The Sanctity of Life
Near the end of the book of Acts, the apostle Paul is charged by his fellow Jews with upsetting the good order of civil society, or of disrupting the peace. By preaching the sufficiency of Christ, he’s overturning the necessity of the Jewish law and its binding authority on the people. It’s a religious matter, but the fear was that it would lead to a complete breakdown of order. Since that’s a civil and not a religious charge, he’s sent to the Roman authorities. When he arrives in front of the local governors, he could have lied down and been content to let them have their way with him and keep quiet. Instead, he took every advantage of his Roman citizenship and demanded that the authorities listen to his side of the issue.
When it comes a weighty matter such as the sanctity of life, Christians should demand to be heard. There is no shame in it. There is no disparity between living a peaceful and quiet life and standing up for the truth that even nature teaches, namely, that all of life is valuable, above all, human life. There is no incongruity between being peaceful toward those who live lifestyles that contrast with yours and living according to the clear word of God. It’s not insensitive to be firm and clear while recognizing the pain brought about by the situations that all-too-often have ended in abortion.
Because at some point, your core convictions move from theory to practice. Christian ethics, to have any substance or mean anything at all, have to move from the heart to the public. You’re not going to spend your whole life inside four walls. You’re going to stand for something. What we want you to stand for is the sacred nature of every human life.
Every human life is a new creation of God.
This matters because the biblical worldview and the contemporary worldview are built on two entirely different foundations. That can be why it is so hard to communicate to those who hold to a different worldview than you.
The biblical worldview understands that God has revealed the value of human life based on the mandate to have dominion over the world. That dominion is not inherent to who we are, but it is given by God himself. If we did not bear this image of God, we would rightfully be called animals and would have every right to treat each other as animals. But because God has raised us up, breathed the breath of life into us, and made us to be the sign of his rule and reign over all creation, every human life is of infinite, principled value.
Since that truth is a declaration of God, that means that nothing anyone of any lesser authority than God says or does removes that value. If a man and woman have a child, from the moment of that moonlit night, there is God-given value. If a person has any kind of physical or mental inability, there is God-given value. If a person reaches a stage where they can no longer care for themselves as they deserve, there is God-given value.
The contemporary worldview sees people as commodities under the guise of caring for people, which is a brilliantly wicked move. Abortion and euthanasia are couched in political terms, which is a tactic of the enemy to make it seem as though theological arguments don’t really address the issue and are not to be heard in public. Politics is always down stream from theology. The fact that that has been reversed for so many people is the source of much of the church’s division in our day.
So using the imago dei and the sanctity of life as a case study for actively applying these core convictions of the Christian life is a way for us to check ourselves. Issues such as abortion have been in the public discourse for decades now, and it’s not as if the overturning of Roe v. Wade is the end of it. Abortion has often overshadowed other issues that paved the way for it to be such a central issue. No-fault divorce and permitting sex outside of marriage (which used to just be called fornication), both of which arrived during the heyday of the generation that thinks my generation is causing all the problems, laid the groundwork for the dissolution of the family we see today.
Instead of actually protecting women in abusive marriages and giving them a dignified way to protect themselves, no-fault divorce swung the gates open to make ending a marriage just expensive, not unthinkable. Instead of honoring the marriage bed, sex outside of marriage was framed as the way to real liberation and knowing your authentic self, so the consequences of sex outside of marriage had to be squashed, IE, children. Feminism began with Christian women who wanted to vote, not be judged by the color of their skin, and have a bank account without their father’s permission. By the middle of the 20th century, second-wave feminism gave women the right to an abortion. These things escalate quickly.
Yoram Hazony, a Bible scholar and Jewish philosopher, shows how the philosophers who made all of that possible had no business telling anyone else how to construct a stable society. John Locke had no children. Rene Descartes’s had a daughter with a woman who was not his wife and never married her or took care of either of them. Jean-Jacques Rousseau gave his five children away, born from a mistress, to an orphanage when they were all still infants. These are the people, living around the time of the American founding, who thought children were nothing more than a burden and influenced popular thought about the sanctity of life. The free-love and abortion movements were given the intellectual ammunition they needed by men we might refer to as scumbags.
