It’s not unusual for pastors to focus on grace if they mention abortion. Typically, pastors are painfully aware of the fact that hearts of women 3 in their own congregation are experiencing raw pain because they have aborted their children. Being sensitive to the concerns of such hurting women, pastors focus on bringing healing and restoration to those in the congregation who have committed abortion, so pastors preach a message of “grace, not guilt.” But what does grace mean outside the context of guilt, or what does forgiveness mean without repentance?
Last year on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday I attended a local church (not our home church) with high expectations, fondly recalling the story that a sermon preached over 30 years ago on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday at that church led some congregation members to help start LifeSavers Ministries. I looked forward to hearing something about God’s love for innocent babies and their mothers, or how crisis pregnancies can provide an opportunity to experience the blessings of obedience to God. Instead, the message of “grace” could be summed up with the one-dimensional statement “we support post-abortion women” 4!
What does “grace” mean in the context of abortion? Does the message of grace merely embody forgiveness, salvation and justification for those who have chosen to abort their children? Doesn’t a focus on post-abortion healing violently dismember the vibrant scriptural concept of grace?
In a recent survey of how the New Testament 5 uses the word “grace” (Greek “charis”) 6, I discovered that “grace” appears in the context of concepts like forgiveness, salvation and justification in only a small fraction of verses. To begin to understand the richness of God’s grace, we need to consider passages like 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, where Paul uses “grace” to explain the supernatural source of generosity which enabled impoverished believers to contribute beyond their ability. A scriptural understanding of “grace” leads us to higher standards (surpassing our limitations and exceeding even our abilities), but often it seems that the practical impact of teaching “grace” is to lower the standards for our behavior. What have we been missing?
Of course, the concept of “grace” occurs many times in passages where the word itself is not even used – grace permeates the New Testament. When Jesus showered grace upon the adulterous woman, rescuing her from being stoned, he nevertheless refused to ignore her sin, commanding her to “go and sin no more.” (By referring to her “sin,” He acknowledged her guilt.) But “sin no more” is not a statement of condemnation – it is one of the most powerful statements of grace and hope in the Bible. We don’t need to continue to eat pig slop, because our Father is waiting to eagerly welcome us home. If we refuse to mention “guilt” or “sin,” we may think we are showing grace, but we are actually stealing grace, leaving people to wallow in the mud with the pigs.
It is only through His grace that we can glorify Jesus, and that He can be glorified in us. (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)
Every time we face temptation, God in His grace provides us with a way of escape 9. If we tell someone who is tempted that grace is available after the sin but fail to explain that grace can prevent the sin 10, have we become clouds of dust instead of springs of living water? But the power of grace extends far beyond the ability to resist sin: the grace of God enables us to overcome great obstacles as we follow Jesus. It was the abundant “grace” of God functioning in the lives of the early believers which enabled them to give up all of their possessions 11. The result of that grace was that there was nobody among them who lacked! Eventually, many of these early Christians displayed God’s grace and glory by sacrificing their own lives as martyrs.
But is the “grace” we hear about in our churches today the same “grace” which was preached in the early church? Does our modern “grace” empower us to pour out the living water we have received, even to the point of martyrdom?
Modern pastors often contrast grace with the law, emphasizing that grace frees us from the bondage of following God’s law 12. Most pastors would cringe if they realized how often members of their congregations have twisted such “grace” teachings to support promiscuity and the killing of innocent children. (But some local pastors I have met just laugh it off — perhaps promiscuity and abortion are just a part of their “messy gospel,” because their “grace” churches have even promoted erotic movies which focus on glorifying fornication.) In the midst of this darkness, the ancient light of the New Testament church still shines through the pages of our Bibles, pointing the Way out.
The first major controversy faced within the early church was the question of whether or not new converts should be instructed to keep the “law of Moses.” After wrestling with this question, the Apostles and elders wrote a letter to be distributed throughout the new churches, explaining that it was not necessary to keep the law 13. But, to avoid any possible misunderstanding, the letter also emphasized that certain things are necessary, including “abstaining from sexual immorality (fornication) 14.”
Did somebody forget to tell the Apostles “thou shalt not judge” and “all sin is the same”? Was the early church stuck in legalism when it emphasized the necessity of abstaining from sexual immorality? Did they somehow forget that they were no longer under the law, in the midst of this brief letter which was written to emphasize that very point?
Or could it be that there is something about sexual immorality that is inconsistent with a grace-focused Gospel? Those who have eyes to see will recognize that lawlessness is not freedom, but is the enemy of grace. Jesus prophesied that because of the increase of such lawlessness (promoted by false teachers in the last days) the love of many will become cold 15. Do we see coldness (apathy), in our churches today? Consider the source.
