The Sanctity of Human Life

Reflections Ministries Vice President Michael Stewart speaks on abortion, offering biblical descriptions of what it means to be human and when life begins. This sermon was delivered on the campus of GraceLife Church. The following is the adapted transcript from that sermon.

 

When we gather together, we do so in celebration of our Creator, the One to whom we all owe our lives. We owe not just the beginning of our lives, but every moment of life, for He is the very sustaining power of our being in this very moment. He has given us not only life, but life that bears His image.

Furthermore, for those of us who have trusted in His Son, He has given us life upon life—a newly created life that conforms us to His image in such a way that we would be called children of God. Therefore, there is a sense in which every Sunday that we gather is a celebration of life’s sanctity. However, this Sunday marks by national proclamation a Sunday dedicated to acknowledging the sanctity of life.

This sermon will discuss matters related to life, and specifically cultural issues related to the ending of life from the moment of conception.

Recognizing the Sanctity of Life

I want to lay out before you the purposes of this sermon. First and foremost, these are the goals of every sermon I preach:

  • To honor God through the proclamation of His Word and give glory to the One who has created this church and to engage in worship together through this proclamation as we consider truth, goodness, and beauty.
  • To not only teach from this Word but to demonstrate how we may all as individuals enter into the same practice of engaging the Word for ourselves.

Past this, some specific purposes for this sermon on Sanctity of Life Sunday include:

  • To celebrate life and glorify God as its source.
  • To recognize our roles as both image bearers and defenders of life in our homes, churches, and communities.
  • To assess our roles within our culture regarding issues of life.
  • To call out that which has been the enemy of life from the beginning—the age-old lie that death won’t affect our human existence.
  • To wrestle with some of the difficult questions for which the church and its members must have an answer.
  • To celebrate God’s mercy toward all sins.
  • To call us to unity in that which should be our pursuit—to promote life upon this earth in fulfillment of our unique calling both as God’s children and possessors of physical and spiritual life.

While the tone of this sermon will be in some areas uncompromising, please know that I want to begin in the spirit of forgiveness, and mercy, and gentleness. I am fully aware of the fact that choosing to end a pregnancy is not something that only happens “out there,” beyond the walls of the church. Statistics tell us that as many as 1 out of every 4 women will have had an abortion by the age of 45. Experience tells me that the church is not immune to statistics. There’s not a word of what I’m going to say that I haven’t considered in terms of “How will this affect someone who at some point has had an abortion or someone who is close to a woman who has had an abortion?”

Understanding God’s Forgiveness

God’s forgiveness is far-reaching—so much so that the man with whom he tasked writing more individual books of our Bible than anyone else . . . was a murderer. A repeat offender, who with purpose and passion hunted down the people of God and promoted their destruction.

  • Acts 8:1, 3: “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting [Stephen] to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church. . . . Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.”
  • Acts 9:1–2: “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
  • By his own admission, Paul states the following: “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons . . . not only did I lock up many of the saints in prison . . . but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them . . . and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities” (Acts 22:4; 26:10–11)
  • Paul reminds the Galatians (1:13) that he used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.
  • As a result of his past, Paul wrestled with his calling to be an apostle, declaring himself “the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9).

Paul’s example helps us learn a few things we can apply to the issue of abortion. Though abortion is murder, it does not automatically disqualify one from Christian service. Though our sin is serious, the reality of our past is less powerful than the promise of our future.

It’s easier to say, “You should avoid preaching on this topic because there’s going to be those in the congregation who’ve chosen to end the life of their babies.” However, we can’t follow that route because the consistent application of this approach would mean that there is no place to address sin within the church. Even if it were the goal, there’s not a list of sins I could create that would avoid this predicament.

For those of us who trust in Jesus, we are new creatures in Christ . . . but we have been murderers and adulterers and predators and thieves. But by the grace of God we can name those things and expose them to the light because they are not our truest self. We are not defined by those sins.

Another reason why we can’t avoid this topic is because at some point, whether it’s a 14-year old girl or 44-year old woman, they must hear someone give the message, “Choose life.” She needs to know that despite cultural trends or family pressure, there is a church community that supports the more difficult decision of choosing life—and that community will help both her and her child grow in the love of the Lord.