Were women disproportionately burdened with caring for children? Of course they were, when sexual liberation and no-fault divorce were prioritized over self-control and covenantal marriage. It was the cultural permission for people to prioritize a fleeting moment of excitement and fathers to abandon their responsibilities.
Now we must say that none of the sins just mentioned should be held over the head of anyone who’s repented of them. There is not still a little condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus; there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The only unpardonable sin is the the refusal to repent.
For those who have undergone an abortion, divorce, fornication, if you have spoken the truth to your heavenly Father in repentance, you do not stand condemned before him or before his church. There are a host of issues to work through, such as grief and forgiveness, but those issues are worked out through your lifetime; that’s sanctification. Be patient with yourself since your Father in heaven was. The gospel of Matthew says that Jesus fulfilled a prophecy from Isaiah 42:3, which says, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” When Jesus sees a brittle branch, he doesn’t break it off but nurtures it. He doesn’t burden his people but is compassionate toward them. His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. If your spiritual light is more like a smoldering candle, the Lord does not command you be brighter but sends you the comforter. In dealing with those things in your past, do not be more callous to yourself than your Redeemer.
Some may hold to a position that fits more within the zeitgeist than Scripture, and it may be that that’s simply because you’ve never been taught the revealed truth concerning the image of God and the sanctity of life. Maybe you’ve never read the passages that teach on this, and the picture of the good life the world teaches seems sensible to you. It’s never easy to do a complete 180 in your beliefs, but if you are going to obey all that Christ taught, then you must hear what he taught.
But for those who adamantly refuse to submit to the revealed word of God on these heavy issues, you are treading on dangerous ground. The notion of who qualifies as human and deserving of life is not on the same level as who gets baptized and when, or the train schedule of the end-times. We’re talking about life and death, sense and reason, truth and lie.
In speaking about the new city, the eternal state, John says that some people don’t make it in. “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22:15).
Paul says, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
And again, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21).
Now that’s a heavy to start a sermon, no question about it. I have yet to see a mug with Revelation 22:15 on it. But there is one reason Scripture gives us many more warnings about denying the truth: continuing in unrepentant sin assures you that you will not inherit the kingdom of God. The warnings are the grace of God to persevere and calls to repentance.
For those who are in Christ Jesus, you stand pardoned of all your sin, as if you are as righteous as he who died for you. For those continuing in obstinate defiance, today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart.
This morning we’re going to hear from the word in a few places about this critical truth. And from the very beginning, the Scriptures are clear that human life is unlike any other kind of life. Every human life is a new creation of God.
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. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
There are two important words in this passage: “image” and “likeness”. Those words meant something to the original hearers of Genesis, and they’re referring to two different attributes. In the ANE, these words did not refer to physical appearance or resemblance. Kings were said to be the image of the local god or goddess. The king was thought to have reigned on behalf of the local god, or a new king could reign on behalf of a different locally known god.
Every king had a statue made that reflected the supposed appearance of the god in whose image, on whose behalf, the king reigned. Think of the pagan god Dagon in the Old Testament. That’s what idols were. These kinds of statues with inscriptions have been found all over the Middle East. The way the king behaved, the actions the king took, were in line with the desires and whims of the god the people worshiped. The king was the evidence that the local deity had some kind of authority in the area. “Image” and “likeness” were the words they used to describe this relationship of deity to humanity. Based on the relationship the king had with the god, the king had a certain relationship to the people he ruled.
Moses, the author of Genesis, was inspired to say that the image of the one, true God is not some lifeless, soulless statue but a living, breathing being who has been placed in God’s temple as all the evidence that is necessary to show that God not only exists but rules supremely over all things. Human life is the greatest evidence of the existence of God.
