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Countering Abortion

A sermon for Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

by Tim Gallant

Reading: Psalm 139.13-16
Text: Luke 10.25-37

Beloved family of Jesus Christ,

Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, and I wish to address this subject of abortion head-on. It has been 33 years since the landmark case of Roe vs Wade, which legalized abortion in this nation, and in those years, millions of unborn children have been put to death. The question of how to put an end to this on a political or judicial level is discussed very frequently, and that is an important question. But the "how" of political action on the point in our particular context is not something I can speak to from the Word of God. The Bible does not, for example, instruct us how to lobby effectively. So although I think that political action of various kinds is important, there is limited instruction I can give you there.

What I wish to do today, however, is speak from God's Word regarding how all of us can live in a way that bears witness against abortion, and runs counter to it - not just those of us who may have some sort of recognized political influence, but all of us. What I'm going to do here is very unusual for me, in that I do not plan on sticking to one particular text and expounding it. Rather, I want to look at this issue of countering abortion from several angles upon which the Scriptures shed clear light for us.

The gospel calls upon us to counter abortion. We're going to reflect upon the need to understand the significance of abortion; we're going to talk about how we can work to undercut the perceived "need" for abortion; and then finally, we will be called to embody the antidote to abortion.

1. The gospel calls upon us to counter abortion. First, then, let's understand the significance of abortion. In order to do that, we must get past the euphemisms, the rhetoric that is used to describe abortion and the supposed "right" of access to it.

The basic principle of Scripture that must undergird our discussion is that the life of the unborn is equal in value to that of the born. This principle is articulated in Exodus 21.22-25:

If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman's husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

In this section of Exodus, there are laws governing punishment for various crimes. And in this particular passage, the issue has to do with what we might call criminal negligence: If men are fighting near a pregnant woman and cause her to give birth prematurely, they are responsible for whatever harm is done. Note carefully: the passage does not say, "harm to the woman." Undoubtedly, harm against her is also in view, but no more so than harm upon the child who comes to premature birth. And whatever harm is done is to be treated with the principle of life for life, eye for eye.

I'm not going to enter here into whether the penalty for abortion in the USA in the 21st century ought to be death. That discussion of what the penalty should be for abortion if it again becomes illegal can be left for another time.

But what I do want to focus upon here is that this passage presupposes that the child discharged from the womb is the same in kind and has equal rights to the adults. It is not a "P of C" - a "product of conception." It is not a piece of tissue that has happened to attach itself to the womb. It is not merely a fetus, a potential human being. It is not an it, but a he, a she, a human being fashioned by the hands of God, fully adorned with God's imprint, blessed with God's protecting Word, every bit as much as any other human life.

And therefore, we cannot mince words. The intentional taking of an innocent human life - that is, to take human life for reason other than justice - such a taking of human life is murder; abortion is the intentional taking of human life; ergo, abortion is murder. That is the significance of abortion: it is the murder of a child. That controversial but necessary position underlies and informs how we must approach this issue in all its angles.

This position is gospel - it is good news for the unborn. God is protector of the oppressed, and the Word of God says that He Himself will avenge violence and wrongdoing. The good news of the Bible is that God cares for the smallest and most helpless of His creatures, no matter how readily we may forget them or despise them. May God grant us eyes, then, to see as He sees, to recognize reality, to side with Him, and to act in protection of the helpless.

2. The gospel calls upon us to counter abortion. We have considered the significance of abortion. Let's now talk about how we, as simple Christians, can work to undercut the perceived "need" for abortion.

Now, when we talk about the "perceived need" for abortion, the first thing we need to admit is that because abortion is sin, its existence is in no way excused by circumstances. And it is doubtless true that the appeal to circumstances is very often simply something to hide behind. Many people who "have" to have an abortion find it a necessity for the most trivial of reasons.

But there are nonetheless circumstances which are difficult, and for which abortion does provide an apparent easy way out, and it is good for Christians to face that and to put themselves in the shoes of others. We are called upon to help others bear their burdens, as Paul writes in Galatians 6.

First here is the matter of poverty. It is absolutely true that many pregnant women, especially those who do not have another breadwinner, find it difficult to imagine how they are going to survive if they are laid up with a pregnancy. And that's without addressing the issue of another mouth to feed.

The gospel calls upon us to be people of both word and deed. The gospel is not, "It's the bed you made, now you lie in it." In some cases, we are very tempted to say that, and then wash our hands. But that is not the gospel, is it? Can you imagine if God said that to us? All judgment is a consequence of our sins, and if God said, "It's your sin, it's your bed, you made it, so don't ask for My help" - where would we be?

But no, God meets us in our need, and He calls upon us to imitate Him. Here especially we are to think of the passage we read at the beginning, the so-called "parable of the Good Samaritan." We find in verse 33 that when he finds the beaten man, the Samaritan had compassion upon him. That's a good starting point, isn't it? It's easy to point fingers and say that the situation is not my responsibility, and further, that maybe it has arisen due to sin or negligence or whatever. But Jesus says, "Go and do likewise." Have compassion like the Samaritan in this parable.

And compassion is ready to deal with an emergency. The man is bleeding and dying, he doesn't need to be asked what in the world he was doing on the Jericho road all alone, and don't you know that the place is full of bandits, and you shouldda known better!! Nor does the Samaritan say, "Well, you probably have a donkey somewhere, so I'll check on that. I'll help you help yourself." No, as verse 34 says, "So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him."

You see, "God helps those who help themselves" is not the gospel. That's a good thing, because we usually can't help ourselves - even when we really think we can. But He has compassion on us, and He "seats us on His own donkey," if you will. And then He commissions us to "go and do likewise."

