Sanctity of Life: Reaching the Next Generation
Hello, my name is Kevin Smith, pastor in South Florida, and I’m really happy to take some moments and speak about what standing for life might look like as we think about the next generation of Christian discipleship in the context of congregations and communities. [It] involves exposing kids, students, and young adults to biblical anthropology and our Christian ethic in James 1:27.
You may remember that the Scripture says that, “True religion is this: to visit the widow and the orphan in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” What does that look like as we engage kids, elementary school and down students, middle school and high school, and even young adults, college and early working, career people regarding the issues of life?
One of my friends says, quote, “The kingdom tells us what matters and who matters and that the criteria for that is sharply different than the social Darwinist values of success, power, utility, and strength.”
In a culture that has drifted away from biblical anthropology, and when I say biblical anthropology, I mean an understanding of humans, male and female, as created in the image and likeness of God, Genesis 1:27, and a culture that has drifted away from that. I think it’s real important that congregations, not just pastors, children’s workers, students’ workers, parents, and grandparents in the midst of the congregation, reorient and for sometimes teach newly to children and to young people the value and the dignity of the human being.
I think the issue going forward in our culture, and this affects how we think about life issues like abortion, but this affects our culture in general, how we think about things like economics and aesthetics and all those kind of things is, What is a human? Who is a human? And so, as we think about these kind of issues, I pray that the Church would bring biblical insight and biblical truth to how our young people are thinking about themselves.
We must engage the next generation with a biblical anthropology that clearly declares that they are created in the image and likeness of God, clearly declares that the fall has occurred as we read of in Genesis chapter 3, clearly declared that humanity is experiencing all types of brokenness right now as a result of sin and the fall, and clearly declared the good news of the gospel, that there is forgiveness of sin.
There is freedom from sin, and there is recovery where people can discover and pursue God’s design. And that design, is it babies, adults, men, women, people from different nations, people of different languages, people of different social economic statuses, all of those people in God’s design and God’s order are created in His image and His likeness, and they merit divine dignity, worth and respect.
We live in a generation and we live in an era where our students and our young people, the next generation, are being bombarded with messages of dualism, messages of physicalism, messages of functionalism. Dualism, where the body and the soul are being distinguished in ways where they’re even being disconnected. And people are valuing their body and valuing their physical appearance and valuing external things to the neglect of their soul and their person, their being and internal things.
And we need to really lay into that with our young people. And I don’t know your particular context, but many school settings, many community settings, young people are being bombarded with serious issues that affect their souls and their psyche and their mental health very early in life. And the Church cannot be too early in declaring to young people that they are created in the image and likeness of God.
Dualism. There is no separation of the person. We are whole persons created in God’s image and likeness. God says, Christ says, don’t fear him who can destroy just body, but fear Him who can destroy body and soul.
And so, we are whole people, body and soul, visible and invisible, material and immaterial. And that needs to be clearly declared to the next generation. But not only is dualism a challenge we’re dealing with, physicalism is a challenge that we’re dealing with. Or “I just need to examine myself by how I look, or I just need to examine myself by the aesthetic, or I just need to see my worth and how other people value me as they look at me physically.” Regarding, for example, women, we live in a culture that has many traits of objectification and misogyny and other such things, which are demeaning to women.
And so, we need to make sure that we, again, emphasize the value of the human being, male and female as created in the image, in the likeness of God. Your worth is not just in your physical strength. Your worth is not just in the length of your hair. Your worth is not just in the smoothness of your skin. Your worth is in being created in the image and the likeness of God, not just dualism and physicalism, but even functionalism or utilitarianism.
One of the strongest things that pushes against early-life issues like the value and the dignity of the baby and its mother’s womb or end-of-life issues like the value and the dignity of our aging relatives and our declining relatives.
It’s just a whole issue of functionalism or utilitarianism. A person is worth what they can do. A person is worth what they can produce. A person is worth what they bring to the table. Nothing could be further from the biblical truth.
We don’t use a spreadsheet to evaluate the worth of a human being. A human being has inherent worth because they are created in God’s image. We don’t use a calculator. We don’t use economic indicators. Are they an asset or a liability? We don’t use any of those things to value a human being. And the next generation is influenced and being exposed to cultural influences that would seek to expose them to valuing themselves merely on productivity, utilitarian standards.
So, I think the next generation is plagued by these matters and it would behoove the Church to engage these matters. And so, how will we equip the church in a post-Roe world? One thing is to push down the meaty, serious, biblical material. Certainly, we have fun in our kids’ and our students’ ministries. Certainly, we want our kids and our student ministries to be engaging, but we certainly want our kids’ and our student ministries to be full of the truth of God’s Word, because these messages of dualism and physicalism and functionalism or utilitarianism, these things come very quickly and very early from our culture.
People who want to upset the biblical worldview of the value and dignity of humanity. People who want to have people thinking of themselves as machines rather than image bearers of God. Those people begin to speak their words very early in the lives of young people, high school, middle school, even elementary school. And so, I pray that we would value the biblical proclamation of who is a human and what is the value of a human before we know how they look, before we know what they can do, before we make any determination about their physical strength or any physical diseases or any birth defects. Before we do any of that, just being created in the image and likeness of God from the moment of conception, who is a human? What is their worth?