Paul explained that sexual immorality is worse than other sins because it is a sin against our own bodies, and that it is thus a violation of the glory of God in our bodies 16. Sexual immorality in the church is not only a sin against our physical bodies, but it is a sin against the Body of Christ 17.
What if you wanted to walk down a path, but I said “don’t go that way — I just saw a rattlesnake on that path!” Wouldn’t my warning be an impartation of grace? Without my knowledge of the dangers you would face on that path, you would face likely injury and hospitalization. In the same way, the New Testament warnings against sexual immorality (and, by extension, abortion) should be recognized as words of necessary grace.
Paul was not alone in his refusal to conscience sexual immorality within the church: every New Testament letter written to a church (as represented in our modern Bibles) strongly condemned sexual immorality 18. Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before some aberrant groups within local churches (such as the Nicolaitans 19) took their Christian “freedom” to an extreme, embracing sexual immorality in the name of grace. 20 But the message of the New Testament remains clear and consistent, even to the very last chapter 21: the true grace of God does not lead us to tolerate sin, and the dis-grace of those within the church (such as the Nicolaitans) who choose sinful lifestyles will follow them into eternity.
If fornication is a sin of such special significance to New Testament Christians, would killing a church child conceived in fornication be less serious? Pastors who refuse to preach against sexual immorality (and its obviously profuse but profane 22 fruit, abortion) have forsaken the New Testament gospel 23!
No legitimate pastor would say that he condones sexual immorality (“pastors” who do so today no longer deserve the respect of that title), but I know good pastors who tolerate sexual immorality (and sometimes as a result, abortions) within their pews (sometimes even within church staff). Why would that be?
Many pastors seem to believe that if they just focus on leading people to Christ, there will be no need to talk about abortion in the church, because someone who is truly “saved” would never abort their baby. I consider this to be little more than superstition, having witnessed countless self-proclaimed Christians (even pastors’ families) entering the abortion chamber.
Some scoff that these were all false believers, but walking and praying with such brothers and sisters, sometimes over many years and tears, I become increasingly convinced that their abortion decision did not negate the sincere, vital faith which existed before their fall 24. Even the man who led me to Christ turned away from the life of fidelity he modeled to me and now bases his life on sexual pleasure, but I will never doubt that he was truly saved (and I will continue to hold out hope for his repentance and restoration, believing that God’s grace is faithful to complete the work Christ started in him, of which I am fruit 25).
If I believed in this superstitious grace, I would need to question my own salvation, because I myself have fallen far too often. None of my children were aborted and I have never had an affair, but I have committed adultery and abortion in my heart 26 (and have repented for doing so). Yes, I have heard the Voice of my Shepherd warning me not to commit these sins, but I have not always heeded that Voice of Grace. As my wife Terri often says, if every sin resulted in pregnancy, we would all be walking around with pregnant bellies.
If those who are truly saved always follow where our perfect Shepherd leads, most of the New Testament would never have been written (because most books were written to address local problems and local sins in the church). The scriptures are full of examples of the sins of God’s people; sometimes the most heinous sins have been committed by those who are “after God’s own heart.” But, as we will see, God has provided a very human solution to this very human problem.
For many years, this superstitious grace led some pastors we know to deny that anyone who was truly a part of their church would abort a baby (even though the reason we had contacted these pastors in the first place was that we were trying to dissuade some of their self-identified church members from aborting their babies). In recent years, this attitude of denial gave way to something even worse: I call it the “messy gospel.” These pastors emphasize the message that we are all broken, we are all messed up, but God loves us anyway. Has “go and sin no more” become “go and keep on sinning”? Has the hope of the Gospel really become something that just enables us to feel good about continuing in sin? (The Apostle Paul would recoil at such as suggestion, shouting “may it never be! 27“) Claiming that “there is no shame in Christ 28,” such pastors lead women to the logical conclusion that they can kill a child without shame.