Being made in God’s image means that humans are in a unique position among all creation as kings and queens under God. Being made in God’s likeness means that we share certain attributes with God; there are attributes we do not share, like eternity. But there are attributes of God that we do share with him, such as love and a desire for justice. Mankind is made in God’s likeness in terms of our ability to relate to God as sons. Mankind is made in God’s image in terms of our authority and rule over creation.
“Kingdom” is the center of the creation story. All of creation is God’s kingdom, not just one locale, as if he was some puny god known to the pagans. And humans are his image inside of creation, not stone or wood that needs carving. By virtue of being human, and not an animal or some inorganic material like the idols, you are given the same royal status that the first humans were given. There are no insignificant kings and queens.
If you follow the debate on abortion, you have inevitably come across all the many ways that the world wants to tell us that Christians have misinterpreted Scripture. I’ve heard all kinds of arguments, things as goofy as since the ancient Israelites often didn’t name the child until he or she was a month old, or that they didn’t circumcise until the eighth day, they didn’t believe that a person was a person until they were well outside his or her mother. That is absolutely unfounded and intellectually dishonest, pulling passages out of context as if it was their job. Part of the sanctity of life debate is addressing this kind of willful ignorance so that the truth shines even brighter than the fabrications of those with a debased mind. One such example of a butchered Old Testament passage is Exodus 21:22-25.
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.
The argument goes that one word was mistranslated 300 years before the life of Christ, and bad theology was the chaotic aftermath. This was actually a claim made by two contributors to the Washington Post in an article from last October called "An ancient mistranslation is now helping to threaten abortion rights". We shouldn’t smear anyone, but this is why the intellectual life is important. We should be aware of and understand the arguments that people make against the truth, and like Paul before Felix, make a clear defense.
Instead of reading the original language, those who hold to such a position argue that once the words were translated, the whole sense of the words were lost. But when you return to the Hebrew, or you read a more word-for-word translation, the emphasis is unmistakable: if the child in the womb is killed by something that happens outside the woman’s body, the one who did the harm is culpable of murder. “But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life”, not life for clump-of-cells, not life for possibility-of-life. Regardless of the smoke and mirrors and mental gymnastics of contemporary people, Scripture is emphatic that what is in the womb, regardless of the length of time it has been in the womb, is to be assumed to be alive except in tragic cases of stillbirth or miscarriage.
There are two situations mentioned in this passage. If two men are fighting and a pregnant woman gets caught in the crossfire so that labor is induced but the child is fine, then the father of the child can basically sue for damages. No loss of life, no capital punishment. The word for harm, ‘āsôn, is the same word for hurt and evil. But the Scriptures recognize that all kinds of harm can befall a person in the womb, up to and including the loss of life. “Life for life (it’s even the first one), eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” on and on.
Because it is alive, it is to be guarded against any outside force. Life in the womb is worthy of protection. And if the person inside his or her mother’s womb is a person, if he or she dies, it is considered murder and worthy of the death penalty of whoever caused it. The Hebrew word translated as “life” here is “nefesh”, which always means nothing less than the part of you that makes you alive; it’s often read as “soul”. This is the word that is argued to have been mistranslated to mean the opposite of what it has always meant. This is not scholarship or journalism; this is gaslighting. We must be discerning when we hear such slanderous claims against the word of God. When you come across arguments that some component of historic theology has been wrong up until the newspaper got ahold of it, you’d be right to be skeptical.
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.
This verse is nearly a cliche for a reason. It goes beyond the fact that God makes each one of us and insists that life in the womb is a cause for awesome reverence. The word “fearfully” means just that—reverential fear. We should stand and be astonished that God does not just work by natural processes but is involved in the creation of every human life. He could have just set the gears in motion and stood back to let nature take its course. But instead, the picture here is of God sitting down at his loom, installing the thread, and going through the same effort to make you as he did to make Adam and Eve.