Also, we need to acknowledge with the next generation, the complexities that are associated with ever-increasing technologies, artificial intelligence, robotics and many things are seeking to, if not seeking, can be in the hands of people who are seeking to blur the distinction between the human as created in the image and likeness of God. And I think from the Scripture, being the apex of God’s creation and all else that is in creation, like trees and animals and things we create like robots and computers, as technology ever increases and people try to develop technologies that can mirror the capabilities of human beings, I think it’s very important that number one, we remind the next generation again of who they are as humans created in the image and likeness of God. And number two, remind the next generation of the distinctions between human beings and other parts of creation.
My daughter has a Weimaraner Vizsla mix. And I really, really like, even love my daughter’s dog, but there’s a difference between a human being and a dog. I really enjoy riding my Harley Davidson motorcycle. It’s a nice piece of machinery, but there’s a difference between a human being and a motorcycle.
I really appreciate some of the technologies that we have- my smartphone and other devices and even some things that are being developed, but there’s a difference between a human being and technology that human beings create. We have the creative capacity to make a lot of things, but those things are different than human beings who are created in the image and the likeness of God.
Again, back in Genesis, the Bible says that God formed man of the clay. He formed Adam of the clay, and God breathed into him the breath of life, and Adam became a living soul. There is something distinct and unique about the human being. And we need to make sure the next generation knows that as smart as they are, as innovative as they are, as innovate, as energetic as they are, they cannot create life.
One of the things I enjoy about biologists and medical doctors and other people that deal with human beings is, I appreciate the thoroughness of their preparation and their intelligence and their training and all those kinds of things. But I also appreciate their confusion and their questions about things because even the most trained among us have to testify that the human truly is, as the Scripture says, fearfully and wonderfully made. And there are things about the human that we just can’t understand because there are things that are put there and controlled by God Himself. So, the next generation needs to constantly be reminded of who they are and what their inherent value is as those who are created in the image and likeness of God.
So, I need to make sure that a perplexed and stressed-out mother has good value, good understanding of the value of the baby that is in her womb.
I need to make sure that a young man or man of any age has a good understanding and a good value, good understanding of the value of the baby that is in the womb of the woman that he impregnated.
If someone is an abortion advocate and I have the opportunity to engage them, I want to have a discussion and try to share with them again, the value, the innate value of the baby in the womb before we talk about socioeconomic status before we talk about healthiness, the innate value of that baby. We must engage the next generation with true biblical teaching because the culture is engaging them with all kinds of teaching that are other than that which is ordained by God and even that which contradicts the word of God.
Think, for example, in Isaiah chapter 55 verse two, the Scripture says, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me and eat what is good and delight yourselves in rich food.”
There’s a beautiful opportunity to speak to the next generation about the value and the dignity of life. That opportunity is there because as they pursue some of these things that I mentioned earlier, physicalism, functionalism, utilitarianism, they realize the shortcomings of those things. They realize the dissatisfaction of those things.
If you think of utilitarianism, it’s not like the very successful, very productive people in our society are shielded from despair, discouragement, depression, mental illness and even suicide.
If you think about physicalism, it’s not like the strong and the mighty or the beautiful or the handsome in our society are shielded from brokenness, sin, bad consequences, discouragement, depression, even suicide. So, it’s not like the pursuit of life without an innate value before God has produced a generation and a cohort of people who are free from the cares and the burdens of the consequences of a broken world.
So, we have an opportunity. The dissatisfaction of pursuing idols provides an opportunity for the followers of Jesus Christ to declare who people are and what people are worth.
Isaiah says, “Listen diligently to me and eat what is good and delight yourselves in rich food.”
If we would think of some of the dissatisfaction around us, we would see opportunities where we could declare to people who they are and what their value is. As image bearers of God, this would especially, I think, help us when we have women in crisis pregnancy situations to understand the value and the dignity of the precious baby that they would bring into this world, or even at end-of-life issues when there’s a grandmother and we’re able to stroke her hair and provide comfort for her or an older man in our family. We’re able to help him with the shave and provide some joy and some good feelings, even as he’s in declining moments of life. Isaiah says, if there’s an area of dissatisfaction in the people among us, let’s encourage them to listen diligently to the words of the Lord.
Another passage of Scripture that might give us some insight is Proverbs 14 and 12. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”
Again, people are trying things. People are trying to find purpose. People are trying to figure out their worth. If you talk to people, especially the next generation, all the time, young people are saying, I’m struggling with issues of identity.
The Scripture allows us to walk into that struggle with clear divine truth that your identity is rooted in the fact that you are created by God. And there are many other ways that seem right. As we seek identity and worth, but those ways, the Scripture says lead to the ways of death.
And so, there’s no shortage of people finding their identity in their work or finding their identity in their wealth or finding their identity in their physical appearance or finding their identity in their nationality or their race or their ethnicity, and still finding themselves in great moods and struggles of discouragement, depression, anxiety.
