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Human DignityImage of God

Dr. Russell Moore: If you have a copy of God’s Word with you, I’d invite you to turn in it to the Gospel of John, chapter 14. John 14. I’d like for us to start reading with verse 1 and read down through verse 6. John 14, 1-6. And the Word of God says this. Jesus is speaking.  

“‘Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also, and you know the way to where I am going.’  

Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’  

Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”  

A couple years ago, I was reading some work by a sociologist who was talking about one of the issues that’s become an obstacle to people’s development, and that is the fact that we don’t get lost as much as we used to.  

And her argument was that because birds and many other animals have been designed with a kind of homing instinct where they can just by intuition, find out where they’re going, that one of the reasons that human beings are unique is the fact that we learn through by being lost and finding our way, which requires a certain kind of familiarity with the landscape around a person. 

And it also requires a newness, seeing new landmarks, finding a way in front of one. And this social theorist said it’s important to realize that the map is not the territory. That learning the map is not the same as walking and finding one’s way in the world.

It seems to me that as we gather together, 50 years after the Supreme Court decision, Roe vs. Wade which legalized abortion in the United States, one of the questions we have in front of us, now that Roe is gone, we’re living in a post-Roe vs. Wade America. One of the questions that those of us who are pro-life Americans and especially pro-life Christians have to ask ourselves is, how do we differentiate in the next 50 years between the map and the territory? 

And that’s especially true when you think about those of us who are evangelical Christians. Those of us who emphasize the personal nature of the gospel, who emphasize the authority of Scripture as breathed out by God. As we grieve for the assaults that we see on human dignity all around us, those that we know, those that we can’t even imagine or contemplate yet, where do we go from here? And it seems to me that one of the things we should pay careful attention to is not just the what of where we are going, but the how.  

Several years ago, Eugene Peterson, the late, beloved minister was writing to his son, also a pastor, and he says, “There’s one thing in the United States House of Representatives that we really ought to have within the church, and that’s a Ways and Means Committee.” 

And he said that the reason he said that is because so much of where we succeed and so much of where we fail in Christian life has to do with precisely that, the ways and the means. And he wrote to his son and said, “Once you have the what, the objective, whatever that objective is, severed from the how, we end up running aground. And he reminded his son, he said, “You cannot have the Jesus truth or the Jesus life without the Jesus way.”  

Fifty years after Roe vs. Wade, as we’re thinking through what does it mean to carry a vision of human dignity, particularly when we’re dealing not just with some big social question, certainly not with just some point of political argumentation but with something that affects people in the most personal moments of crisis, we ought to pay attention to the how. 

And as evangelical Christians, as with anybody else, often our weaknesses and our strengths are put together. So we have to pay attention to ways and means as well as ends.  

This passage that I read some moments ago is one that strikes me consistently. Because we often, those of us who’ve been in Christ for long, or been in the church for long, we often pay attention to that passage. 

That first part of John 14, where Jesus is saying, “In my father’s house, there are many rooms,” or “in my father’s house, there are many mansions,” as some of the older translations would put it.  

Or we pay attention to that great passage in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” to remind us that Christ is the door through which we have access and communion with God.  

But what we often don’t pay as much attention to is that awkward conversation between Jesus follower, Thomas, and the Lord Himself. Because after Jesus talks about the eternal, everlasting life, the kingdom that He’s bringing, and He says, “I’m going to go away,” He says, “and you all know the way to where I’m going.” 

And the reason this always strikes me is because Thomas’ reaction would have been exactly mine. Whether I would have said it out loud or not, which is to say, “Wait a minute. He said that we know the way. Did He give us like some words that we’re supposed to say, or did He say wait on this mountain and you’ll be delivered? Or did He tell us some secret maze or pathway to get to the Father’s house? We don’t remember when He gave us the way.”  

And maybe even Thomas was thinking to himself, “Maybe we were asleep when He was saying this to us.” And boldly, says to Jesus, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going, so how do we know the way?” 

Jesus’ response sums up in some ways all of Scripture and all of the Christian life. He says, ‘I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life.” All three aspects that Jesus mentions there are going to be necessary as we move into the next 50 years of a post-Roe America with the issue of human dignity.  

Let’s start with truth. 

It is impossible to advocate for vulnerable human life in the womb, among the elderly, among the disabled, all sorts of invisible people around us. It’s impossible to really advocate for human dignity and the image of God without truth. And part of that is because so much that compromises human dignity starts with a failure of language. 

In 1981, not even 10 years after the Roe decision was handed down, Walker Percy wrote in the New York Times an article about the wrongness of abortion. And he says at the end, speaking to those who would disagree with him, he said, “You may well get your way, but you can’t have it both ways. I’m going to tell you what you’re doing.” 

And it seems to me that in all of these questions of human dignity, that’s at the core. We often use language to reduce whoever it is around us that we don’t want to acknowledge. So, we can speak of someone as an embryo, or a fetus, or a pregnancy. We can speak of someone as an immigration problem. We can speak of someone as those people. 

