Choose Life!

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

October 29, 2008 | Ray Pritchard

(I first delivered this sermon in November 2000, just before the national elections that year. I have slightly edited the sermon and added a few new links. Otherwise the sermon is as I preached it eight years ago. I am posting it with a 2008 date because I still believe today what I wrote back then.)

After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the children of Israel have come to the edge of the Promised Land. They are camped on the east side of the Jordan River. Soon they will cross over under Joshua’s leadership and begin to take possession of the land the Lord promised to their ancestors many generations ago. Moses will not be going with them. He is an old man now and near death. He brought them out of Egypt and shepherded them through all the long years in the Sinai desert. God has already told him that he cannot go with them into the Promised Land. He has gone as far as he can go. With that in mind, Moses delivers a farewell address to his own people in which he reviews their history to this point, repeats the Ten Commandments, lays down further laws, and exhorts them to obey the Lord when they finally cross the Jordan and enter their new homeland. At length he comes to an end. There is yet one further challenge to be made. In just a few simple words he crystallizes the choice that is before them:

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

His words are simple: Choose life! Choose life that you may live. Or you can choose death and you will die. It is a decision that must be made over and over again. Will we serve the Lord and live or will we turn away and die?

Sooner or later we all must make a similar decision. Not every day is equally momentous, not every decision determines our destiny, but some do. Some choices are so clear that they set our direction for an entire generation.

I am not alone in thinking that this election is such a moment for our nation. Not only will this be the closest election in 40 years, it may turn out to be the most important in a hundred years. Whoever occupies the Oval Office for the next four years will make decisions that will guide our nation far into the future. Which way will we go? How should we make up our minds?

Vote “Christianly”

I have two general exhortations for every person who reads this sermon. First, you should vote. If you’re an American citizen and if you are registered to vote, make sure you go to the polls on election days. I cannot and will not tell you how to vote. I do not believe in endorsing candidates from the pulpit. We take stands regarding moral issues based on what the Bible says. And we urge all our people to vote “Christianly,” that is, to vote with your Christian convictions firmly in view. But I won’t tell you how to vote nor will I ask you afterward how you voted. That is a matter between you and God.

Second, I encourage you to pray about this election. Ask God to give the spirit of discernment to our nation, remembering that “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord” (Proverbs 21:1). The politicians have exit polls, big rallies, and slick ads, but we have the Lord who has given us the gift of prayer. Let’s use that gift to cry out to God for help in these critical hours.

As we think about the election, let’s begin with the words of Pope John Paul II, who on Friday while speaking to a human rights conference in Rome, called for the protection of “innocent life in the womb.” In his address to a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights, he observed that “there is the paradox that, on the one hand, the need to respect human rights is vigorously affirmed while, on the other, the most basic of them all—the right to life—is denied.” He is right and we could say it even stronger. To speak of human rights without protecting unborn human rights is base hypocrisy. Our own Declaration of Independence declares that certain truths are “self-evident,” that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator (a source of truth higher than the Supreme Court) with certain unalienable rights (which means that because they are given by God, they cannot be taken away by the hand of man). Among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Surely the first is the most important. If the right to life be denied, liberty and the pursuit of happiness cannot exist.

To speak of human rights without protecting unborn human rights is base hypocrisy.
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“Single Issue Politics”

A few days ago I happened to read a fine article in World magazine by John Piper, the distinguished pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He has written a number of excellent books, including Desiring God and What Jesus Demands from the World. The article addresses a primary complaint made against pro-life voters who consider abortion a make-or-break issue in deciding how they will vote. Many people think it is wrong to be a single-issue voter. They argue that you should consider all the issues in the larger context and then make up your mind. That sounds reasonable, and on one level it certainly makes sense. And then I read Piper’s article (this link comes from the Desiring God website but it is the article he wrote for World magazine) called Single-Issue Politics.

