Protecting Life & Our Role as a Church
January 16, 2022 Speaker: Bret Rogers
Today is Sanctity of Life Sunday; and the topic I want to address is protecting life and our role as a church. On October 14, 1987, in Midland, Texas, a little girl named Jessica was 18 months old. Playing in her aunt’s backyard, Jessica fell down a narrow well shaft, an eight-inch pipe. Jessica’s fall landed her 20 feet below ground level with her leg lodged beside her head. Rescue would not come easily.
Not just family, not just Midland, but all of Texas and the nation watched and prayed. CNN narrated each moment. Firemen, police, mining engineers, oil drillers gave their best efforts until fifty-eight hours later, Jessica was freed.[i] The world made every effort to save this little girl. Why? Because precious life was in the well.
Sadly, we don’t find the same efforts in America when it comes to precious life in the womb. This Saturday marks forty-nine years since Roe versus Wade, when America looked at a preborn child and stopped treating that child with dignity and rights. Since 1973, the result has been legal protection for killing over 62 million babies.
There’s no question anymore over what an abortion is. Biologists and medical professionals, even those supporting abortion do so with full knowledge that abortion terminates human life. They just question the baby’s personhood and rights.
One abortion advocate is David Boonin. In his 2003 book, A Defense of Abortion, Boonin tells how he keeps several pictures of his son, Eli. One is of Eli dancing on the beach. Another is Eli sitting in the grass of his grandparents’ backyard. Another is Eli just a few weeks old. But Boonin also keeps another picture from the sonogram—a picture of Eli 24 weeks before he was born, thumb extended out toward the mouth. But grievously Boonin still says this: “There is no doubt in my mind that this [sonogram] picture, too, shows the same little boy at a very early stage in his physical development. And there is no question that the position I defend in this book entails that it would have been morally permissible to end his life at this point.”[ii]
In the face of such chilling 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 has his/her own DNA. But Science can’t tell us what to do about that life. However, God’s written word does.
Now, some have said that since the Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn abortion, then we shouldn’t take a stand. But that’s not what a sound doctrine of Scripture teaches. We’re not restricted to taking a stand only on what’s explicitly commanded or prohibited. The better question is, “Do these divine words help us understand the personhood and intrinsic value of a preborn human being?” If they do, and they indicate that a preborn human is a person and possesses intrinsic value, then all the other commands apply fittingly, like you shall not murder but love your preborn neighbor as yourself.
Seeing the Dignity of Preborn Image Bearers
So, how does God’s word help us think and act when it comes to preborn human beings. Here’s the first thing Scripture helps us to see: all people bear God’s image and have special dignity as image bearers, including preborn children. Humans are not the result of a cosmic coincidence but the result of a careful Creator. Genesis 1:28, “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 stars, clouds and birds, elephants and rabbits, rocks and trees. But only one creation bears God’s image—you. God made humans to mirror his glory.
Now, it’s also true that sin greatly marred the image of God. But that doesn’t mean the image of God is lost altogether. That can be seen in Genesis 5:3. After the fall of man into sin, we find the image of God passed to Adam’s children. In Genesis 9:6, we find the special dignity of man reasserted. God puts severe consequences in place for those who take human life. So even after sin enters the world, God’s image persists in man. Image-bearers shouldn’t be treated lightly. Life is precious.
But how does the Bible treat preborn humans? Does it treat them as persons? Do they deserve the same protections as those outside the womb? You tell me. In Psalm 139:13, David describes his preborn state in ways that are fully personal: “you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I am fearfully and wonderfully made…my frame wasn’t hidden from you when I was being made, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” God didn’t knit together clumps of tissue that wasn’t yet David, or that would later become David. God knitted David together in his mother’s womb. In the womb he was wonderfully made.
Also consider Jesus’ birth narrative—Luke 1:41. 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 uses the same word of Jesus laying in the manger later in Luke 2:16. Passing through the birth canal doesn’t change something that wasn’t a baby into a baby. Both John in the womb and Jesus in the manger get called “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.
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…” and so on.
