Sanctity of Life Sunday
John Piper
Date Given: 
January 23, 2000

NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim
the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His
marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are
THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have
RECEIVED MERCY. 11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to
abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep
your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in
which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good
deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human
institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to
governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the
praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that
by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act
as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil,
but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the
brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

Over the years, in many sermons and lessons on the sanctity of
human life, we have developed a long list of reasons why abortion
is wrong and known to be wrong in the hearts even of pro-choice
people. But new people are coming to Bethlehem all the time and
might find it helpful to hear some of those reasons. So let me
mention some of them.

Jesus' Word of Mercy to Those Touched by Abortion

But before I do that, a word to women who have had abortions
-and men who may have encouraged or even demanded it. I know you
are here. I know that a message on abortion is painful for you to
hear. And I want you to know that the aim is not to make you
miserable. Therefore I hope you begin by receiving and savoring and
resting in the forgiveness of God through the death of his Son
Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners. Let this word of Jesus from my
devotional reading yesterday blow like a healing breeze across your
soul (Matthew 9:11-13):

The Pharisees . . . said to Jesus' disciples, "Why is your
Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?" [or you might
add: those who give and get abortions]. But when Jesus heard this,
He said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but
those who are sick. "But go and learn what this means: 'I DESIRE
MERCY, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the
righteous, but sinners."

In other words, Jesus is in pursuit of sinners, not righteous
people, because he came as a soul physician to show compassion, not
to commend religious observances.

That is foundational for all our preaching on social issues such
as racial harmony and sanctity of life. We are speaking to each
other as those who have failed. We are building on forgiveness and
healing. We all start there. But, we don't stay there. On that
basis, we move forward and we call each other to radical

Some Reasons We Know Abortion Is Wrong

So now, what are some of the reasons that abortion is wrong? And
even pro-choice people know it is wrong.

1. In Minnesota the Fetal Homicide Law makes a person guilty of
manslaughter or worse if he kills the baby in a mother's womb -
unless the mother agrees with the killing. Who is willing to live
with the moral implications of making a person's "being wanted" the
criterion of its right to life?

2. There is an inconsistency between doing fetal surgery on a
baby in the womb to save life, and at a similar stage of
development, killing a baby down the hall.

3. A baby can live on its own at 23 or 24 weeks. Yet pro-choice
people say it can be killed even at and beyond this age if the
mother will be distressed by its live birth more than its abortion.
What morally significant factor will prevent them from saying that
two babies at 23 weeks - one born and one unborn - may both be
killed because of a mother's distress?

4. A baby's living without an umbilical cord (that is, outside
the womb) is not the criterion of human personhood and the
condition of the right to life. We all know this because our own
living on a respirator or dialysis machine would not jeopardize our
own personhood. The source of food and oxygen does not determine

5. The size of a human is irrelevant to human personhood. We
know this because we do not make a one-month-old baby outside the
womb vulnerable to killing even though it is so much smaller than a
five-year-old. Littleness is irrelevant to personhood.

6. Developed reasoning powers are not the criterion of
personhood. We know this because a one-month-old baby outside the
womb does not have these powers either, yet its life is not in
jeopardy because of that.

7. Scientifically we are human beings by virtue of our genetic
makeup. The human code in the chromosomes is there from the start.
We are utterly different from monkeys or rats or elephants as soon
as the chromosomes of egg and sperm meet.

8. At eight weeks, all the organs are present - brain
functioning, heart pumping, liver making blood cells, kidney
cleaning the fluids, fingerprints formed, etc. Yet almost all
abortions happen later than this date.

9. Ultrasound has given a stunning window on the womb that shows
the unborn at eight weeks sucking a thumb, recoiling from pricking,
responding to sound. We can see the amazing pictures in Life
Magazine or various books or Web pages.

10. There is a principle of justice that, when two legitimate
rights conflict - say the woman's right not to be pregnant, and the
baby's right not to be killed - the right that should be limited is
the one that would do the most harm.

