Lately I have been mystified by—and distressed with—a trend I’ve seen with many who identify as Christians yet seem to effortlessly embrace secular ideas completely at odds with a biblical understanding of reality.
These more “progressive” Christians tend to be pluralistic regarding salvation,[i] sexually active as single persons, gay friendly (and here I do not mean appropriately friendly with gays, but rather supportive of “alternative sexualities”), comfortable with “gender fluidity,” in favor of same-sex marriage, and pro-choice.[ii]
I’m distressed because they have fallen into a trap Paul warned about: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men…rather than according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).
I’m mystified because there’s no good reason for faltering in the face of these particular trends because Scripture speaks with clarity against them. Since there is no biblical ambiguity on any of these issues, there is no real cause for a Christian’s confusion.
Simply put, on a host of culturally charged moral and spiritual issues, faithfulness is not theologically complicated. Why, then, are many who claim to be Christians foundering on fundamentals with such regularity? I think there are two reasons.
First, it’s clear that many Christians are untutored in the basics. To them, Christianity is simply about believing in Jesus in some vague sense and loving people in a can’t-we-all-just-get-along kind of way. That’s where their theology begins, and that’s where it ends.
Second, many Christians—especially among the younger generation, sadly—seem to care more about what their friends think about them than what Jesus thinks about them. Each of these failings is dangerous on its own; in combination, they are spiritually deadly.
I will not, here, parse out clever ways to persuade outsiders of God’s point of view on these issues. Rather, I want Christians to see the simple biblical facts for themselves. Maybe clarity will lessen the confusion and breed the courage needed to face the cultural pressures.
First things first. That trust in Jesus of Nazareth is necessary to escape eternal punishment for sin is arguably the most offensive detail of classical Christian theology. Peter called it “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (1 Pet. 2:8). Yet it is also gospel bedrock.[iii]
To stand with Jesus on this issue invites a tsunami of scorn and abuse in our culture. It is the first claim jettisoned when Christians itch to become more “tolerant” and substitute a Christianity of worldly love, acceptance, and inclusion for the gospel of rescue from wrath. To side with the crowd on this, though, is spiritual treason.
The disciples did not choose the name “Christians” for themselves. Others did. Followers of Jesus described themselves simply as “the Way” (Acts 9:2). The reason was clear. That was how Jesus described Himself: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Lest anyone be tempted to read ambiguity into that statement at the end of Jesus’ ministry, take counsel from this one at the very beginning:
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matt. 7:13–14)
Controversial? Yes. Confusing? No. The claim is clear. New Testament writers repeated it constantly in a variety of ways, offering nine lines of argument to solidify their point.[iv]
- Jesus is the world’s only source of salvation: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
- Jesus is the Father’s choice: “Jesus…said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent’” (John 6:29).
- Thus, rejection of Jesus is rejection of the Father Himself: “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23b).
- Rejecting Jesus brings wrath; believing in Jesus rescues from wrath: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).
- Jesus alone provides forgiveness of sin: “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins”(John 8:24).
- Many impostors will claim to provide other ways of salvation: “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many” (Matt. 24:4–5).
- But there are no alternatives: “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
- Jesus will be man’s final judge: “Christ Jesus…is to judge the living and the dead” (2 Tim. 4:1).
- Therefore, all nations are to be given this gospel: “Repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (Luke 24:47).
There is only one answer to the Philippian jailer’s question, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul gave it: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30–31). Simple and straightforward, uncomplicated and unambiguous. Do not be confused.
I realize, of course, that Scripture does not address abortion directly. Rather, the issue is subsumed under a broader biblical injunction. The sixth commandment says simply, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). It mirrors a directive going back almost to the beginning that is itself grounded in a truth in the very first chapter of the Bible.
After the flood, God told Noah, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Gen. 9:6). Twice in Genesis 1, God declares that humans bear His image. Because human beings bear God’s image, any destruction of a human being deserves the severest penalty.
Here is the question: Are unborn human beings image-bearers in the same sense God is referring to in Genesis? Are they protected under the sixth commandment, thus making abortion an act of de facto homicide? Are the preborn the same kind of living beings as those who have already been born? Put another way, in God’s eyes, are humans before birth the very same valuable individuals they are after they are born?
It does no good, by the way, to dismiss the value of preborn humans by labeling them “fetuses,” or “zygotes,” or “blobs of cells.” First, you and I are also “blobs of cells” after a fashion. Second, like the word “adolescent,” the other terms are purely human inventions marking stages of biological development. Embryology—and common sense—tells us that the very same individual is present at each stage, regardless of the arbitrary terms we use to distinguish the stages.