As a result, there are some vital questions we need to address.

Answering Vital Questions

Vital Question #1: What does it mean to be human?

I want to answer this by looking at Genesis 2:7, which reads, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

From this verse, we can conclude that there is both a physical and spiritual element to our being.

Physically, we are composed of matter as is all of the visible world. This physical matter is animated by spirit given from the Lord., “breathed” into man. Does this mean God was giving Adam CPR in the garden? No, God is said to breathe here, but God doesn’t have a literal mouth or lungs. The mention of God breathing here is a way to describe the imparting of spirit to man by God Himself.

The union of the physical and spiritual results in what we call a human being, a living being. Therefore consider the following two results.

  1. We cannot be reduced to merely the physical.

There is more to us than that which we simply see.

Neither size, nor arrangement, nor functionality of physical parts can be the standard by which we make decisions about life.

We may be horrified—and justly so—at the destruction of life at 9 months, but that which is destroyed earlier, whether at 20 weeks or day 1, is not non-human simply because it is smaller, simply because it appears to us to be nothing but an arrangement of cells, simply because it appears to us not to function to its fullest measure.

Any principle that we adopt regarding the nature of life will make itself known on both sides of the womb. To judge what constitutes life based on mere physical traits has led to and will always lead to great injustices in our society.

Those of the wrong color, those who are feeble, those who are too old, those who do not perform or conform to the standard have always been exploited and exterminated. “Oh, that’s a little extreme don’t you think?” you might say. That is history. That has been the story of mankind. In some instances that has been true in America, but the time in which we live has on the whole been the exception to the rule. This is because our founders said we would pursue life and liberty, and we will offer that to all. But we are also always a generation away from losing that.

  1. We cannot be reduced merely to the spiritual.

This seems a bit counterintuitive because we know that the spirit of human actually can exist apart from the body. But that is not a good thing. That’s what we call death, when the body and spirit are torn asunder.

The separation of the body and spirit is not something we should take lightly, because Christ gave His life so that this process would be reversed—so that the spirit would be reunited to the physical body so that we might exist according to the design of our Maker.

The key doctrine of Christianity is the resurrection of the body, and I fear that we give it little thought past, “Yay, I get to go to heaven now.” I would venture to guess if we did a survey that many of our views of resurrection would include the assumption that the bodies of the dead are something that’s done away with in favor of either a spiritual body or a new physical body that it is completely other than the body we possessed on earth.

But that’s not the case. Resurrection is the reversal of death in that it remakes and reunites the body with the soul.

In consideration of the entire plan of God, we must conclude that the body holds a high place of honor—so much so that our great eternal bliss is one that we will experience not only as spiritual beings, but as physical beings as well. Therefore, we are to honor the body—both your own and that of another.

What does all of this say about our worth? Our worth is rooted in our nature as image bearers of God. We are a special creation, consisting of both body and spirit that exist as one unity, the human being.

We must follow this question of what it means to be human with the question, “Who, then, is human?” The more direct question for us on this topic is this: “Is that which exists in the mother’s womb human?”

It is tempting to answer this with the simple retort, “What else would it be?” But I want to give you the testimony of Scripture showing the full humanity of that which exists in the womb of the mother:

  • Luke 1:15: “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.”
  • Luke 1:39–41: Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Both of these passages assume that the fetus in the womb is a child.

Vital question #2: What responsibility do we have as humans toward one another?

We have a collective duty to carry on the command to fill and subdue the earth, to multiply the image of God on the earth. I’m aware that not everyone’s situation in life allows for this. But it is the fundamental norm for humankind.

Insofar as that command is completed—that is to say, wherever there exists human life—we are called to recognize it and to love it. Indeed, we’re even called to love it as we love ourselves.

This struggle to do so has plagued humanity from the beginning.

The Old Testament question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” answered incorrectly results in death. The New Testament question, “Who is my neighbor?” answered correctly moves us past self-preservation and into the sacrificial service of those whom society has deemed to be lesser.