Clinging to this unbalanced understanding of God’s grace, many women who consider themselves to be faithful Christians enter abortion chambers asserting their confident assurance that nothing can separate them from God’s love and forgiveness. Sometimes they enthusiastically share their faith with us, even handing us information about their church or a CD of their pastor’s most recent sermon 29. Would a pastor be encouraged to know that his sermons have given such women a confident assurance of salvation which gave her an attitude of peace about her decision to abort her child? Shouldn’t a true pastor 30 be grieved that the faith he taught led the woman to take an innocent life? 31
Yet if they really believed that Christ has removed all of their shame, why do they also tell us that they don’t want people in their church to know that they were pregnant? Why do they tell us that people in their church would gossip about them if they kept their baby (sometimes even saying that people in their church have already said that they have too many children)? Is this truly an embodiment of grace (“where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more”) or is it in fact a rejection of the grace Christ offers (the power to resist temptation, and to walk in His light)? If churches really walked in the full grace of Christ, wouldn’t they embrace each pregnant woman, lovingly encouraging her to nurture her child? Wouldn’t this grace then bear the potential to end abortion within a church? (For practical examples of how to model a balanced message of grace within a church, see our pamphlet Unwed Pregnancy is Not a Sin and learn about the Elizabeth League.)
Voices of grace
The “grace” we read about in the New Testament provides the internal force which compels God’s people to overcome obstacles (not only to overcome the burden of past sin, but to reject temptations in our daily lives). But, knowing the weakness of our frame, our Heavenly Shepherd also gave us external forces of grace to help us stay on paths of righteousness: earthly, human shepherds (pastors). When sheep wander, the shepherd’s job is to bring them back to safety (not to speak empty words of feigned
It is in fact true that the grace of God will save church babies from abortion — but only if such grace does not deny the power of God 32 to save both mother and baby, and only if those powerful words of grace are actually spoken 33 instead of being superstitiously assumed. The Great Commission involves more than just preaching the gospel; making disciples includes “teaching them to obey 34“: practical, nuts-and-bolts instruction on following the behavioral instructions of Christ. The generous grace of Christ includes gifts of humans designed by God to implement the nuts-and-bolts of that grace within the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers 35.
Pastors are a physical embodiment of the grace God has given to the church. Those who believe that a true Christian would never abort their baby must ask themselves if a true Christian pastor would ever fail to follow God’s command to protect these sheep. If those who bear the Light refuse to exercise their gifts to protect and purify the most vulnerable members of their flock, will their lampstands be removed 36?
Pastors who say “I’m just called to catch the fish, but it is God’s job to clean them,” 37 ignore the obvious fact that God chooses to impart His purifying grace by words spoken from human messengers 38. We make a mockery of grace when we superstitiously assert that those who are truly saved will not sin and then refuse to speak the very words which would dissuade them from besetting sins 39.
Jesus promised that His sheep will hear His voice 40, so pastors should follow the example of Jesus, unashamedly using God’s law 41 to speak to the conscience 42, knowing that repentance for the Christian is an ongoing process 43 and is an essential element of the true Gospel 44.
A repentant post-abortion woman has come to terms with the reality of the human life she terminated. Such a repentant woman will not be offended by sermons which acknowledge the precious reality of preborn children (instead she will be encouraged by such sermons, knowing all too well that God may use this pulpit to save other women from the pain she experienced). If she is walking in the light 45, she is not afraid to agree with God about her sin, and she will trust that the God who created her child still has a good plan for her life. If she is hiding or cherishing her sin, she is out of fellowship with God 46. Can pastors and churches allow those who are out of fellowship with God to function as censors?
When pastors become aware of sexual immorality or abortion (contemplated or completed) within the church, they must boldly act upon their knowledge; if they fear that their words will be considered to be “legalistic” or “judgmental” (in the context of the church environment they have established), it may be time for the pastor to consider why the gospel he preaches is not the same gospel which was preached in the New Testament.
But pastors are not alone in this obligation: every Christian is commanded to admonish and help build up fellow weak Christians 47. The pulpit certainly must lead by example (and word), but the practical reality is that most of the hands-on shepherding must be done by those who line the pews.
Some of the pastors I know seem to be resigned to defeat, certain that our culture is doomed because of our depth of depravity. Some pastors are afraid to preach against sins like fornication and abortion because of a sincere desire to reach those living in such sins. Yet in the days of the early church, the Roman Empire was more depraved than our culture: sexual immorality (including homosexuality) was widely practiced and widely accepted by a broad spectrum of cultural leaders. While Rome burned, the heart of Emperor Nero burned with lust for another man, whom he eventually “married” in a same-sex ceremony 48. Yet the grace operating in these poor, oppressed early Christians overcame the formidable power of Rome, rescuing many who had been caught in sexual immorality, even “turning the world upside down 49.” Yes, it was overcome through great sacrifice, even the sacrifice of their lives. But the same God who gave such powerful grace to the early church stands ready to give us grace today. Are we ready to receive it? That message of grace included the “necessary” message of abstaining from sexual immorality. Is that grace still available to us today, able to turn our world upside down?