And so, I would encourage us to remind people and to engage people and to engage them patiently as we can show them that the way they are pursuing identity, the way they are pursuing worth, has not led them to satisfaction. And let them know that the Scripture says there are ways that we think are right and think will lead us to good ends, but those ways do not lead us to good ends if they avoid or contradict God’s truth and God’s word.
We have a beautiful opportunity, but we must speak those things in love. We must speak those things with patience, and we must speak those things with an eye towards the next generation.
The churches that I have served in different states, we’ve always had partnerships with local public schools, whether it was high school, middle school, elementary school. And I have found again and again and again, is that young people are looking for someone who cares and who will listen to them. And so, we’re going to show someone that there is a way that seems right to them, but that way has not led to the things of God and the things would be for the flourishing of their life.
We have to love them. We have to be patient with them, and we have to listen. And the Lord will provide opportunities for us to sow seeds of biblical truth and to declare to them the value that they have in the eyes of the living God.
Let me share one other Scripture. The Bible says in Romans chapter 1,, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the creator who is blessed forever. Amen.”
We have lived in a culture where people have been told, if you’re really looking for your identity and you’re looking for your worth, look inside. Whereas actually, in a biblical frame of thinking and in a biblical mindset, if we are looking for identity and if we are looking for worth, we ought to look to God.
We find out that we are created in His image and likeness from the Scripture, not from looking within ourselves. As a matter of fact, as the Scripture teaches in Genesis chapter 3, if we look into ourselves, we will see the brokenness and the consequences of the fall.
The Bible says, for example, in Psalms when the psalm writer’s praying one time, he says, we’re so full of errors and mistakes and shortcomings and sinful tendencies, the psalm writer just throws his hands up and says, “Who can know his errors? Help me, Lord, cleanse me from secret faults.”
The psalm writer says, there’s so many faults in me. I can’t know my own faults. I need your Word to cleanse me. I need your Word to bring some clarity. And so, one of the things that we need to do in our society is realize that the answer is not looking in or worshiping the, changing the truth, of exchanging the truth of God for the truth of man or the ideas of man.
And so, I hope as we engage young people, we would make them aware of that exchange and make sure that they are seeking and at least open to hearing from us the Word of God and the truth of God.
And help them to see how we are creating His image and the Creator should be our source of identity and worth not looking within us because we can disappoint ourselves. We can let ourselves down. We can find ourselves sometimes being inconsistent. The person in the mirror is not a stable foundation for thinking about identity. And worth is most securely understood from the Creator of the person that we look at in the mirror.
My friend says again, quote, “One need only argue that such life isn’t happy and there are always those who can fix unhappiness if not with a pill or a drink, then with a scalpel.”
And so, as we see the dissatisfaction of the next generation, as we see the exchange that the next generation has done with God’s truth and quote their truth or our truth, you often hear the next generation talking about, but I’m living my truth. Yeah. Okay. That phrase is very, very, very, very, very unhelpful, but don’t rebuke them just for the phrase. Engage them with the truth of God’s Word and help them to see the contrast between what God declares and what they believe or what they assume to be truth.
Many times when I’m talking to younger people, they say, “But what’s the point? What’s the bottom line?” I teach preaching sometimes at one of our, at a large seminary, and one of the textbooks I use, the preacher says, the professor says, “You should always be able to answer the ‘so what’ question after someone listens to your message.”
So, what’s the central question or what’s the main question? So again, I want to refer to one of my friends, he says, quote, “The central question behind the abortion debate after all was, and I will say is, ‘Is the fetus my neighbor?'”
And I would say likewise and in the life issues, is this declining adult with significant health challenges my neighbor? The next generation is very convictional. They’re very passionate. Some of them are very motivated towards righteousness and justice and godliness.
And so, this central question can be very helpful in reaching out to the next generation: Who is my neighbor? The fetus? The older person? The poor person? The man or woman that you don’t know? The man or woman who has made a bad choice as regards pregnancy, a sinful choice? The man or woman from another part of town? Who is my neighbor? The poor kid whose mother carried him and brought him to life and did not have an abortion and now she’s in a social-economically challenging situation and needs things like WIC, women, infant and children, needs government assistance to feed her child and to raise her child? Is she my neighbor?
I think if we would look at the central question and engage that love, gospel, righteousness question with the next generation, I believe we could make some traction regarding hearts and minds regarding the vulnerable among us. Again, the young people I’ve talked to are very motivated towards righteousness, justice, mercy, compassion. And so, this kind of Great Commandment, Jesus’ language of “love your neighbor” can very much be helpful in engaging this subject matter.
Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, the next generation is being pressed upon to devalue themselves more and more and more and more.
I think one of our greatest acts of love and kindness and mercy to the next generation, either as a Great Commission missions facilitator, or as a love your neighbor, common grace, salt and light influence, is to elevate and elevate their understanding of who they are and what they are worth. And God said, let us make him in Our image. Male and female, He made them in His image and likeness.
Greatest gift we can give to the next generation is true, biblical talk about who they are and what they are worth.