11. The Word of God says, "Thou shalt not kill." But many
abortionists admit they are killing baby humans. Bill Long, who
used to do abortions at Midwest Health Center for Women told me
over lunch some years ago that he knew he was "killing babies."
Those were the abortionist's words. But he said it was a lesser
evil; women must have "reproductive freedom."

Nevertheless the killing goes on. Within walking distance of our
church there is Meadowbrook Women's Clinic at Eighth Street and
Chicago; Midwest Health Center for Women downtown at Fifth and
Hennepin and Mildred Hanson at 24th and Chicago. Together at these
three abortion centers, about 8,000 babies are killed each year.
You can go on line and read their fee structures and

But there are signs of positive turning as well. For example,
among nurses, the approval of abortion is plummeting. Sixty percent
now say that they would not work in an Ob-gyn unit where abortions
are performed, up from forty-eight percent a decade ago (First
Things, January, 2000, p. 75). On the home front, there were
250-300 people at Bethlehem's pro-life brunch yesterday and we took
three bus loads and two vans to the capitol for the rally. That is
four or five times the usual number we've had during the 13 years
or so that we have been going.

My prayer and aim this morning is that this concern and
engagement would increase. And to that end I simply want to put
this kind of social involvement in a Biblical context so that you
do not feel that it is incompatible with, but in fact demanded by
a Biblical, eternity-aware, evangelistic, God-exalting orientation
toward life.

Truths for Christian Involvement

From 1 Peter 2:9-17 let me draw out and simply state, with very
little exposition, six truths for Christian involvement in society
and culture.

1. We were once all in darkness, along with the whole

Notice the phrase near the end of verse 9: "Him who has called
you out of darkness." We were once in darkness. The darkness of sin
and unbelief and ignorance about God and his ways. It was the
darkness of deadness in sin, as Paul says in Ephesians 2:5. This is
the condition of our culture and our society. And we were once a
part of it by nature. Why are we no longer?

2. God called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.

This truth comes from the same phrase in verse 9: "Him who has
called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." We are not by
nature smarter or wiser or more courageous than those who remain in
darkness. The difference is that God exerted toward us an
absolutely undeserved and compelling kindness: he called us. Paul
put it like this in 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, "We preach Christ
crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness,
but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the
power of God and the wisdom of God." It was the omnipotent call of
God that wakened us from the spiritual sleep of death and opened
our eyes to the power and wisdom of God in Christ. Let us never
forget: Free and powerful grace alone is the decisive reason that
we are able to see the darkness of our culture and be free in some
measure from it.

3. God's aim in calling us out of darkness is to send us back
to (but not in) that darkness to "proclaim his excellencies."

Now all of verse 9: "But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal
that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you
out of darkness into His marvelous light." That is why you have
been called out. That is why you are God's people, a chosen race.
We exist to display with word and deed the excellencies of God.
This is the way
God's call came to us. Freely we received, now let
us freely give. Our witness is not the same as the call of God. But
God's call happens through our display of God's excellencies. When
we speak and show God's excellencies to others, we provide the
truth that God may grant the blind to see. If we say nothing, they
will see nothing. Faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17). And new
birth is "through the living and abiding word," the gospel (1 Peter

4. God's aim is that the way we make his excellencies known to
the darkened culture around us take place both by avoidance and by

This is very crucial to see. Some err here by stressing one to
the exclusion of the other. One group is swept away with social
action. Another is absorbed in personal holiness. The Biblical way
is both/and, not either/or.

Notice verse 11: "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to
abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul." This
is the avoidance ethic. And it is absolutely right and necessary.
There are things in our culture that we should simply avoid and
abstain from.

But notice verse 12: "Keep your behavior excellent among the
Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as
evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe
them, glorify God in the day of visitation." Here we are "among the
Gentiles." Here we are going on display to the Gentiles. Here we
are not just avoiding their effect on us, we are aiming at having
an effect on them with positive action. "They observe your good
deeds and glorify God."