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. The father names a penalty and the man who caused the labor must pay the penalty with the judges’ approval. Both the mother and the child are legal persons under the law’s protection. But the second case goes further. In the second case, there is harm done to either the mother or the preborn child. In that case, the severest penalties apply, the same penalty we hear of for image bearers in Genesis 9:6—“life for life.” In other words, alongside the mother the preborn child has intrinsic value as God’s image-bearer; and the Law does what it can to protect them.
Here’s what I conclude from all that: from the moment of conception—from the moment God begins knitting together human life in the womb—preborn children are legal persons who have intrinsic value as God’s image-bearers. Therefore, we should do all we can to prevent accidental harm and especially prevent unjustified, intentional harm as in the case with abortion. That’s the first way God’s word helps us.
Caring for the Most Vulnerable
Here’s another way: God’s compassion for the vulnerable implies special care for the most vulnerable. When God gave Israel the Law, numerous commands relate to the sojourners, widows, orphans, and the poor. These folks lack security. They lack protection. They didn’t have welfare or CPS or social security. Israel had to care for these vulnerable people; and the Lord gave several reasons why. According to Exodus 22:21-27, Israel must care for the vulnerable, first off, because they were once vulnerable when God rescued them. God also explains that he fights for the vulnerable. But the final reason he gives in Exodus 22:27 is that God himself is compassionate: “I will hear [their cry],” God says, “for I am compassionate.” God’s compassion toward the vulnerable motivates his people’s compassion toward the vulnerable.
Also consider Exodus 23:6-7. “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.” The poor were particularly vulnerable to mistreatment in lawsuits. God condemns any partiality. But something else—it’s evil to kill the innocent. Even worse is killing the innocent when they can’t defend themselves before a society perverting justice. God will not acquit this wickedness.
Deuteronomy 24:17-19 says, “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore, I command you to do this.” When Israel was helpless without freedom, without protection, without hope, God intervened. God saved them. Now they too were to reflect the same compassion to the helpless.
That’s how it always works in Scripture. God’s compassion compels his people’s compassion. That’s what we experience in the gospel of Jesus. We’re helpless and vulnerable. We can’t free ourselves from slavery to sin. We’re vulnerable to the devil’s oppressive schemes. We’re orphans in that we don’t have God as our true Father. But in his compassion, God sends Jesus to pay the price, destroy the devil, and adopt us into his family. Just like God’s compassion in the Exodus moved Israel to love the vulnerable, God’s compassion in the cross should move us to love the vulnerable.
That’s why James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” We act towards the vulnerable with compassion because that’s what our heavenly Father is like. What does this have to do with the unborn? Everything. They are the most vulnerable in our society. They can’t defend themselves. They can’t run from the abortionist’s instruments. They have no voice to argue their right to live. Michael Spielman of Abort73.com put it this way: “By explicitly commanding us to care for those whose livelihood is in jeopardy…God is implicitly commanding us to care for those whose lives are in jeopardy…”[iii]
Acting Diligently to Protect Life
Here’s another way God’s word helps us think and act when it comes to the life of preborn image bearers: 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. Take Exodus 21:29. Let’s say you owned an ox, and that ox was accustomed to goring people. Others warn you about it. Still, you let it out anyway and the ox ends up killing someone. You’re responsible, God says, life for life. It’s that serious. The command ends up teaching God’s people to do everything you can to protect human life. Don’t be negligent when it comes to human life.
Or 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 functioned like a room with multiple uses. A parapet surrounded the roof to keep folks from falling. Without it the roof was hazardous to life. So the Law isn’t merely about avoiding murder. Its true intent promotes diligent care for God’s image bearers.
That’s even truer under the new covenant in Christ. Think of the teaching we’ve been hearing from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them. He came to bring the Law to its truest intent. The religious leaders of his day got it all wrong. The Law wasn’t just about avoiding badness, avoiding murder. If they understood the law’s truest intent, they would’ve also eliminated every cause that can lead to murder like anger in the heart. They should’ve pursued reconciliation and peace as well, Jesus goes on to say.
In terms of the sanctity of life, then, Jesus ups the ante for kingdom citizens. We don’t just avoid taking life; we repent of any cause in the heart that could lead to the loss of life, and we actively seek ways to help life flourish. What does that mean for the unborn? It means that from conception onward, we make every effort to help the life of a child to flourish as God intended.