Here is a brief summary of what he wrote. Most of us approach various candidates by asking, What are their qualifications for office? That’s not always the best way to proceed. Sometimes we should ask, What (if anything) disqualifies this person from office? That is, what positions does this person hold that are so wrongheaded that I will not vote for him no matter what else he does or doesn’t believe? Obviously, those disqualifying issues have to be things of major importance that they rule out a candidate without further consideration. Piper points out that being pro-life is good but it doesn’t qualify a person to be a congressman, a village trustee, a senator, or a president. When we look at the flip side of that principle, we can see it more clearly. If man says, “I am running on a platform that supports bribery as a matter of public policy,” we would say that man is disqualified for public office no matter what else he might believe. Or (to take a more serious issue) suppose he says he believes rape isn’t so bad and that we should repeal the rape laws. Would you vote for such a man? Neither would I. What if he openly claims to be a racist and says that black people should be denied the right to vote and that he believes slavery should be legal in America. Would you vote for that man? Would it matter if he said, “Oh, by the way, I’m pro-life?” The answers are no and no.

To look at it from another perspective, suppose that a man and a woman are in love and are about to get married. On the eve of the wedding, the man tells his sweetheart that he believes that adultery is a good thing and that, while he loves her, he intends to cheat on her during their marriage, and oh by the way, that won’t bother you, will it? Should she go ahead and marry him? No, and it doesn’t matter what other good qualities he brings to the table. Adultery is a disqualifying issue in marriage.

Let me quote Piper directly:

So it is with politics. You have to decide what those issues are for you. What do you think disqualifies a person from holding public office? I believe that the endorsement of the right to kill unborn children disqualifies a person from any position of public office. It’s simply the same as saying that the endorsement of racism, fraud, or bribery would disqualify him—except that child-killing is more serious than those.

A Millstone Around His Neck

I am reminded of the solemn words of Jesus in Matthew 18:5-7.

And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!

Those who deliberately hurt little children will someday face a terrible judgment from the Lord.

Who makes babies? God does.
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And on the positive side of the ledger, we find that God takes personal responsibility for the unborn in Psalm 139:13-16.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

This is the strongest statement on God’s prenatal care in all the Bible. How much does he know about the unborn baby growing in the womb? Everything. Like a skillful weaver God takes the tiny hands and legs and joins them to the body. He forms the heart and then sets it beating. He watches over the thumb and makes sure it finds the mouth.

Who makes babies? God does.

Piper notes that there are laws against intentionally maiming dogs and cats. And there are laws that protect a wide range of endangered species. But what about the unborn?

“An eight-week-old human fetus has a beating heart, an EKG, brain waves, thumb-sucking, pain sensitivity, finger-grasping, and genetic humanity, but under our present laws is not a human person with rights under the 14th Amendment, which says that “no state shall deprive any person of life … without due process of law.” Well, I wondered, if the unborn do not qualify as persons, it seems that they could at least qualify as animals, say a dog, or at least a cat. … Why is it legal to “maim, mutilate and kill” a pain-sensitive unborn human being but not an animal?”

Partial-Birth Abortion

Today the debate centers around parental notification and around a little French pill called RU-486 that will enable women to have abortions at home, thus (it is said) making abortion a purely private decision. And we even debate the monstrosity known as Partial-Birth Abortion. That term describes a grisly medical procedure in which a late-term pregnancy (one where the baby would almost certainly survive on its own outside the womb) is ended this way: A doctor partially delivers the unborn baby. Using various implements, he punctures the skull and evacuates the contents. Then the dead baby is delivered and the body discarded.

Since Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1973, well over 40 million legal abortions have been performed in America. The result has been a kind of moral schizophrenia. In America today, a 14-year-old girl may not buy cigarettes or alcohol or attend an X-rated movie. In some parts of the country, she can’t get her ears pierced without her mother’s permission. But she can have an abortion.

John Noonan, Professor at the University of California, notes that under present law, human life has less protection in the United States than in any country of the Western World. In the words of Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop, “there are quotas on whales and porpoises. But it is always open season on unborn babies.” If you destroy the egg of a bald eagle, you can be fined $5000; if you destroy an unborn baby, you’ll make about $350. Here is the sad truth. The most dangerous place in America is not some ghetto; it is inside a mother’s womb. You have a one in three chance of not making it out alive.

