Post-abortive men and women have the same problem I do: They’re rebels. And there’s nothing we can do to fix that. Someone else has to take the rap for us. Thankfully, someone has.
Let’s start with good news. Post-abortive men and women can experience healing. Like all forgiven sinners, they can live each day assured that God accepts them on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, not their own.
But that assurance is not found on the cheap. We need to see it in its biblical context—against the backdrop of God’s holiness and hatred of sin. We need to see it in light of the gospel.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ can be summarized as follows: God designs a good world where the humans He made to worship Him and enjoy communion with Him willfully rebel against Him. Although these rebel humans deserve God’s wrath, He holds back His righteous judgment and sends Jesus to take the punishment they deserve. By God’s design, Jesus—the sinless one—is killed on a cross by the very people he came to save. Yet the story doesn’t end there. Three days later, God affirms Christ’s sin-bearing sacrifice by raising Him from the dead. As a result of Christ’s sin-bearing work on their behalf, God’s people—all of them unworthy of anything but death if judged by their own merits—are declared justified by God the Father, who then adopts them as His own sons and daughters.
Like all sinners, post-abortive men and women need this gospel. With it, they live assured their past, present, and future sins are not counted against them. Yes, the Gospel is good news, but only if we understand the bad news.
The Bad News (and it’s very bad)
The Bible is clear: We don’t start off innocent and break bad. We begin bad and stay that way. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” laments the prophet Jeremiah (17:9).
The testimony of Scripture is that everyone reading this sentence deserves only judgment. In a thousand different ways, every last one of us has rebelled against our Creator who made us for His glory. That any of us are breathing right now is a sheer act of His grace.
Think back to the dark western Unforgiven, starring Clint Eastwood as Will Munny. Will’s young sidekick, the Schofield Kid, kills his first man and is shaken by second thoughts. Munny’s response is devastating:
Munny: It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man…
Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.
Munny: We all got it coming, kid.
When Christ spoke of a tower that fell on unsuspecting people, he did not say the victims deserved to die while everyone else did not. Instead, He gave this stunning response: “If you don’t repent, all of you will likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-9). Jesus said that everyone has it coming. And if we don’t repent, we, too, will perish.
Our problem is this: God’s holy and righteous character cannot wink at sin. He must punish it. Though we don’t like to talk about it, we’re in big trouble with God.
But the bad news is even worse than we first imagine. The problem is not only that we do bad things; it’s that we are bad by nature. We are bent toward rebellion and disobedience against God and we are powerless to fix things. In fact, Paul tells us that like the rest of humankind, we’re dead in our sins and objects of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3). Left to ourselves, we want nothing to do with God. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). In short, God would be perfectly just to do away with us entirely.
But There is Good News (and it’s infinitely good)!
After leaving no doubt about man’s true condition, Paul sets forth the fix. Though we were dead in our transgressions and sins and justly objects of His wrath, God did what we could not do for ourselves: made us alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5). “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”
What? Christ died for the ungodly?
Precisely. “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor.5:21). As a result, we’re saved from the wrath we justly deserve (Romans 5:6, 9). As our substitute, He was forsaken so we wouldn’t be. That’s great news for the repentant sinner, but it’s not the message most people want to hear. The secular culture considers it a sin to tell people, “You are wrong. What you believe is wrong. Turn to the only one that can save you.” And yet, there’s no fix for our guilt until we renounce all hope of justifying ourselves.
We have a terrible problem and there is only one way out: “Salvation is found in no one else” but Jesus (Acts 4:12). All other options, including our own attempts to please God through good works leave us dead in our sins.
Not by Our Own Deeds
Theologian Desmond Ford puts it well: “God is better than we have ever hoped, though we’re worse than we ever suspected.”54
A gifted friend and colleague responsible for saving many unborn lives once explained his motivation for pro-life activism this way (paraphrase). “Jesus was clear when asked by the Rich Young Ruler, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus told him to obey the Commandments–Don’t murder, love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor, care for the defenseless, and so on. Jesus then says in the Sermon on the Mount that ‘everyone who hears these words and does them’ will be saved in the day of destruction. I’m doing my very best to make the grade.”
By that standard my friend doesn’t stand a chance. Yes, Jesus did point the Rich Young Ruler to the Ten Commandments, but He did it to expose the young man’s utter inability to keep them. The same is true of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): No one can live up to the demands Christ presents here. Am I pure in heart? Do I hunger and thirst after righteousness? Show mercy when I ought? Love my enemies? There’s no wiggle room here: to please God in these matters, my righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees. It must be perfect.
Problem is, I’m nowhere close. Look how tough Christ is on us (paraphrase): “Think you’re free of adultery? Guess again. Every time you lust after a woman you commit adultery in your heart. Think you don’t murder? Each time you are angry with your brother you do that in your heart,” and so on. Couple that with Paul’s teaching in Romans that “no one is righteous, no not one” and you start to get the picture of how desperate our situation truly is. There really is nothing we can do to turn away the righteous wrath of a holy God. People who are “dead” in their sins can’t possibly help themselves before the bar of God’s justice. Someone else has to take the punishment for us and provide the righteousness we don’t have.
Someone did. The righteousness that God demands is the righteousness that He alone provides through Jesus Christ. Paul is clear: It is God who justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5; 8:30, 33) and He both initiates and completes the salvation process for His people. No wonder Paul writes, “no man can boast”–for it’s by grace we’ve been saved through faith (Ephesians 2: 8-9).