Vital Question #3: Will we exercise faith in the midst of clever and costly counterarguments?

Our father and mother Adam and Eve failed in this regard, and in questions of life and death they reached out for that which they were told would lead them to an instant path to even greater existence.

The lies of the enemy are still at work today. Here are some of them.

Lie: Abortion is a issue is a political one and therefore is not a proper focus for the church.

Our lives are not defined by our political pursuits, and it is therefore not legitimate to assume that our religious pursuits exclude us from participation in political realms. Politics and religion are not mutually exclusive.

Along those lines, we must not be ignorant about what government is. Governments governs—and what it governs is people. That people need governing says something about our human condition.

What makes it more precarious is that it is not only flawed people who need governing, but it is also flawed people who do the governing. If humanity is to be governed, the primary question, then, that we have to ask if good government is to exist is “What is the nature of humanity?” There is no institution better poised to answer this fundamental question than the church.

In a society in which we have a say in our government, we as believers would be foolish to sit this one out.

As an example, in the state I live in there is currently a push for a bill banning abortions in instances in which a heartbeat can be detected. That’s a good start. At times it seems that it just doesn’t matter who we put into office or what laws get passed, but there are legislators who wouldn’t put forward such bills and there are executives who wouldn’t sign such bills. How you vote matters.

Lie: Abortion is a private matter.

Over and over and over and over what we see from the Scriptures is the call to stand for truth and to help one another. If abortion is in fact murder, then we can’t call it a private matter.

Buying into this notion is a fundamental decision to deny the humanity of the child. Should the mother of a 6-month old tire of the process of mothering and do away with the child, we would not call that simply a private matter. Nor should we call it a private matter in the case of pregnancy, no matter how personal and intimate that situation.

Lie: Abortion is an issue for women only.

I’d like to address this on three levels—practical, theological, and logical.

Practically speaking, the last thing we need is more reasons for fathers to stay out of the situation.

Theologically speaking, this flies in the face of the God-ordained arrangement of man and woman, both created in the image of God, to come together as one flesh to create and then to nourish and protect new life.

Logically speaking, truth doesn’t have gender. It is either true that the being in the womb is a child, it is either true that abortion is murder, or it is not. It isn’t true or false just because a man or woman feels that it’s true or false. Arguments aren’t gendered.

Lie: You can’t legislate morality.

The truth is, that’s what laws do.

If this is a statement about the nature of laws, the reality is that laws give us “oughts”—you should do this, you should not do that—which are by nature statements on morality.

If this is a statement about the results of laws, that is to say, laws can’t change hearts—while that sounds wise and spiritual, it’s still false.

I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, less than twenty years after where, in the same city, the assassination of Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers took place and the famous Woolworth counter sit-in happened. Yet, growing up, it was unfathomable to me that segregation would happen anywhere, much less in my own hometown. No doubt that my own upbringing in a godly home factors into this, but so did the laws that recognized such behavior as criminal. You can’t tell me that society at large doesn’t change based on the enactment and enforcement of laws that honor life.

Laws that devalue life promote the devaluing of life in its citizens.

The following proclamation that I’ll share was written the 1980s by the first President to make a proclamation regard Sanctity of Human Life Day, marking the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, our Supreme Court’s decision to make elective abortion the law of the land. It is a picture of what government can be. More importantly, it is a picture of the society in which we can live.

It reads:

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

Reverence for human life and recognition of the sanctity of individual life are among the defining characteristics of a just civil order. For century upon century, mankind has struggled to establish such principles in law— not merely as right ideas confirmable by experience, but as self-evident truths that provide the only possible basis for the creation of durable political institutions. Age after age of wars and persecutions, serfdom and slavery, have left bitter reminders of the consequences that everywhere follow a failure to recognize the fundamental dignity and equality of human beings in the sight of God. . . .

The United States of America was founded by visionary people who believed, and said forthrightly, that the test of any just political system lay in whether it affirmed the unalienable rights endowed by God, rights that no civil authority was ever free to deny or contravene. In this context, it is no wonder then that the first right proclaimed by our Founders in the Declaration of Independence was that of life, and that the care of human life and happiness . . . was held to be the first and only legitimate object of good government.