The gospel is based on truth, it depends on truth, and preaching the gospel always involves exposing the sin that makes the gospel necessary.
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I realize there may be some objections to what I am saying in this sermon. I suppose some people would rather not hear about this when they go to church. My answer: There are always other churches you could attend. Others say, Stick to the gospel. That’s a good idea, but the “gospel” is more than an ooey-gooey feeling that you have Jesus in your heart. The gospel is based on truth, it depends on truth, and preaching the gospel always involves exposing the sin that makes the gospel necessary. Until we hear the Bad News, we will never appreciate the Good News. But won’t this sort of sermon offend some people? Truth always offends someone. But won’t we turn away the very people who need to hear our message? That’s possible, but fear of turning away hypothetical people is no reason to compromise the truth. Well, isn’t there a danger of losing our tax exemption? As a matter of fact, that’s becoming a bigger issue nowadays. I hope we don’t lose our tax exemption, but in the end, there is nothing in the Bible about tax exemptions one way or the other. If we lose our exemption some day, we’ll end up being like the vast majority of churches around the world that never had one in the first place.

Me and Marlo and Barbra

In speaking out on this issue, I am taking my stand with Marlo Thomas and Barbra Steisand who have both said that abortion (the woman’s “right to choose”) is the premiere issue in this election. They even say that one candidate should be elected because of his position on abortion and one defeated for the same reason. They are right, of course, but in my opinion they’ve got the candidates backward.

A number of years ago I was greatly helped by a little book Chuck Swindoll wrote on the issue of abortion. I was interested to note that he spent most of his time talking about sexual purity as the underlying issue. His emphasis helped me understand that abortion stands as a symbol for an entire generation (my generation—the Baby Boomers) that has rebelled against God and chosen the path of freedom at all costs. So we turned to sex, drugs, and rock music in the ’60s. That rebellion produced a second generation that has no moral foundation whatsoever. Abortion is a symbol for an anti-God lifestyle that says, “If it feels good, do it” and “if it’s inconvenient, kill it.”

Is There Life Before Birth?

Let’s return for a moment to the core question. Is the unborn baby really an individual human being? Consider this: From the moment of conception, the baby has an individual identity. The baby has its own set of genes and chromosomes. Before implantation, the baby’s sex has been determined. At 19 days after conception, the eyes begin to develop. At 24 days, the heart begins beating. At 30 days, the unborn baby is only one-quarter of an inch long and yet he has a brain, eyes, ears, mouth, kidneys, and liver. At 35 days his fingers have formed. At 40 days brain waves can be detected and recorded. In the seventh week after conception, the baby begins to move spontaneously. In the tenth week, the baby squints, swallows and hiccups. He has fingerprints that will stay with him for the rest of his life. In the 12th week, the baby responds to touch and begins to suck his thumb. By the fourth month, his ears are functioning. He can hear his mother’s voice for the first time. By the seventh month, he can see and hear and taste and touch. He recognizes his mother’s voice when he hears it. By the ninth month, the baby weighs between six and nine pounds. His heart pumps 300 gallons of blood per day. He is fully capable of life outside the womb. If only he gets the chance.

Do women know these things? Do they know what they are doing? “Jane Doe,” writing anonymously for the New York Times about her abortion, put it this way:

It certainly does make more sense not to be having a baby right now. We say that to each other all the time. But I have this little ghost now. A very little ghost that only appears when I’m seeing something beautiful, like the full moon on the ocean last weekend. And the baby waves to me. And I wave to the baby. ‘Of course we have room,’ I cry to the ghost, ‘Of course we do.’ (Cited in Death Before Birth by Harold O. J. Brown, p. 108)

The Rest Of The Story

There is one other passage of Scripture we ought to consider. It is a passing reference by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:31. This is part of a long list of the sins of those who have turned away from God. The Greek word is astorgos, translated in the King James as “without natural affection” and in some modern translations with the word “heartless.” It was used in the first century for parents who abandoned their children by exposing them to the elements. Such cruelty is not natural. To treat your own child with such callous unconcern reveals that you are astorgos, without natural affection. Seen in that light, abortion is not just another sin. It is a mark of a depraved and godless society.

The Bottom Line

I come to one simple conclusion: Abortion is wrong because it is wrong to kill babies. It is as simple and profound as that. I know of no other conclusion that is consistent with the Christian faith. We know the truth. Now what will we do? I remind you of the words of Dante who said, “The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality.” This is no time for neutrality. This is no time for a silent witness. This is no time to look the other way.

