womb according to his sovereign word and wisdom.
Expose the false logic within the pro-choice movement. And if you need some books to help you do that, let me recommend two that are in our Library. One is by Scott Klusendorf called The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture. The other is by R. C. Sproul called Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue. These brothers do a great job answering objections related to moral relativism, women’s rights, rape, fears of back-alley abortions and religious tyranny, and so on.
Speaking of books, educate yourself and others. Read up on the subject of life. Go to websites like Abort73.com and read the articles or watch their videos. Some of you are good writers. Write good articles that are grounded in thorough research, and do it without misrepresenting or slandering the other side. Maybe you’re into filmography or photography, and there are ways you can capture the beauty of life—not just life in the womb, but the beauty of life, period. Consider the example of our DIG servants, who serve the children of this church relentlessly. They are not only helping us treasure life from the moment they're born, but also helping the kids themselves to know they too are valued as God’s image-bearers.
Lastly, rescue others from peril. Proverbs 24:11 says, “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.” If you hear of someone wanting an abortion, speak up. Ask the mother to wait and take her to coffee. Invite her to your home. Talk it through and show her why life is precious.
Support crisis pregnancy centers that are pro-life. Support them with finances, and support them with services. As a church, we help the Pregnancy Health Center off Camp Bowie. We set aside funds to support them; and some of you give your time to assist with sonograms or counseling or cleaning. That’s awesome. You’re doing well.
Rescue the mothers too. Love will also act to protect the women wrestling with whether to have an abortion. Some were raped and raising a child alone is terrifying. Some made poor life choices and aren’t mature. Some are just callous about life, since mom or dad never treated them like a person either. Some have only known poverty and fear the costs. Whatever the story, they’re looking for hope and help.
The church should be the first to offer them both. The church should provide a context for healing and restoration for victims of rape. The church can also provide help for those who are pregnant and facing motherhood. We should even be ready to adopt their children when they come for help. When we ask, “Have you considered adoption instead of abortion?” there should be a real sense that we can stand behind that question, and take responsibility to find that child a home if it’s not with his/her mother.
Some of you may not be able to adopt, and that’s okay. But others can, and they still need your help in doing so. Mike and Sherry Branch have agreed to share with us a bit about their experience with foster care and how the Lord used them in adoption. They’ll be sharing shortly after the service in the Fellowship Hall. To all of you, please come and hear from them. Bring your questions and fears with you, and let this time equip you in adoption care as a church.
None of us can do it all; and I hope you don’t hear me saying that you should do it all. But all of us can do something. We can make a contribution somehow, even if that contribution goes unseen like praying regularly for the Lord’s justice to prevail for the unborn, or educating your children about life, or talking to kids at school. Michael was sharing with me yesterday how one of his students asked him about abortion this week. Michael wasn’t doing anything extra. He was simply serving as a teacher, and then being faithful to Christ in the opportunities given. That too is helping to rescue.
The point is that true Christianity does something. Avoidance didn’t abolish the slave trade. The relentless pursuit of William Wilberforce type Christians did. True Christianity acts to protect and promote the life of all God’s image-bearers. We make every effort to preserve life and ensure environments where life can flourish.
[i]BBC Staff, “The True Story of Thailands Extraordinary Cave Rescue,” BBC (July 14, 2018); accessed January 19, 2019 at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-44791998.
[ii]Camille Paglia, “Fresh Blood for the Vampire,” Salon (September 10, 2008); accessed January 19, 2019 at https://www.salon.com/2008/09/10/palin_10/.
[iii]John Piper, “Visiting Orphans in a World of AIDS and Abortion,” Desiring God (January 24, 1999); accessed January 19, 2019 at https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/visiting-orphans-in-a-world-of-aids-and-abortion.
[iv]An IUD creates an unstable environment for the pre-born child by depleting the endometrial lining, making incapable of sustaining life. The “Morning-After Pill” (i.e., RU-486) prevents implantation of a new fetus in the uterine wall and blocks the body’s natural secretion of progesterone needed to sustain a pregnancy. The “Mini-Pill” is a daily pill containing progestin that thickens cervical mucus and thins the lining of the uterus; less effective, depends more on endometrial thinning to prevent pregnancy, and increases the risk of an ectopic pregnancy. See Larimore, “Growing Debate,” as well as S. A. Crockett, J. DeCook, D. Harrison, C. Hersh, “Hormone Contraceptives Controversies and Clarifications,” (American Association of ProLife Obstetricians & Gynecologists, April 1999); accessed May 17, 2013 at http://www.aaplog.org/position-and-papers/oral-contraceptive-controversy/hormone-contraceptives-controversies-and-clarifications/.
[v]The “Pill” contains both estrogen and progestin that prevents ovulation, thickens cervical mucus, and potentially inhibits thickening of the endometrium enough to prevent implantation at least some of the time. An injectable form is also available.
[vi]For further research on combined contraceptives and their potential abortifacient effect, see Randy Alcorn, Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions, 8th ed. (Sandy: Eternal Perspective Ministries, 2007); Linda K. Bevington and Russell DiSilvestro, eds., The Pill: Addressing the Scientific and Ethical Question of the Abortifacient Issue (Bannockburn: Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, 2003); Angus S. McLaren, A History of Contraception (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992); W. F. Colliton, “Birth Control Pill: Abortifacient and Contraceptive,” (American Association of ProLife Obstetricians & Gynecologists, April 1999); accessed May 17, 2013 at http://www.aaplog.org/position-and-papers/oral-contraceptive-controversy/birth-control-pill-abortifacient-and-contraceptive/.
[vii]Andreas Köstenberger, God, Marriage, & Family (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 146. Studies also show that roughly 25% of the frozen embryos (or babies) will not survive the freeze and thawing process prior to the next attempt. See Karen Dawsen, Reproductive Technology: The Science, the Ethics, the Law, and the Social Issues (1995), 49. In his book, Adopted for Life, Russell Moore adds the following: “As another Christian ethicist put it, many of these technologies, such as IVF, result in an objectification of the body and of the child, turning our bodies into instruments rather than creatures [referencing Meilaender, Bioethics, 11-25]. These technologies turn the child into a commodity rather than a gift...Christians thus will ask me often if IVF is okay if they “use all the embryos.” They want to assure me that they’ll not destroy any of the fertilized eggs (or, as we Christians know them to be, babies) or freeze them in a locker indefinitely. But think about the very way we now speak of these children. They are “used.” They are “produced.” This is not the pattern of life as a gift given to us by our God.”