Some will be surprised to know that Scripture itself gives a definitive answer to our question above in a passage that is clear, unambiguous, and decisive. Luke 1 records a remarkable exchange between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, almost immediately after Mary conceives Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.” (Luke 1:41–44)
Note, this meeting took place when Elizabeth was in her late second trimester with John, and Mary was in her early first trimester with Jesus. Recall also that earlier in the chapter we learned that John himself would be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15), and this passage marks the prophecy’s fulfillment. Clearly, John the “fetus”—filled with the Holy Spirit—leaped with joy in the presence of the “zygote,” Jesus the Lord.
So here is our question again, now applied specifically to the prophet and the Savior: Were John the Baptist and Jesus their same selves before they were born as they were after they were born? Clearly the biblical answer is, “Yes.” Had Mary or Elizabeth chosen abortion, then, they would have killed Jesus and John—not a potential or possible or future Jesus and John, but Jesus and John themselves.
The sixth commandment forbids murder. Murder is the willful killing of an innocent human being, an individual made in the image of God. Does abortion do this? According to what we learn in the Bible, yes, it does. Abortion, then—in God’s eyes—is murder. No Christian should condone it. No Christian should participate in it. Every Christian should condemn it.[v]
Having a baby under any circumstances is a challenge, but especially so when the pregnancy is unplanned or the result of a traumatic experience. Even so, these complications do not change the basic biblical calculus. Abortion violates the sixth commandment.
Do not be confused. This is not a complex issue, theologically.
There is one thing everyone knows about the world. They know something is wrong, that things are not the way they are supposed to be. The world is broken, and multitudes suffer as a result.
There was a time, though, when this was not so. Genesis tells us about that time. It is the book of beginnings, the introduction to the story of reality. It tells us the way the world was when God first made it, when “all that He had made…was very good” (1:31). It tells us the way the world is supposed to be, the way it was before the evil.
Here is what the book of beginnings tells us about the beginning of human beings:
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it….” (Gen. 1:27–28)
I have already mentioned the importance of the image of God in man. It’s the source of our innate and intrinsic value, the source of our inherent dignity and nobility. I want you to notice something else about the good, dignified, noble way God made humans.
From the very beginning, human beings have been either male or female, one or the other. In God’s world, sex is binary. There are rare physical exceptions,[vi] but that is not the way things are supposed to be. The exceptions are part of the brokenness.
Notice also that in God’s order there is no hint of distinction between the sex a person is on the outside and the sex a person thinks he is on the inside. Humans were created to be unified, whole persons—the mind matching the body.
At the moment, though, this point is controversial. Some think there is no vital connection between the sex a person is physically and their mental perception of their sex (often referred to as “gender”). And, indeed, there is a miniscule percent of people who are genuinely conflicted, thinking their own gender is different from their sex.[vii] But that is also part of the brokenness. It clearly is not God’s good plan.
There is a reason God made two physical sexes with their matching genders. In God’s plan, men and women were made both physically and emotionally different from each other in order to fit together in a complementary way. As counterparts sexually and soulishly, they were created so the woman could be what God called a “suitable helpmate” to man (Gen. 2:18–25). Even after the evil came and the world was broken, this plan did not change. Indeed, without this physical and emotional fit, it would not be possible for men and women to fulfill God’s command to multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it together.
Scripture is not ambiguous or unclear on this issue, which is why no one, Christian or otherwise, has been confused on it for thousands of years—until recently. Gender is not “fluid” in the way some have made it out to be. That is not how God made human beings.
Binary sexuality is also key to understanding God’s purpose for something else the culture has been confused about.
When Jesus was asked about the legitimacy of divorce, He answered by going back to the beginning.
Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? (Matt. 19:4–5)
According to Jesus, then, marriage is not a cultural convention based on current custom and sexual whim. Instead, marriage is tied to God’s creation order. Here is His formula for marriage: one man, with one woman, becoming one flesh, for one lifetime.
Notice Jesus' implicit support of binary gender in His reference to Genesis 2:24: a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife. The kind of marriage God had in mind from the beginning is rooted in gender. Men marry women. Women marry men. And being a man or a woman is determined by one’s physical body.
The reason, of course, is obvious. As a group, as a rule, by nature and by design, long-term, monogamous, heterosexual marriages produce the next generation. Successful reproduction requires stable families; stable families are fundamental to civilization; marriages begin families, and a man and a woman make a marriage.