If the turmoil around us leads us to believe that the Final Day is approaching, we must not surrender to defeat, but we should become all the more diligent in warning our fellow Christians of the dangers of remaining in willful sin 50, even daring to challenge our congregations to continue on to “perfection” 51 through God’s purifying grace as we anticipate our completion and vindication at the return of Christ.
The littlest grace
The grace of God is personified not only through pastors, but even the littlest child is an embodiment of God’s grace, as Jesus told us in Matthew 18 52. When a Christian woman finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, she needs to follow Mary’s example 53, recognizing the fact that the embryo within her is a token of God’s “unmerited favor” 54 — if the child was conceived in sexual immorality, these circumstances serve to magnify God’s grace. If we allow Him to do so, God will bless not only the mother but also the entire church with this Grace.
We have seen God use such grace-babies to transform women’s lives, even transforming the lives of drug addicts and those whose babies were supposed to die, while women who reject such grace-babies are typically caught in a downward spiral of sin. It is truly Good News that the grace of God is intended to teach us to say no to sin, and we must never allow our adversary to steal this precious seed.
If we seek the heart of our Shepherd, we will understand that at times we must even face the priority of neglecting our large congregations in grace in order to focus on the grace of saving one vulnerable church child 55. For “it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” – especially not if this holy 56 little child is part of God’s family.
As Terri and I have seen 57, the grace which defines the very life stories of such children becomes a living reminder, echoing through the years the message of how God rescues every one of us, resulting in an exponential increase in the reality of internal and external grace in the lives of every member of our congregations.
- My study has involved not only scripture but secular Greek literature, in an effort to try to understand how the word χάρις (“charis”) would have been understood by those who first read New Testament books. My study is far from complete — in fact, I suspect that it will never end. ↩
- 1 Peter 4:10 ↩
- To simplify this discussion, I don’t refer here to the role of fathers (or other family members) in abortion, but of course most of my references to abortive mothers also relate to abortive fathers. ↩
- This is not a caricature of this church’s Sanctity of Human Life Sunday service. According to my recollection, it is a direct quote, and there was nothing in the service suggesting anything about stopping abortion or protecting innocent children. ↩
- I use the New Testament almost exclusively here, not because the Old Testament is not relevant, but because too many pastors seem eager to dismiss OT teachings at whim. It seems to me that a NT focus makes the truth of modern churches’ unbalanced grace impossible to ignore. After coming to an understanding of the fact that tolerating sexual immorality and abortion is inconsistent with the NT concept of grace, a review of OT passages would provide further depth, with many examples of how God in His grace relates to the sin of His chosen people. (Psalm 99:8 would be a good place to start such a journey. MacLaren’s Expositions on this verse provide insights which further transformed my view of God’s grace, especially what he says about “paternal forgiveness.”) ↩
- See http://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/518/Charis.htm ↩
- Romans 6:13-14 ↩
- Titus 2:11-12 (for a deeper understanding of how God’s grace empowers us to overcome evil with good, see Romans 12:21, Ephesians 2:10, and Philippians 4:13) ↩
- 1 Corinthians 10:13 ↩
- For a tragic example of a trusted pro-life pastor counseling a woman to commit the sin of abortion while trusting in God’s grace after the sin, see https://youtu.be/Vr1yPfM-8tg. A follow-up discussion on abortion forgiveness with other pastors showed that this is not an isolated problem among pastors. ↩
- Acts 4:33-34 ↩
- Often, as in the book of Galatians, the discussion of “law” stemmed from disputes over ceremonial laws such as circumcision (see for example Galatians 5:3-4). But even in Galatians, Paul specifically tells Christians that if they live in sexual immorality they will not inherit the kingdom of God (see Galatians 5:19-21 and Galatians 6:8). Law and grace is also one of the primary topics of Romans, but one of the best-known texts on sexual immorality is in the introduction to this same book (Romans 1:24-32); Paul’s analysis of law and grace is explicitly designed not to free his readers to sin, but rather to help his readers overcome lusts of the flesh through the victorious power of indwelling grace (Romans 6:12-14). And, as I have detailed in this document, the letter from the Apostles which officially declared circumcision to be unnecessary also specifically prohibited sexual immorality (and Galatians was apparently written in the wake of the Apostles’ letter). Clearly, the concept that grace frees us to commit sexual immorality has no foundation anywhere in the Bible. ↩
