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Sanctity of Life Sunday

January 22, 2023

Teacher: Daniel Baker
Scripture: Romans 12:1-2; 13:1-7, 8-10

Sanctity of Life Sunday
Romans 12:1–2; 13:1–7, 8–10 – Sanctity of Life Sunday – Daniel J. Baker

INTRODUCTION

“Please stand for the reading of God’s Word.” Romans 12:1–2; 13:8–10. “Praise be to God.”

This is Sanctity of Life Sunday. Unlike any we’ve had. There’s reason to praise and thank God for what’s happened in the last year—even as we think about the fight ahead.

50 years ago today SCOTUS decision Roe v. Wade was decided (Jan 22, 1973).

  • Justice Harry Blackmun wrote the majority opinion. It basically said that within the Constitution was a fundamental “right to an abortion” and no state could take that away from a woman.
  • Couldn’t take the right away in her first trimester.
  • In the second and third trimester abortions could be given for the sake of the “health” of the mother.
  • But the “health” of the mother could be defined in any way necessary—her physical, psychological, emotional health.
  • And for almost 50 years that dictated the laws of the land.
  • For it didn’t make it to 50.

This summer was the Dobbs decision.

  • Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on June 24, 2022.
  • Written by Samuel Alito it overturned Roe v. Wade completely.
  • Pointed out what a massively poor judicial decision Roe v Wade was, why abortion laws needed to be decided by state governments.
  • A massive work of God and answer to millions of prayers.

But it wasn’t the end of the war, just winning one major battle. Reminders of the war:

  • In NC abortions are legal for the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. That’s pretty far along.
  • 20 is better than a late-term abortion but it’s still inconsistent with a biblical view of human life and what the baby inside the womb is.
  • Focus needs to shift to states, state politicians, state ballot measures.

Reminder of the war: “We’re Thankful for Our Abortions” in The Nation (Nov 24, 2022)

  • Written by Nikiya Natale last Thanksgiving. She’s a graduate of the Univ of TX law school and works a lot with Muslim immigration and civil rights issues.
  • She herself has one son but has had two abortions.
  • The article is about a website called “We Testify” that tries to provide a forum for people who have had abortions to speak positively about it.
  • The goal for these writers and advocates is to try and remove the shame from abortion.
  • If the goal is to remove the shame from these women, they’re doing it in exactly the wrong way.

E.g., if someone comes up to you whose been outside on a rainy day.

  • Covered in mud from head to toe.
  • Mud caked on their face.
  • They’re filthy.
  • You don’t help them if you look at them and say, ‘You’re not really dirty. Come inside and sit on my couch and sleep in my guest bed. You don’t have any dirt on you at all.’
  • You help them if you say, ‘You’re filthy. But sister, I know where you can go to get clean. I mean, really clean.’
  • Where do you go to get clean? His name is Jesus Christ.

Reminder of the war: Abortion pills. Around half of all abortions occur now this way.

  • The abortion pill mifepristone is fast becoming the more common way of performing abortions.
  • The FDA this month approved having it dispensed in retail pharmacies like Walgreen’s and CVS.

Our passage this morning gives us three overarching principles that speak well to us about how to engage the Pro-Life battles we face:

  • We Renew Minds (12:1–2)
  • We Pursue the Good (13:1–7)
  • We Love Our Neighbor (13:8–10)

I. WE RENEW MINDS (12:1–2)

Paul’s letter to the Romans. By apostle Paul in the mid-50s, 20 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and Pentecost.

Romans is a lengthy look at the gospel (chps 1-11)—then a lengthy section on how to live (12:1–15:13).

12:1 – “I appeal to you THEREFORE...” The gospel has a great “THEREFORE” attached to it. We don’t trust in Christ, enjoy the personal benefits of sanctification, and continue to live as if nothing has happened to us.

The gospel brings new life—and along with it a new lifestyle. Another way to say it:

Faith that Works:

The gospel saves by faith alone but the faith that saves is not alone.
We are saved by faith and not works, but the faith that saves is a faith that works.

That’s what Romans 12:1–15:13 is all about, the good works we are to do.

Let’s look at Romans 12:1.

  • The appeal is to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [or logical/reasonable] worship.”
  • In the OT God’s people offered sacrifices.
  • Now what we offer is ourselves.
  • We are the “holy and acceptable” offering God is after.

This isn’t a Sunday morning only offering, is it? It’s a 24-7 offering that we give to God—and we have to give it individually.

  • Midnight on Saturday—we are to “present our bodies a living sacrifice.”
  • Monday morning in RTP or Tuesday at our night-shift in the hospital—we are to “present our bodies a living sacrifice.”
  • Wednesday afternoon in chemistry class—we are to “present our bodies a living sacrifice.”

Then Romans 12:2.