According to Jesus’ thinking, then, same-sex marriage (or any other creative variation) is not only wrong for the same reason divorce is wrong—it corrupts God’s good design—it’s also a contradiction in terms. The word “marriage” has no meaning when used of same-sex couples since heterosexual union is inherent to God’s definition of marriage.
There is nothing ambiguous about Jesus’ view.[viii] Yes, the culture is confused, but there is no reason for you to be confused.
There is something else we learn from Jesus’ formula and from the passage in Genesis He derives it from.
According to Jesus, in marriage a man cleaves to—and becomes one flesh with—a woman, his wife. Their physical bodies are joined together in a deep, profound sexual union of body and soul, and the two become one. That is the good plan of God.
The passage Jesus cites in Genesis 2 as the Father’s perfect plan covers all of the “alternative sexualities.” Indeed, every single sexual act the Bible explicitly condemns—adultery, fornication, homosexuality, and bestiality—is excluded by Jesus’ simple formula.[ix] The only kind of sexual behavior honorable to God is intimacy between a man and a woman in a lifelong committed relationship—marriage, in other words.
Consider homosexuality, for example. I understand that every depiction of it in popular culture is overwhelmingly positive, and those who differ are characterized as hateful bigots. This is not God’s perspective, though. I want you to pay close attention to the details of a point Paul makes about homosexuality in Romans 1:
God gave them over to degrading passions; for…the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts…. (Rom. 1:26–27)
The word translated “function” here, the Greek word kreesis, is specifically referring to the fit I mentioned earlier. God designed men and women to function sexually together—their bodies fit together in a precise way to make sexual union possible. Since natural desires go with natural functions, the sexual passion that exchanges the natural function of sex for an unnatural function (homosexuality) is what Paul calls a “degrading passion.”
Notice in particular how Paul explains the nature of this offense before God. He says, “The men abandoned the natural function of the woman,” that is, they rejected the appropriate counterpart God had provided—a woman who was built by Him to be man’s sexual complement. That’s why Scripture has nothing positive to say about homosexuality. Whenever it is mentioned in the Bible, it is condemned.[x]
God also has nothing positive to say about any other sexual behavior outside of marriage—like adultery or fornication—for the same reason: It also corrupts God’s good purpose. Christians who lean progressive do not condone adultery, as far as I know. Nowadays, though, fornication hardly raises an eyebrow—especially among the younger crowd—yet it’s just as much a violation of God’s good plan as homosexuality.
Paul provides another angle you may not have considered. Since our bodies are members of Christ, “one flesh” sexual unions outside of marriage spiritually join Christ (who is in us) to an unholy coupling, sullying the temple of God, our own bodies. That’s why instead of embracing these relationships, Paul says we should flee them (1 Cor. 6:15–20).
Here is Paul’s sobering summary on the status of those who engage in persistent, habitual sexual sin:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators…nor adulterers…nor homosexuals…will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 6:9–10)
God’s solution for satisfying our sexual appetites is marriage: “Because of [sexual] immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2).[xi] Confusion on this issue, as Paul points out, is deadly deception. Do not be taken in. Scripture is not unclear or ambiguous.
There is a telling passage in the passion narrative where Pilate is confronted by the mob and must decide where his loyalties lie. Mark records his decision: “Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified” (Mark 15:15).
Many in Christendom today are taking their cues from Pilate. They are more concerned with satisfying the crowd than being faithful to Jesus. They champion the criminal and turn their back on the Savior.
Culture may be confused on salvation, abortion, gender, marriage, and sex. Don’t you be. On these issues, God has spoken clearly. Faithfulness to our Lord is not theologically complicated.
[i] Pluralism in this sense is the view that other religions provide equally valid routes to salvation.
[ii] Though they may be personally against abortion, they still think it ought to be a legitimate option for others.
[v] In this piece I’m dealing only with the ethical status of abortion itself, not the more complex policy concern of how we prosecute abortion within our legal system. That is a different question I’ll leave to others more skilled in those matters.
[vi] Those who, through a rare congenital defect, are born intersex.
[vii] This internal conflict is known as “gender dysphoria.”
[viii] In light of Matthew 19, the claim that “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality” is groundless. Though Jesus didn’t use the word “homosexuality” here, clearly His teaching on sex and marriage apply to it.
[ix] Notice these all involve sex with someone other than a person’s opposite-sex spouse.
[xi] Notice, again, the implicit reference to binary sexuality and the presumption of heterosexual marriage.