Over and over in the New Testament the writers stress that we
were created and converted to be engaged relentlessly in a life of
public good deeds. Indeed, Titus 1:14 says that Christ died to
"purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for
good deeds." The term "good deeds" does not mean sitting at home
watching wholesome videos instead of going out and watching dirty
movies. Good deeds means designing ministries for caring for AIDS
orphans in Africa, and feeding the malnourished, and housing the
homeless, and teaching the illiterate and ignorant, and freeing the
addicted and fighting crime and visiting the prisoner and
befriending the lonely, laboring in the cause of protecting the
unborn and relieving the crisis of unexpected pregnancies, and a
thousand other visible ways of doing good to others in the name of
Jesus (see Titus 2:7-8; 3:8; Hebrews 10:22; Matthew 5:16).

My point here is that, in relation to our sin-riddled culture,
we should pursue both avoidance and engagement; both purity of
heart and merciful involvement, both personal holiness and public
justice. In short, we should with the mind of Christ be both
culture-denying and cultural transforming. The transformed mind
steeped in scripture will discern when and how.

5. Submission to cultural institutions (like the state, and
places of employment and family) is not canceled out by our freedom
in Christ (and our citizenship being in heaven, and our being
"strangers and exiles on earth), but our submission is put on a
whole new footing of submission to God.

You see the call to submission in verse 13: "Submit yourselves
for the Lord's sake to every human institution." Christians are not
self-assertive rebels who kick against the pricks of regulations in
government and business and schools and home. We are eager to be
supportive and compliant wherever it does not compromise our
commitment to Christ our king.

But notice the words in verse 13, "for the Lord's sake." Or: "On
account of the Lord." Once we may have been submissive out of fear,
or out of conniving for advancement, or out of greed, or out of
laziness, or because we believed that these earthly institutions
really were our master. But that is not how Christians submit now.
It is for the Lord's sake.

Verse 16 is Peter's interpretation of those crucial words: "Act
as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil,
but use it as bondslaves of God." We are free. We are not slaves to
any human institution. So why submit? Why not drive at any speed we
want? Why not pay whatever tax we feel like? Why not come to class
late? Why not wear perfume to the first service and park in the
most convenient place for ourselves? Why not come in at whatever
hour you please as a teenager? Why submit to a hundred rules and
laws and guidelines in our culture and work places and schools and

The answer is, God freed us from these institutions as masters,
and then sent us back into them to declare his excellencies as his
servants, not the servants of man. We submit in freedom, for the
Lord's sake. Everything is on a different footing. All is from the
Lord and for the Lord. Christ died to purify us for good deeds and
we enter the world and the culture with a view to displaying the
glory and the excellency of this great Christ.

6. Finally, Christians honor all persons, and seek to do it in
different ways that are not the same for each, but appropriate to
their roles in life.

Verse 17: "Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God,
honor the king." There is a special kind of honor for the king.
There is a special fear for God. There is a special love for fellow
Christians. But there is an honor for all persons, including the

Matthew Henry wrote: "The wicked must be honored, not for their
wickedness, but for any other qualities, such as wit, prudence,
courage, eminency of employment, or the hoary head. Abraham, Jacob,
Samuel, the prophets, and the apostles never scrupled to give due
honor to bad men" (Commentary on the Whole Bible [Old Tappan, NJ:
Fleming H. Revell Co., n.d.], p. 1019).

How much more the unborn should be honored!

So in conclusion, let us not simply be a passive and apathetic
people priding ourselves in our avoidance ethic. Let us live in the
power of the grace that called us out of darkness into light and
let us turn back to that very dark and dying culture and declare
the excellencies of the One who called us, and let us be rich in
good deeds, so that people might see the kind of Master we serve
and give him glory on the day of visitation.

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