We can speak of a dying elderly person as a medical cost and claim. We can find all of these words to attempt to distance ourselves from the reality of what we are looking at in a human life, which is a mystery, an almost fathomless mystery of what God has designed.  

And that means that in stepping up for those forgotten people, for those invisible people, for those people erased by language, we have to tell the truth. And that means not only telling the truth that every life created by God, every life is true, valuable, and loved by God and ought to receive justice, but also the truth simply about the stakes involved. 

The end of Roe vs. Wade does not end an abortion culture, much less a culture that militates against human dignity. As a matter of fact, as we move into the future, and we see abortion itself becoming increasingly chemical rather than clinical, through pharmaceutical means rather than through clinics, this issue is going to become harder and harder to even perceive.  

And then you add to it all of the things. Think for a minute about the technological aspects of your own life. About the sorts of decisions that you have to make in your own life that would have made absolutely no sense to you just a few years ago. 

We don’t even know where we’re headed when it comes to those questions as they relate to human dignity. Here’s where evangelical Christians, for all of our faults and all of our flaws, have a resource that actually the rest of the world needs even when we don’t live up to it. And that is an understanding of how God has spoken the truth to us. 

The authority of Scripture. Yep. The way that Jesus conforms us into His image is that through the Word of God we inhabit a story. We start to recognize ourselves in different ways. We start to recognize and see God in a different way. We start seeing the glory of God, as the Bible says, in the face of Jesus Christ. 

And that means that truth matters. Now, there are many people who would say, “Of course, that’s exactly right. Truth matters.” And there are many Christians who think that contending and battling for the truth means trolling on social media or humiliating their opponents in an argument. But that is not what it means to be people of truth.  

What it means to be people of truth is to be the people who call things what they are and recognize things as what they are and also recognize that the truth is not defined tribally. There is no way, regardless of your political commitments, your theological commitments, your social commitments, there is no way to carry a pro-life witness into the future in an atmosphere of cruelty. 

There is no way to love unborn children without loving their mothers. There is no way to love mothers in crisis without also supporting healthy communities that can support them. There is no way to be pro-life while turning our face away from other assaults on human dignity, including misogyny, pornography, racism.  

Those ways that we have tribes around us that will say, “Here are the people you are allowed to see, and here are the people you are not.” That is not what it means to be a people of truth. And the stakes here are so high because Jesus says, I’m not giving you truth as though it were a thing. I am the truth.  

Part of our task as pro-life people is to recognize that the issues we’re dealing with aren’t just resolved at the level of public policy. There’s a necessary public policy component. Justice is critically important, but that’s not all.  

There is a persuasive component here, where part of what we have to do is to speak to our neighbors, including those who disagree with us on some aspect or the other of human dignity, conscience to conscience, understanding and knowing that often we are speaking to people who are hurting and who are in crisis. And when we carry a word of truth, we don’t just carry a set of facts and assertions. We carry Jesus Himself.  

Secondly, life.  

Now obviously, as we’re gathered here, the March for Life. Much conversation this week about what it means to be pro-life. And yet, as born-again Christians, one of the things that we can contribute to the advocacy for human dignity is this emphasis on newness of life.  

Several years ago, there was a historian who was trying to figure out the question of why evangelical churches particularly were growing at a faster rate than other kinds of churches, which has remained to be true even as American culture secularizes and evangelical churches are smaller, they’re still growing at a faster rate than many other churches around them. He wanted to know why.  

And he said, “Part of it is probably because people want a sense of authority. So ‘the Bible says,’ is more attractive to people than ‘let’s think this through.'” 

“It might be,” he said, “that there are higher expectations on people. They come into churches that are serious about the authority of Scripture.” But he said he didn’t think that’s actually the core of it. He said he thought the core of it is that Evangelical Christianity answered something in the longing of a human heart for a kind of crisis, a kind of death to something old and an awakening to something new, a second chance. 

And he argued, it’s not that these churches are simply appealing to this psychological need. It’s that psychological need is one of the things that God has put within us, as Acts 17 would say, as a means to feel our way toward Him. That sense of crisis, new life.  

Evangelical Christianity is just, at its best, Orthodox Christianity with an altar call, a call to personal crisis, to personal decision, to personal newness of life, no matter what a person has done. 

And that means that one of the necessary things that we must have when we talk about these issues of human dignity is to say, the reason that we know that every life, not just life in the abstract, but every individual life is valuable is because what Jesus has given to us is life and that more abundantly. 

But it also means that we have to be the people who recognize that in all of these questions of human dignity, we cannot be the people simply of justice, nor can we be the people simply of mercy because if we’re a people simply of mercy, we leave people without life. We don’t call people to repentance, to the God before whom they will stand. 

And if we’re a people merely of justice, we rob people of life, because we do not give to them any way to correct, as it were, what’s in their past. And we leave those consciences burdened. But the gospel itself joins justice, perfect justice of God, mercy, perfect mercy of God, together in the cross of Jesus Christ. He is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  

Just today, I was talking to a man who was relating the experience of being someone who had been involved in a pregnancy many years ago and had participated with his girlfriend in an abortion. And he said that even after, even years after, repenting, that he still felt that accusation sometimes from the devil that says, “You’re a fraud. Real Christians aren’t the people who have done that.”  