Today our Nation, economically prosperous and at peace, bears a fresh, dark wound upon its conscience, a wound created by a stark deviation from the course of our national journey. Contrary to the purpose of law, to the character of medicine, to the habit of charity, and to the spirit of our founding, abortion has become routin[e] in America. No one can mistake abortion for the gentle art of healing. Each day in our land the promise of life is stolen from thousands of the unborn, the first flower of their unique existence crushed forever. But, as many philosophers have pointed out, the effects of such acts of violence are just as profound on those who perform them as on those who undergo them.

Americans are a generous and kindhearted people, a people who strive to strengthen and preserve those delicate bonds of affection that unite the human family and give safe harbor to all its members. We often fail in our tenderness and mercy; but it is not in our nature to choose failure. Rather, we are a people who thirst after justice and will give our all to achieve it and defend it. Most particularly, we are a people who will not settle for a national policy that each year condemns 1.5 million unborn children to an early death and consigns their mothers to exploitation and emptiness. We must and we will answer abortion with loving alternatives like adoption, and we will ensure that our laws preserve and protect the innocent unborn from destruction.

In 1989 America can make a New Beginning as a champion of the most basic civil right of all. We can, as is written in Deuteronomy, choose life, so that we and our descendants may live. . . .

I call upon all Americans to reflect on their heritage as a free people under God and the duty incumbent upon each of us to recognize the personhood of every individual and to defend the life of every innocent person from the moment of conception until natural death. Let us gather in homes and places of worship during this . . . annual observance of National Sanctity of Human Life Day to offer reparation for the appalling tragedy of abortion and to rededicate ourselves to works of charity and justice in behalf of America’s unborn children and their mothers. [2]

Acting on the Truth

The following are applications for how we can apply the truth of life in the womb.

Be a voice for life. Do not shy away from honoring God as the Giver of life.

Be on guard. Be diligent. Our enemy will use both obvious and subtle ways to promote lies and promote death. Whether it’s as blatant as the killing of babies in the process of birth or as subtle as promoting a Darwinian worldview whose logical conclusion robs life of real value and meaning, you must train your mind to recognize falsehood and train your will to resist it.

Educate yourself regarding birth control. I want to speak to something you may or may not know—but if you or your spouse is going to ingest something into your body that alters your natural hormonal pattern, you owe it to yourself to understand what’s going on. Hormonal contraception is promoted as contraception because the medical community defines pregnancy not as “fertilization” but rather as “implantation.” Though not its first line of defense, a potential result of using the pill is the prevention of a fertilized egg implanting. You have to ask whether that’s a chance you’re willing to take.

Determine how your commitment to life affects how you vote. In a society in which our laws are determined, interpreted, and enforced by those we place in office, don’t make the decision lightly.

Proactively support mothers. A woman of any age who finds herself alone with an unwanted pregnancy is a sign to the church that we are not connected to our communities in the way that we should be.

Celebrate adoption. Consider whether it’s something you should do. Encourage others in it. Fund it. Support organizations that counsel mothers.

Pursue biblical wisdom in relationships. Live as a man and a woman according to the plan of God in a committed marriage relationship. Teach your children to do the same.

Be confident that the truth is on the side of life. Though it will not prevail in this world, truth and life will prevail in the next, and we who side with it now have reward in this life and in the life to come.

I close with this prayer: God in whom we live and move and exist, God who gives to all life and breath, God who forms us in the wombs of our mothers, forgive us our great sin. Give us grace to be light and life in a world of darkness and death. May we be like you, Jesus, in our treatment of the little ones. Have mercy on our country, great God, for the sake of the righteous among us. Help us to be among that number.

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture citations are from the NASB 1995.

[2] The transcript of this proclamation can be found here: https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/archives/speech/proclamation-5931-national-sanctity-human-life-day-1989#:~:text=Now%2C%20Therefore%2C%20I%2C%20Ronald,Sanctity%20of%20Human%20Life%20Day.


Read more on the topic of abortion.