Abortion is wrong because it is wrong to kill babies. It is as simple and profound as that.
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In a day when the killing of babies has become not only tolerated but accepted, and in a day when political candidates across the political spectrum not only support abortion but wear their support of legalized babykilling as a badge of honor, the church of Jesus Christ must speak out. We must let our voice be heard. We must speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

At this point I will tell you my own personal conviction. I will not knowingly vote for a person who openly supports the legalized killing of the unborn. Such a person is disqualified from public office as far as I am concerned. To me this is not a Republican or a Democrat issue. It is an issue of the fundamental respect for human life. In putting the matter this way, I cannot and would not compel your conscience. You have to make up your own mind. But on this subject, I made up my mind a long time ago.

Having said that, I know that inside the evangelical church there are many people who for whatever reason are ambivalent on this subject. We may find it easy to take the “I’m against abortion but I don’t want to impose my views on others” point of view. Let’s consider how that logic would play out in another great moral arena. How would you respond to a candidate who said one of the following statements?

“I’m against slavery but I don’t think we should make it illegal.”
“I’m against slavery but I’m not offended if you own a few slaves.”
“I’m against slavery but other issues are more important.”

What if a person said one of those statements and then added, “But I’m pro-life.” Would that matter? No, it wouldn’t and it shouldn’t. Support for slavery is a disqualifying issue and it doesn’t matter how good your other positions might be.

I feel the same way about abortion. I will not vote for a person who truly believes it is permissible to legally kill the unborn.

Abortion Comes From Hell

In John 10:10 Jesus reminded us that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” And who is the thief? It is the devil himself. The devil comes to take life, Jesus came to bring life. Let us be clear about it. Abortion comes from hell. It is the work of the devil himself, and those who profit from this dirty business are doing the devil’s work for him. Someday they will answer to God for the innocent lives they have taken. And the politicians who glibly promote it in the name of “choice” and “freedom” have joined forces with Satan. And their sin is greater because they have done it for crass political gain.

I will not vote for a person who truly believes it is permissible to legally kill the unborn.
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We return now to the words of my text. God commands us to “Choose life!” This is a command for individuals, families, churches, cities, states, and nations.

Very soon millions of Americans will go to the polls and vote. What should we do? First, pray for God to guide the American people so that we will “choose life” in the leaders we elect. Second, make sure you vote. Third, get involved in helping others. Over the years we have spent lots of money to help establish a crisis pregnancy center two blocks from our church. Lots of our people support the Care First Pregnancy Centers. Many of our people have adopted unwanted children, others have taken in foster children. And God bless those agencies that help hurting children. God bless Inner Impact, Circle Urban Ministries, Breakthrough Urban Ministries, the Evangelical Child & Family Agency, and many other organizations—both public and private—that work to save lives and restore hurting families. In our fight for life, we must do more than merely be against abortion, we must also get involved in helping the hurting wherever we find them.

The Lights Are On

I close with one final word. Abortion is not the unpardonable sin. It may sound as if I think that it is, but I don’t. Abortion is a sin, but it is not the worst sin and it is not unpardonable. It is nowhere singled out in the Bible for special treatment. Nowhere is Romans 3:23 more needed than in the discussion over abortion. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” That applies to you whether you have had an abortion or not. We’re all in the same boat.

Abortion is not the unpardonable sin. 
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I am aware that we have women in our church who have had an abortion. Sometimes you have told us, sometimes a friend has told us. After a sermon like this, you may wonder how we feel about you. Here is my answer: We love you and we are glad you are part of our church family. We do not and will not condemn you.

In the end we are all driven to the cross of Jesus Christ. The ground at the foot of the cross is level. We all stand here in need of forgiveness. If you will but say, “I have sinned,” you will hear the Father say, “You are forgiven.” It doesn’t matter what your past is, it doesn’t matter what you have done or where you have been. It doesn’t even matter where you have been sleeping. You can be forgiven … right here … right now … in one shining moment.

If you are struggling with guilt because of abortion, I have good news for you. God still loves you. He has never stopped loving you and he never will. The lights are on and the door is open in the Father’s house this morning. He is standing at the door waiting for you to come in.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?