  • Don’t let the world SHAPE you, but be SHAPED by the renewal of your mind.
  • Reminder that MINDS ARE SHAPED by influences.
  • What is shaping your thinking? Is it “this world”? Or is it God’s Word, God’s People, God’s Spirit?

John Stott:

This is Paul’s version of the call to nonconformity and to holiness which is addressed to the people of God throughout Scripture....Both verbs [conform, transform] are present passive imperatives and denote the continuing attitudes which we are to retain.We must go on refusing to conform to the world’s ways and go on letting ourselves be transformed according to God’s will. J.B. Phillip’s paraphrase catches the alternative: ‘Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God remould your minds from within.’
John Stott, The Message of Romans[1]

Like playdough: We can be conformed to this. But then transformed to that.

In that article about giving thanks for abortions, Nikiya Natale opened by saying,

“This year I find myself reflecting...on why our nation celebrates the complicated holiday of Thanksgiving at all. This holiday is founded on the unforgivable genocide of Native Americans, and my commitment to justice for all people makes it difficult for me to celebrate things I am thankful for.”

  • My issue wasn’t with America’s complicated past. But I think she’s wrong about Thanksgiving.
  • My issue is that she’s so opposed to “unforgivable genocide” and yet committed to the genocide of abortion.
  • She’s so for justice but so opposed to justice for unborn children.
  • Sign that her thinking—is a mind that needs renewal.

Paul reminds us that SOMETHING is shaping our thinking: Either “this world” or God’s Word. Which is it for you?

II. WE PURSUE THE GOOD (13:1–7)

This second point is from Romans 13:1–7, Paul’s word about civil government. Right in the middle of this paragraph are a few comments about GOOD and EVIL that we’ll focus on. But I’ll read the whole paragraph.

The backdrop of the passage: Roman Empire. Nero is the emperor. Nero will execute both Peter and Paul in another ten years or so. Paul isn’t naïve.

The basic command is to see governments as authorities given by God. That’s why we submit to them. Submit by taxes, honor, whatever’s appropriate.

This submission isn’t absolute—remember Romans 10:9:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Rom 10:9)

Jesus and Jesus alone is “Lord.” No king or emperor or US govt can claim ultimate authority. No king or emperor or US govt gets our ultimate allegiance.

At times we say with Peter:

“We must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)

Right in the middle of Romans 13:3–4 are some critical words. This is where my point comes from, that we pursue the good:

3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Rom 13:3–4)

Notice all the times Paul speaks of GOOD and EVIL. The ESV has used a few different words in their translation, but GOOD (agathos) appears 3x and EVIL 3x (kakos) in these two verses.

Same words are used in Romans 12:9, 21:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good....Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:9, 21)[2]

Christians are to pursue the good—and God has commissioned governments to be workers of good as well.

The God-given purpose of government is to REWARD THE GOOD and to PUNISH THE EVIL. This means what is truly good and truly evil—good and evil as God defines them.

God is asking for a bigger footprint for governments than what is sometimes described by people who identify as Libertarians. A common Libertarian refrain is, “It’s not the government’s business to be involved there.”[3] Sometimes this is said even about things like marriage or gay marriage, issues where Christianity has a clear and historic perspective.

But governments are to REWARD THE GOOD and PUNISH THE EVIL. So, marriage is definitely within the scope of what governments are to be involved with.

But how are people in government to figure out what is GOOD and what is EVIL?

This is where God loudly and continuously enters the discussion.

  • God has given to each person a sense of good and evil, “the natural law” (Rom 2:14-15). But sin distorts this individual sense.
  • God left us his Word that gives us a perfect understanding of good and evil.
  • But to rightly understand God’s Word requires God’s Spirit.
  • So it is God’s people who have a special responsibility to understand and proclaim what is good and what is evil.
  • Christians aren’t perfect and can get confused on good and evil—but still, it’s part of our calling within a culture.

But in a real sense, The Church is the conscience of the culture.

When it comes to the issue of abortion and the sanctity of life, the Church is and must be the conscience of the culture.

Opposition to abortion is no new cause for Christians. So, no, it wasn’t the Republican Party that invented the Pro-Life movement to get votes.

Three-thousand years ago, King David crafted words which we call Psalm 139:

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. (Ps 139:13–16)

But he was simply putting into poetry what Moses had already establishd centuries earlier.

The Law given at Mt. Sinai:

“You shall not murder” (Exod 20:13).

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. 23 But if there is harm [i.e., to the child in her], then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (Exod 21:22–25)

The Didache is one of the earliest Christian documents, dating back to the 1st century, a few decades after the book of Romans itself was written. It says,

You shall not procure abortion, nor commit infanticide.
Didache, 2.2

John Calvin in the 1500s:

The fetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being, and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.
John Calvin, Commentary on Exodus 21:22

So, as Christians we fight for the good by affirming the goodness of children and motherhood and caring for all babies born to us.

And as Christians we fight against the evil of abortion.

But we do more.