What Can We Do for Our Preborn Neighbors?
So, let’s talk about that. How can we help the life of a child to flourish from conception onward? How can we be a neighbor to preborn children and their families? If this is how God’s word helps us think and act when it comes to the life of preborn image bearers, then what are some ways we can help? I have several.
First, let’s walk out repentance with one another. Perhaps you’re someone who’s had an abortion. Maybe a father or husband or boyfriend pressured you to have one. Maybe you’re the father or husband or boyfriend who did the pressuring. Maybe you’re a doctor who performed an abortion. Maybe a situation rose in your family, someone brought up the subject at work, you learned of a woman wanting an abortion, and instead of speaking for life you stayed silent and did nothing. Perhaps you were ignorant of how the Bible speaks on this subject, but seeing it today has made you feel the weight of guilt for your sinful action or inaction toward fellow image bearers.
When we realize the true nature of our sin, and how it dehumanizes others, it’s right for shame and guilt to consume our conscience. We’ve broken God’s law. We’ve failed to love. But here’s the good news. The Bible also tells stories of God’s grace toward murderers and the negligent. Paul breathed murder against the church. Yet this same man writes this 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.”
There’s hope for us in the gospel! God forgives sinners through the cross of Christ; and he transforms them into messengers of his grace and truth. Come to Jesus. Confess your sins. God holds out mercy for you this morning. In Jesus, he holds out cleansing for your guilty conscience. He wants your life to display his perfect patience, so that others in turn will believe in him for eternal life.
Second, along with repentance, renounce the abortion culture and the heart behind it. Part of our mission involves keeping ourselves unstained from the world—James 1:27. 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 it also means not participating in the less obvious—like not using “birth-control” methods that are abortifacient, or not using artificial reproductive technologies that threaten the sanctity of life.
Do your homework. Ask the doctors hard questions. Research whatever you’re considering and ask, “Will this provide the best environment for life to flourish at every stage of development?” If uncertainty remains, remember that neighbor love will strive to provide the safest environment for life to flourish and not even potentially die.
But there’s also a deeper heart attitude driving the abortion culture. Really, it’s the same attitude that drives genocide and racism and road rage and abuse and a host of other sins. That attitude goes like this: dehumanize anybody who stands in the way of my plans, my wants, and my comforts. This heart is closer to us than we think. Anytime we react with sinful anger because a child disrupted our plans; anytime we get irate because a child ruined something we wanted; anytime another human becomes a mere object for selfish ends—this heart is so close. Beloved, we must keep ourselves unstained from this worldliness in all its life-destroying forms.
Third, pray for justice, babies, and pregnant women. As Christians, we’re confident that justice will prevail. God displayed justice at the cross; and he raised Jesus from the dead to assure that his justice will prevail. Pray to that end. Let the cries for justice in Scripture inform your cries. Like Psalm 10, for example. David laments how the wicked prevail, how they watch stealthily for the helpless only to crush them. He cries, “Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted…you note mischief…that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer…”
Pray that God topples the abortion industry. Pray God will bring justice for the innocent. Pray that the unborn are spared and the wicked exposed. Pray also for pregnant women. Pray the Lord would intervene in cases where a woman is callous to the life in her womb and more concerned with her convenience. Pray for the Lord to protect other women who feel trapped with no way out. Pray women would be protected from the fangs of wicked men who devour them. Pray also about ways you can enter their lives for good. Your prayers may seem like nothing, but our God is great.
Fourth, celebrate new life and grieve when it’s lost. I love when families let us know they’re pregnant or adopting. I love hearing announcements for baby showers or when this church fills a court room when a family finalizes an adoption. Celebrating in these ways cultivates thanksgiving and strengthens hearts to value the life God gives.
At the same time, 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 some children amount to only weeks or months in the womb. Perhaps you heard a heartbeat, you got to see a hand, but the baby was taken. We grieve with our brothers and sisters in their loss. Even grief testifies in these moments that God’s image is valuable (no matter how small), and death is an enemy we long for Jesus to put under his feet once and for all.