Pregnancy is a special intervention of God’s providence. If we dare to think of that life in the womb as anything less than worthy of equal protection, then we have a reason to fear the judgment of God. The God who laid the foundation of the earth, who gives the animals their strength, who sets the boundaries of the ocean, who will send fire and plagues and war at the end of the age as judgment on a wicked world is the same God who carefully forms every child piece by piece in his or her mother’s womb.
Pregnancy is not just a natural process. God is involved at every level. You do not interfere with the maker’s work without incurring the wrath of the maker. Can you imagine listening to Beethoven compose his ninth symphony, ripping the sheet music out of his hands, and cutting it up? Can you imagine walking on to the site of a new home construction and setting fire to it while the crew is raising the walls? How much more execrable is rending apart the special creation of God in a mother’s womb?
Bridge Between Two Worlds
There are a thousand more things to say about the sacred nature of human life. There are many more passages that have something to contribute to this doctrine. There is much to say about helping and having compassion on those women who had horrible things done to them that resulted in pregnancy. But it boils down to this: will you do the hard work of understanding the will of God revealed in Scripture, or will you let the shifting winds of culture set your agenda? Christians should not only make political arguments. That sends the message that even though we are a theological people, we believe that politics will win the day. When in fact, we believe that our Lord will win the day, not any earthly power. We do not shy away from giving the world theological arguments.
But neither should we retreat from political activity. We should hope and pray for devout Christian mayors, governors, representatives, senators, and presidents who behave by biblical principles, not politically-advantageous motivations. Politics is downstream from theology, so with right theology we will develop right political ideas. There are divinely revealed obligations of any secular government, one of which is the protection of the innocent. To abdicate that responsibility is to start down a path of God’s judgment and of relinquishing authority.
The argument that you cannot legislate morality is perhaps the surest sign that a person has the mental capacity of a stag beetle. That’s exactly what legislation is—what is permitted and what is not permitted. Why is what is not permitted punishable? Because it goes against some moral sense. There is a reason for every act of legislation; that reason conveys someone’s sense of morality. Every act of legislation has a reason behind it, which is precisely what ethics and morality are all about.
Be discerning when people argue for abortion as healthcare and then advocate for legislation for abortion on-demand. It is not both. They think they can get abortion on-demand if they frame it as abortion-as-healthcare.
Abortion advocates talk about the difficult decision of abortion in order to garner sympathy. Abortion is only a difficult decision if it carries moral weight. If it’s the moral equivalent as having a mole removed, then it’s not a difficult decision.
Christians are often charged with being pro-birth, not pro-life. Some say that we stop caring for children after they’re born, which is a symptom of support for the patriarchy, which is the sin de jure. If progressive people had a modicum of self-awareness, they would recognize that their ideology was the reason Christian adoption agencies are being shut down or being forced to shut down because of a lack of funding. When Christians are told that they cannot conduct business according to biblical truth, the very source of Christian ethics, which in this case means believing that two men or two women do not constitute a marriage and are therefore not in the right situation to raise children by depriving the children of a mother or a father, then they are forced to close. Abortion advocates then argue, “What about single parents? Do you take their children away?” The exception proves the rule. Children being raised by single parents, whether a mom or a dad, are statistically always in a more difficult situation than children raised by a mom and a dad. They need support and mercy from the church, not to have their children removed.
Now there are politicians publicly advocating that pregnancy care centers, whose foundation is almost always in the church, be shut down across the country. One of two thing is true, and I don’t know if either one is to be preferred: either they are willfully ignorant of what takes place in pregnancy care centers, or they are so given over to wickedness that they do know and yet still would rather have abortion be the default way of dealing with unwanted or unintended pregnancies. Holding either of those positions is a moral disqualification from serving the public.
But at its foundation, the sanctity of life is not a political problem; it is theological. Do we see ourselves as the greatest evidence of the existence of God? Do we understand that life in the womb is worthy of protection? Do we see pregnancy as a special intervention of God’s providence? There is grace and forgiveness for all who call on the name of the Lord and repent of their sins. But the church must stand firm on the foundational truth that, without exception, God made every human life.
Every human life is a new creation of God.
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