III. WE LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR (13:8–10)

Now we’ll look at Romans 13:8–10 (read).

When we turn to this third part of the passage we hear a familiar NT theme. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It is an OT law. Leviticus 19:18b. Jesus calls it the 2nd greatest commandment in the Bible (Matt 22:36–40). 1st is to love God with all we are. He says all “the Law and the Prophets” “hang on” these two.

Paul is saying the same thing here. When you “love your neighbor as yourself” you “fulfill” the OT commandments, because all of them are “summed up in this word” (Rom 13:9).

He shows by using four of the Ten Commandments. If you’re loving your neighbor then you won’t commit adultery, murder, steal, or covet.

These commandments tell us what love looks like and acts like. Love isn’t just a positive feeling for someone. Love is not sentimentalism. The commandments show us specific things that love DOES and DOES NOT DO.

But also love gives shape to how we obey the commandments. We don’t obey like robots performing a checklist. We obey the commandments in love for others. One theologican called love “pure good-will toward the other.”[4] But it’s “pure good-will” that acts and speaks for the good of others.

C.E.B. Cranfield:

Suffice it here to say that God in His love has claimed us wholly for Himself and for our neighbours, and the love, of which Paul speaks here, is the believer’s ‘yes’, in thought and feeling, word and deed, unconditional and without reservation, to that total claim of the loving God, in so far as it relates to the neighbor—a ‘yes’, which is no human possibility but the gracious work of the Holy Spirit.
C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans 9–16[5]

This is how I act toward my NEIGHBOR. But who is my neighbor?

  • Those in need that I come across in life (Luke 10:25–37).
  • It’s my family (1 Tim 5:4).
  • It’s my church (Gal 6:10).
  • As I have opportunity, as I feel God’s call, it’s my extended family—and community and even country or the world.
  • I’m not equally responsible to all these neighbors—but all these people are my neighbors.

Theologians like Al Mohler consider the commandment “love my neighbor” as being an over-arching guide for Christians to engage the culture.

  • I “love my neighbor” by working to see laws and politicians that will enable my neighbor to flourish—to do the things that will be helpful to him. To not do the things that will be harmful to him.

And on this Sanctity of Life Sunday we want to remember that “loving my neighbor” includes my “unborn neighbors” as well.

  • So maybe the way to love my neighbor here is by joining NC Right to Life (https://www.ncrtl.org/).
  • With the Dobbs decision the battle for the unborn moves to the states.
  • State by state the battle continues.

And on this Sanctity of Life Sunday we remember that my neighbor includes moms facing an unexpected pregnancy and those recovering from an abortion in the past.

But knowing what specifically to do and how to be engaged is not easy. There are a thousand worthwhile things I can get involved with.

  • My calling is somewhere between doing nothing and doing everything.
  • It takes wisdom and discernment to figure out my exact place.
  • This is why Paul said we need “renewed minds” to know God’s will for us (Rom 12:2).

Conclusion

May God help us to renew minds starting with our own, to know and pursue the good, and to love our neighbors in the specific ways he calls us to.

Remember Jesus Christ:

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel. (2 Tim 2:8)

Our countercultural calling: Carl Henry

Christianity is qualitatively different or it has nothing distinctive to offer the world. The real arena in which we are to work and witness and win over others is the world, or we have ceased to be light, salt, leaven. Christian duty requires courageous participation at the frontiers of public concern—education, mass media, politics, law, literature and the arts, labor and economics, and the whole realm of cultural pursuits. We need to do more than to sponsor a Christian subculture. We need Christian counterculture that sets itself alongside the secular rivals and publishes openly the difference that belief in God and His Christ makes in the arenas of thought and action....To love christianly involves taking a stand for God that calls this world's caesars to account before the sovereign Lord of the universe, that calls this world's sages to account before the wisdom that begins with the fear of the Lord, that calls this world's journalists to account before The Greatest Story Ever Told.
Carl F.H. Henry, Twilight of a Great Civilization[6]

Amen.

Prayer for Gateway Women’s Center on Hillsborough St.

  • Dave and Donna Burnett - The Lord to open the hearts of both the men and women who come in to receive our services. Staff and volunteers led y the Spirit as they minister.
  • Adrienne Gross – Strength for the staff and volunteers. Compassion for them. Continued funding. Protection in this hostile environment.

[1] John Stott, The Message of Romans, BST (IVP), 322, 323.

[2] “Good” in both verses is from agathos. “Evil” is ponēros in v. 9, kakos in v. 21.

[3] “Libertarians oppose using the coercive force of law to promote notions of virtue or to express the moral convictions of the majority” (Michael Sandel, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?, 60).

[4] Emil Brunner, The Letter to the Romans (Westminster, 1959), 112.

[5] C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans 9–16, ICC (NY: T&T Clark, 1979), 630.

[6] Carl F.H. Henry, Twilight of a Great Civilization (Crossway, 1988), 44.

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