Fifth, educate yourself and others in your circles of influence. Strengthen your understanding of the Bible’s teaching on humanity, created in the image of God. So many problems—like pornography, human trafficking, homosexuality, transgenderism, Marxism, assisted suicide, sexual abuse—they’re all rooted in a faulty view of man. So is abortion. Keep the positive view of humanity before yourself and others. Educate your children in what it means to be God’s image bearer.
Also, learn how to make a case for protecting the unborn. For instance, in his book The Case for Life, Scott Klusendorf develops the helpful anacronym SLED. “Philosophically,” he says, “there’s no morally significant difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today.” Take your Size—that’s the S in SLED. “You were smaller as an embryo, but since when does your body size determine value? Large humans are not more valuable than small humans.” Next is “Level of Development: True, you were less developed as an embryo, but why is that decisive? Six-month olds are less developed than teenagers both physically and mentally, but we don’t think the former have less of a right to life.” Then he moves to “Environment: Where you are has no bearing on what you are. How does a journey of eight inches down the birth canal suddenly change the essential nature of the unborn from a being we can kill to one we can’t?” Last is “Degree of Dependency: Sure, you depended on your mother for survival, but since when does dependence on another human mean we can kill you?”
“In short,” Klusendorf argues, “humans are equal by nature not function. Although they differ immensely in their respective degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature made in the image of God.”[iv] That’s a helpful anacronym to keep in your back pocket when building a case against abortion. Develop your abilities to argue well; and help people to see.
Also, abortion often goes unnoticed because it happens behind closed doors. Find avenues and mediums to spread the word about the evil of abortion. Make sure it’s not forgotten. Educate the public. Some of you are good writers: write to local news outlets. Write letters to your government representatives. Help people understand.
Sixth, 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. 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 or serving on the board. Thank you, brothers and sisters. Others newer to Redeemer, the PHC can always use more help.*
Rescue 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. 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. We will take responsibility to find that child a home if it’s not with his/her mother.
Ben showed me an interview with the Tarrant County Sheriff this week. He said, “There’s 800 churches in Tarrant County and 300 children that need a family. Where’s the church?” That’s a good question. Roe versus Wade isn’t stopping us from adoption or foster care. 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—money, resources, baby-sitting, ongoing encouragement. None of us can do it all. But all of us can do something.
Avoidance didn’t abolish the slave trade. The relentless pursuit of William Wilberforce type Christians did. Never should we feel a sense of contentment in opposing abortion, until legal protections are completely irradicated down to the pills that drug companies sale. Even if Roe was overturned tomorrow, so much work would remain undone, so many laws needing reform, so many lives needing rescue, so many moms needing support. True Christianity acts to promote the life of all image-bearers.
Lastly, never forget your helpless condition when the Lord saved you. The Lord wouldn’t let Israel forget it. The apostles don’t let us forget it either. Regularly, we’re reminded of how desperate we were before God saved us. The point is both to humble us and to magnify God’s grace. This is the message we must remember and keep central. This is the message that saves. Pro-life is the right ethic, but it is not the gospel. Christ and him crucified and risen is the gospel; and therein lies our only hope that hardened sinners will become compassionate advocates for life.
In coming to the Lord’s Supper, remember God’s compassion toward you in the gospel. Remember where he found you and what he rescued you from. Then as you eat, consider how his great compassion toward you might be compelling you to act on behalf of others in need, including the unborn.
[i] See, e.g., “Baby Jessica Rescued from a Well as the World Watches,” History (June 2, 2011), accessed at https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/baby-jessica-rescued-from-a-well-as-the-world-watches.
[ii] Taken from David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), xiii-xiv, as cited in Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009), 14.
[iii] Michael Spielman, “A Biblical Mandate to Do Something about Abortion,” Abort73 (August 30, 2016), accessed at https://abort73.com/end_abortion/a_biblical_mandate_to_do_something_about_abortion/.
[iv] Scott Klusendorf, “Clarity Not Gadgetry: Pro-Life Apologetics for the Next Generation,” The Gospel Coalition (January 21, 2011), accessed at https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/clarity-not-gadgetry-pro-life-apologetics-for-the-next-generation/.