Here’s where my friend has it backwards: I don’t engage in good deeds to earn God’s favor or to work my way to heaven. Truth is, my good deeds will never make up for my bad ones. Thankfully, Jesus bore the punishment for my sin so I wouldn’t have to. The only thing that removes my guilt before God is the righteousness of Christ applied to my account. With that in mind, I approach Christian service not from a sense of guilt, but gratitude.
Biblically speaking, justification is a legal declaration by God the Father whereby my sins are pardoned, and Christ’s righteousness is applied to my account. Justified sinners are not made righteous with an infusion of holiness; they’re declared righteous solely because of the sin-bearing work of Christ on their behalf. Justification is about my status before God: I am no longer condemned because Jesus both paid the penalty for sin in my place and lived the life of perfect obedience God requires. Put differently, justification is a matter of imputation: My guilt is imputed to Christ; His righteousness is imputed to me.
Who, then, can bring a charge against God’s elect? The Apostle Paul’s answer is clear: No one. For it is God who justifies (Romans 4:5; 8:33). It is His gift, completely undeserved, so that no one can boast. After all, God is under no obligation to save anyone. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
But You Have No Idea What I’ve Done!
We can’t add to our justification. It’s already a finished work. Confusion about this leads to spiritual depression and, in some cases, years of emotional pain. I once had a woman say to me, “What about people who commit grave moral sins like abortion? Even after repenting again and again, the guilty feelings linger. How can I ever be justified in God’s sight?”
In justification we receive the pure and spotless righteousness of Christ, a blanket that covers our sin in the sight of the Father. We’re declared righteous solely because Jesus bore the penalty for sin in our place. However, we remain sinners inwardly. Meanwhile, sanctification (also God’s work) is an ongoing process that changes us internally, conforming us more and more to the image of Christ. Over time, our thought patterns improve. Vices are replaced with virtues. Habitual sins are confronted and challenged. But moral improvement is not what makes us right before God. What removes our judicial guilt is the legal declaration of God the Father.
What incredibly great news! By God’s declaration, we are no longer His enemies, but adopted and dearly loved children. My message to this hurting post-abortive woman was simple: “Take heart—Do not despair. If you’re in Christ, the penalty for your past, present, and future sins was discharged at the cross. In short, you’re covered!”
Permit me one final example by Greg Koukl:
“The story is told of a king who, having discovered a theft in the royal treasury, decrees that the criminal be publicly flogged for this affront to the crown. When soldiers haul the thief before the king as he sits in his judgment seat, there in chains stands the frail form of the king’s own mother. Without flinching, he orders the old woman to be bound to the whipping post in front of him. When she is secured, he stands up, lays down his imperial scepter, sets aside his jeweled crown, removes his royal robes, and enfolds the tiny old woman with his own body. Baring his back to the whip, he orders that the punishment commence. Every blow meant for the criminal lands with full force upon the bare back of the king until the last lash falls.
In like manner, in those dark hours, the Father wrapped us in His Son who shields us, taking the justice we deserve. This is not an accident. It was planned. The prophet Isaiah described it 700 years earlier: ‘Surely our griefs He Himself bore….He was pierced through our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way. But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him’” (Isaiah 53:4-6).
Greg is right: Only Jesus can pay, and He does. He has completed the transaction. He has canceled the debt. It is finished. It only remains for us to trust in His promise.
If you’ve sinned by participating in an abortion-related decision, the solution to your guilt is not denial. It’s forgiveness. Like everyone else, your place is at the foot of the cross.
Here’s how to get started.
First, stop justifying yourself. Justification is God’s business. If you conceded to have an abortion, stop blaming your boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, or husband. If you are that boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, or husband, stop blaming the woman you encouraged to abort. Be honest: Your choice resulted in the unjust taking of human life. God will not be shocked by your confession. He knows that outside Christ, our thoughts and attitudes are bent toward rebellion against Him. Just like me and every other human being, you feel guilty because you are guilty.
Second, resist the temptation to solve your guilt problem with “good” behavior. Truth is, your good deeds will never make up for your bad ones. You can’t fix what’s wrong and you must give up all hope of ever fixing it on your own. Only God can justify the ungodly and He did it by sending a substitute to take your place.
True, once you are justified, you’ll want to serve God with good works, even though you will fail to live out your convictions in many ways. However, your motivation for doing good deeds will be a heart of thanksgiving for what God’s already accomplished—not a feeble attempt to impress Him with your own good stuff.
Third, place your trust completely in the only substitute who can save you—Jesus, the sinless one, who paid your debt in full. Biblical faith is not a blind leap in the dark. It’s trust based on evidence. Ask God to forgive your rebellion and give you a new heart to serve Him. Seek out other Christians who’ve also been forgiven and draw strength from them.
Finally, establish a firm foundation for your Christian life. Learn the basics of Christian doctrine and thought. Bury yourself in Romans and Galatians. Memorize the lyrics of great hymns that convey the gospel. Consider reading The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges or Finally Alive by John Piper. Both will help you learn the foundation upon which your new faith is built.
James Montgomery Boice summarizes the gospel perfectly:
I’m not O.K. You are not O.K. No one is O.K. And the sooner we admit that we are not okay and turn to the One who knows that we are not, but who offers us a way of salvation anyway, the better off we will be. Jesus does not excuse us; he forgives us. He calls us sinners. Yet he says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). The most important thing in life is to know that Jesus is able to save you from sin. The second most important thing is to know that you require it.55