- However, Paul and other Jews continued to keep the law, even while preaching freedom from it ↩
- This letter, including its prohibition of sexual immorality, is repeated three times for emphasis: Acts 15:20, Acts 15:29, and Acts 21:25. ↩
- Matthew 24:12 ↩
- See 1 Corinthians 6:18-20. I have found a very close relationship between the concepts of “glory” and “grace” in my study of the New Testament. For example, concepts such as “splendor” and “beauty” are related to both “glory” and “grace.” Although I still see much of this “through a glass darkly,” it seems to me that grace is the force that enables God’s glory to shine through our mortal bodies. That’s why our bodies are called “temples.” ↩
- 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 ↩
- The only New Testament books which do not condemn sexual immorality are three brief letters written to individuals: Philemon, 2 John, and 3 John ↩
- http://biblehub.com/topical/n/nicolaitans.htm ↩
- Revelation 2:14-16 ↩
- Revelation 22:15 ↩
- My analysis of how abortion profanes God’s name is available at www.pastorsprolife.org/profane. ↩
- Galatians 1:8-9 ↩
- For example, consider this story of my conversation with a pastor who helped abort one of his church babies. Vianey Fierro also shares her personal testimony of committing abortion as a Christian, and witnessing many other Christians commit abortions. ↩
- Philippians 1:6 ↩
- Matthew 5:21-22, Matthew 5:27-28 ↩
- Romans 6:2 ↩
- “Shame” played a very important role in the New Testament church, as seen in verses like 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 1 Corinthians 15:34, and Jude 1:12-13 ↩
- People like this typically think that they need to correct our sin of “judging,” because they somehow consider words such as “God has a special plan for you and your baby, please let us help you before you do something you regret” to be words of judgment. ↩
- John 10:12-13 ↩
- For a more in-depth discussion of this problem, read Chapter One (“Fatal Grace”) of my book God’s Plan: Transforming the Gates of Hell into the Gates of Heaven. ↩
- 2 Timothy 3:4-5 ↩
- “How shall they hear without a preacher” (Romans 10:14) applies not only to reaching the lost, but also to shepherding the saved. As John Calvin wrote “the office of pastors is twofold, that they collect the dispersed sheep, and retain within the fold those whom they had gathered together. For as man’s nature is inclined to many failures, it often happens that those who have been gathered into God’s sheepfold are dispersed hither and thither, through their own infirmity, unless they are strengthened. For this reason constant admonitions are necessary; and hence God asserts that those pastors will be guilty, if through their negligence the righteous fall away. He now pursues the same sentiment, but adds another clause — but if the righteous is admonished the shepherd is guiltless.” ↩
- Matthew 28:20. As my pamphlet “Abortion: A Gospel Issue” shows, this includes the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” When we understand that the babies who are dying in our community are our “neighbors,” the scope of Christ’s command beyond the walls of the church (beyond even the walls of pro-life pregnancy centers) becomes obvious. ↩
- Ephesians 4:7, Ephesians 4:11-13 ↩
- Revelation 2:5 ↩
- See for example http://www.ourdailyjourney.org/2010/03/07/cleaning-our-catch/ ↩
- Ephesians 4:29, Acts 20:32 ↩
- 2 Timothy 4:2, Hebrews 12:1 ↩
- John 10:3 ↩
- 1 Timothy 1:8 ↩
- 1 Timothy 1:5. See also http://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/viewpoint/20256-referee-of-the-soul-4 ↩
- Revelation 3:19, 1 John 1:9, John 13:5-10 ↩
- Luke 24:47 ↩
- 1 John 1:5-7, John 3:20-21 ↩
- 1 John 1:6 ↩
- Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 10:24-25, Ephesians 4:29, Colossians 3:16 ↩
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sporus ↩
- Acts 17:6 ↩
- Hebrews 10:25-26 ↩
- Hebrews 6:1 ↩
- Matthew 18:5 ↩
- See Luke 1:38 and Luke 1:46-49, where Mary responded by thanking and praising God even though she knew that she would suffer greatly because of this child. Thankfulness should be the Christian response to an unplanned pregnancy, and thankfulness is yet another element in the meaning of the Greek word “charis” (that’s why some people refer to “saying grace” when praying before a meal, and why the Lord’s Supper is called the Eucharist, which means “giving thanks”). As I have written previously, thanklessness is a root cause of abortion. ↩
- Luke 1:28 ↩
- Matthew 18:10-14 ↩
- 1 Corinthians 7:14 ↩
- Consider for example the testimony of Tracy. Many more examples can be seen at His Nesting Place, a church that truly embodies the fullness of God’s grace. ↩