You want to prevent acts of desperation, like abortion? Start with compassion.

Nor is God's aid to us short-term. He commits Himself to the degree necessary. Look at the Samaritan here - he doesn't just dump the beaten man off at the nearest agency and forget about him. He pays the bill in advance, and commits himself to more, as needed.

So it is with God. He doesn't heal our wounds lightly. He doesn't put out a show of compassion and then leave off. It's easy for us to "do a little something" so we don't feel guilty, say to ourselves that we've done our part, and our consciences are soothed - and then stop there. But that's not God's way. He goes all the way. He adopts us as His children and provides for us.

And that, surely, is a powerful reason for us to adopt needy children and infants. To be there, for both mother and child. That bears witness to God's grace. That's compassion.

A second practical issue regarding the perceived "need" for abortion is shame. And here I am thinking of the effects of what can happen if we rightly decry the sin of premarital sex, but do not administer that opposition to sin with the gospel. If we treat sinners as pariahs, we should not be surprised that they do not seek us out for help. If we treat a single girl who is pregnant as beneath us, as dirty and untouchable, we shouldn't be surprised that she will not be attracted to us or to what we say we believe. And if, in God's providence, such a young lady is in close quarters to us, she has a lot of motivation to dispose of that "shameful pregnancy" before anyone else finds out - before there is opportunity for her to be ridiculed and scorned.

The approach called for here is not difficult in any technical or logistical sense. But it does place spiritual demands upon us. It requires that we actually believe and live out what we claim to believe regarding the gospel. One of the key focal points of Jesus' ministry was His stress upon the fact that He had come to seek and to save that which was lost, that He had come to recover the wandering sheep, that He was the Great Physician who had come to heal a people who were wasting away and dying from the sickness of sin.

The point is not that we should minimize the fact that sex outside of marriage is sinful. Not at all. But without minimizing such sin, we must be ready to maximize God's wonderful grace, which is greater than all sin. And corresponding to that, we must always be humble and honest with ourselves and our own sins. It's always easy to condemn the sins of others, but as we hear in Micah 6.8, what does God require, but that we love mercy, and do justly and walk humbly with our God? Walking humbly with our God means there is no room for self-righteousness, and it makes it a lot easier, on a practical level, to love mercy and to perform it.

3. The gospel calls upon us to counter abortion. We have been called upon to understand the significance of abortion, and to work to undercut the perceived need for abortion; let's now consider in closing how we can embody the antidote to abortion.

In this connection, I want to focus upon the matter of self-giving as the basis and route for promoting life for others. A great deal of abortion arises out of selfishness. This is embodied nowhere better than the framing of the abortion debate as "a woman's right to choose." The pro-death movement makes this all about the woman's freedom to do what she wants with her body and her life - and, as it happens with the child inside her.

A baby is responsibility. It restricts movement. A baby is costly, in terms of time, money, energy, and a great deal more. And so freedom comes to mean: free to do away with a "burden" that just happens to be a human life.

Sad. But the sad truth of the matter is that many Christians who are very vocal against abortion do not, by and large, embody a lifestyle that is so very different. We live for ourselves. We want to do what we want to do. We may not take our selfishness quite as far as those who abort babies - but neither do we live out the kind of joyous self-giving that will be an effective antidote to the culture of self-serving death.

Paul writes in Romans 14.7 that "none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself." In other words, the notion of absolute freedom is a myth. We are not our own; our bodies are temples of the Lord, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6.

And living to the Lord is not some abstract, private thing. It doesn't mean sitting on top of a pillar for several years, like some of the ancient monks did. No, living to the Lord means living for others, in self-giving and self-sacrifice. Listen to what Paul writes in Philippians 2.1-4:

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

If we want to live in a way that bears testimony against the culture of abortion, that is the kind of life we must lead: one of self-giving. The same kind of selfish attitude that drives some couples to abort their children, because they want more leisure or more money for themselves and just don't want the responsibility of a child, or more children - that same sort of attitude can rule in our lives in all sorts of ways, and we must not kid ourselves. It may not end in abortion, in our case, but it is always damaging, and it is always a denial of the gospel - which is, after all, all about how Jesus gave Himself for us - and we need to face that selfish tendency and put it far from us.

The fact is that we are not our own. Paul spends of almost all of Galatians to speak of how Christ has brought freedom - but what is his practical application? "Live for yourself"? No, just the opposite: "you brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (Gal 5.13).

This freedom to serve applies everywhere, and needs to be embodied everywhere, but in connection with the matter of abortion, it is very important that we apply it to our homes. Parents who spend almost no time with their children for the sake of few extra luxuries - who do you think this is all for? Are you going to be able to look back with a straight face and say that you needed that fancier car or that fancier house for the sake of your children, who were robbed of your time? Are we going to be able to look back and say that the focus upon our own leisure and our own pleasure, which again and again took us away from our families - are we going to be able to say that was Christ-like, that we were living the gospel there?

People of God, if we are going to counter abortion, we need to do more than talk. We need to be clothed with the gospel of the God who gives Himself to us. We need to show the world that there is an alternative to death, and ironically, it involves dying to ourselves.

That is the pathway for faith that overcomes the world. That is the pathway of freedom: through serving. When we learn the gospel of service, when we follow in the footsteps of our Master, who loves mercy and who heals sinners and who gave Himself up all the way to death for us - then we will truly live in a way that counters abortion, and our testimony will not be a self-righteous finger-pointing, but a proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ.

So be it. Amen.

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