And that’s exactly how the devil works. In accusation, the gospel that life that Jesus has given to us is able to free people from that by not saying to them, “It doesn’t matter.” They know better than that. Their consciences know better than that. It does matter.  

But to instead say to them, “Everything that your conscience would say to you about how you have harmed another person, all of it, true and then some. And yet, the mercy of God is that you are in union with Christ. You share His death. The judgment is done. And you share in His ongoing life. 

Jesus is standing right now in the presence of the Father on your behalf. He is not shocked, He is not thrown by what it is that you have to hide. Instead, He brings that into the light and He gives to you His life.”  

And that means that we ought to be the people who care about every human life. Not in terms of how useful that life is, not in terms of how viable that life is, not in terms of how powerful that life seems, but because every single human life is a signpost picturing and pointing to the life that is given to us in Jesus Christ, that light that comes into the world, as John says, and the light was the life of men. 

When we pay attention and we ask, “What are the lives that we don’t want to see? What are the people that we’re afraid will be a burden to us?” We are reminding ourselves that life is not merely biology. Life is a miracle.  

And then finally, Jesus says, “I am the way.”  

It’s not just that we must be the people who understand and know the value of human life. It’s not even just that we have to be the people with the courage and the conviction to stand for vulnerable human life. When our tribes would say to us you can’t talk about those people or you can’t even acknowledge that those people are people, it’s not just that.  

It’s that we understand and know that we can win in a way that loses. 

There is no way to say, “We will be the people who can win by employing all of the ways of the world.” The cruelty, the lying, the Machiavellianism, the sense of self-protection. Being a pro-life person undoes all of that logic and joins us instead with a Jesus who says, that the way of the cross is the way that leads home. 

Now, there’s sometimes people who will say, “Evangelical Christians and other pro-life people are only pro-life up until birth.” And there are reasons why they say that. They are able to look around and see people who would loudly say that they’re pro-life on abortion but who don’t care about other vulnerable people in their communities. 

They’re not involved in foster care, adoption, or equipping people who are. They’re not, they don’t care about women who are being trafficked or who are being exploited. They don’t care about their elderly neighbors that have been forgotten by family members. They can see those things and those things are really there. 

There are people who are cold to the real flesh and blood people around them but are pro-life in terms of theory or politics. But what often those people don’t see is what is happening, often in very, almost imperceptible ways in evangelical churches, in ministries that no one knows about, of those who are caring for women and their children, not just up until birth, but from thereafter. And caring for them, not only in terms of the bare minimum, of protecting their physical lives, but also in terms of seeing to it that they’re able to live and flourish economically and medically and in terms of job training. And even more than that, in terms of love, and community, and the promise of the gospel.  

That’s happening. And it’s happening often among people that no one sees here in the nation’s capital because these are people who don’t have press releases. These are people who are simply living out the life that Jesus has given to them, and they are doing it in the way that Jesus has taught us to do which is not through domination. It’s not through intimidation, it’s not through humiliation, it is through the pouring out of ourselves and pointing to the cross of Jesus Christ.  

Because the Bible tells us you cannot do evil that good will result. You cannot say, “I’m going to use evil means to justify this good end that I have.” Because ultimately, at the end of all that, you have bartered away the one thing that the rest of the world needs from you, which is the sort of character and soul that is able to bear witness to a Person who is the way, the truth, and the life.  

And so as we move forward into the future, part of what we must ask ourselves is what’s happening around us. The issues will change. The people who are vulnerable will sometimes change. The ways that they can be mistreated will sometimes change. You have to be consistently asking yourself, “Who are those people?”  

Part of that has to do with cultivating a new generation with something as seemingly simple as raising up Christian middle schoolers who in that very social Darwinian environment will be looking around to say, “Who are the people that would be costly for me to be friends with? Who are the people that might be costly in terms of my own peer group for me to sit with in the cafeteria or to talk to in between classes?” Something as simple as that is training up a new generation to be paying attention. “Who are the people I would be tempted to forget? To not even pay attention to at all?” 

And to be the people who are not just strong in terms of conviction but also the people who are able to speak with the authority of Jesus Christ to people who are burdened by circumstances, by health, by consciences that are weighty, with words that have been given to us, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” 

It’s important for us to have the right ideas on life. It’s important for us to have the right actions and strategies on some of these issues for life. But the most important thing is that we realize that life is ultimately not a what but a who. And we’re able to speak to the rest of the world by saying we’re not only pro-life, we’re pro-truth, we’re pro-way, we’re pro-you, we’re pro-Jesus. And we have nothing to give except what we have already received. 

We have the calling and the opportunity to do just that so that 50 years from now, maybe a new generation will look back and say, “How was this so confusing?” But even they will have to step back and say, “What’s the map and what’s the territory?” Thank you.