The Sanctity of Life

Genesis 1:26-27

January 21, 2024

Lead Pastor Dr. Timothy Melton

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Today is the Sanctity of Human Life (SOHL) Sunday, when churches across the nation spend time celebrating the precious value of human life. It has often been seen as an anti-abortion day, but as Christians it should be about so much more. Christians are often known for what we are against but I seek today to proclaim what we are for when we talk of the Sanctity of Life. 

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “Sanctity” as the quality of being very important, deserving respect, holy or sacred.

The world often attributes importance and respect to the wealthy, the strong, the beautiful, the famous or the intelligent, but in scripture we see that sanctity is more than that. It is a sacred sense of worth that has been bestowed by God on every human being who has been made in God’s image, regardless of who they are or what they have done. 

Life is sacred but we see that being chipped away in our society as well. We are desensitized by violent video games and movies, on the news we hear about so many getting killed in wars and shootings that we forget that each number is a life.  

We see in history what happens when life becomes cheap. We see the gladiators fighting to the death in the Roman Colosseum as the crowds cheered. Christians being thrown to the lions. In India when the wives were burnt alive with their deceased husbands, or even in the Old Testament when parents were sacrificing their children to pagan gods. 

In Genesis chapter One we see why life is so sacred. God created the world.(Gen. 1:1-25) We read through the beginning verses and are amazed at how God created all that is in this world and universe out of nothing. The light and the dark, the earth and the heavens, the plants and the animals . . . Paul tells us in Romans (Rom. 1:19-20) that these wonders of creation are to testify to the world that He is God. But he doesn’t stop there. As if this were not enough, He presents His final and ultimate creation, man and woman, and honors them by making them in His image. (Gen.1:26-27) While creation was to point to God, mankind was to be a reflection of God. In those days Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, enjoyed perfect communion with God. There was no shame, no guilt, no fear, and no hate. It was Shalom, life as it was intended to be. 

Made in God’s image, mankind was to be the ultimate creation that truly bore witness to the character and greatness of God. If you wanted a picture of what God was like you were to look at man to see a glimpse of the Creator. But then it happened. The man, the woman, a tree, a serpent, a lie, some fruit, and the sin that changed the world forever. (Gen. 3:1-24) This “fall of man” changed everything. Now pain, doubt, anger, death, and so much more was a part of the human experience. Their guilt and the judgment of God that they had brought upon themselves now characterized mankind, and their tarnished image now showed little resemblance to that of their Creator.

The years passed by, and intertwined throughout history God brought about a plan that once again revealed His image to the world. Jesus Christ, God's Son, God in the flesh, came to re-establish what had been lost. The image of God in man, that was distorted because of their sin, God himself would once again make clear. Hebrews 1:3a tells us that, “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being.”  Jesus said it in these words, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) If one wants to know what God the Father is like, he can look at Jesus, the Son.

Jesus displayed the image of God but He also saw it in others. He could see their sinful past, and He could also see the potential of their future. For example, the image of God had been distorted in the life of Matthew the tax collector, but Jesus saw that it could be reclaimed through the gospel. Jesus reached out to Matthew and he turned to God and eventually even wrote a portion of the New Testament. Jesus saw the same potential in Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, Peter, and even the thief on the cross. We are to look for this same potential in others as well. 

Jesus has now returned to heaven and the responsibility of bearing the image of God once again rests on our shoulders. (Philippians 2:5, Acts 1:8, Acts 11:26, Matthew 5:14-6, etc.)  In Christ we now have been freed from the slavery of sin and the corruption of our sinful nature. We are new creatures. We are children who should now resemble our Father. As we grow in Christ’s likeness the image of Christ begins to show once again in increasing measure from our lives. As we become more like Christ we will start recapturing Shalom, the meaningful life that God intended for us. As our life changes for the better it will impact our families, our friendships, our workplace, and every other part of our life. It is only through this life transformation that a watching world will take notice and be pointed to our God. (Matt. 5:16)

Those who are in Christ are now being made into His likeness, but we must not forget that every man, woman and child, of every nation, tribe and tongue, are made in God’s image. 

That is the root of the sanctity, the sacredness of life. All lives are precious; even the rude employee at the drive thru window at the fast-food restaurant, the man at the corner wanting to wash your car window while you are stopped at the traffic light, the neighbor who plays their music too loud, the 90-year-old with Alzheimer’s who is left alone at the nursing home, the student who is bullied on the way home from school. We all are made in His image and matter to God. We are called to love others as Christ loved us.

Throughout church history championing the sanctity of life. has been a characteristic of those who truly belong to Christ. 

They have shown this belief in the preciousness of all lives by meeting the needs of the poor, starting hospitals, schools, orphanages, fighting slavery. 

In 252 A.D., the Christians of Corinth saved the city from the plague by responding to the needs of those who were simply dragged into the street. They valued others because all had been made in the image of God.  

Early Christians stood in opposition to infanticide, degradation of women, gladiatorial combats, and slavery. With Christ life now had value. Every child, every woman, every gladiator, every slave, everyone had value and purpose that had been given by Christ. Because of that the early Christians were willing to risk all for the hope of saving some.

During the Middle Ages monasteries served as hospitals and places of refuge. Through Christ Christians had a heart of compassion and a desire for service as they shared the love of Christ that they had already received. Monasteries also developed agricultural skills and knowledge.

In 1833 a man named Wilberforce along with Buxton, Macaulay, and Clark . . . all Christians, were the top leaders in ending slavery in the British Empire. This British event in the 1830's greatly affected American attitudes which resulted in the Civil War that also brought an end to slavery in the United States.

Christians in history were also committed to women’s rights, prison reform, and care for the handicapped and mentally ill. 

Christians living like Christ were also responsible for starting the world's largest orphanage system, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, teaching 200,000 people to read in East Africa in one generation, bringing about the end of widow-burning and child sacrifice, bringing medicine to many parts of the world and starting education systems in China, Japan, and Korea.

The power of a Christ-like Christianity can be see even more clearly in this article by Matthew Parris. He is a newspaper columnist for The Times of London and a self-described atheist. Surprisingly, though, in a December 2008 column he wrote an article titled "As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God." Parris, who grew up in Africa, writes:

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there…. It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But traveling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too—one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects, and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good….

[When I lived in Africa] we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world—a directness in their dealings with others—that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

From this article we can see what God can do through the church when the sanctity of life is cherished. When all people are treated as image bearers of God. It is this truth that compels Christians to love both our friends and our enemies, the helpless, the hopeless, and the voiceless. This is why life is so precious. As Christians we are to stand as advocates to preserve this life that has been breathed into us as a gift from God.

This is why abortion comes to mind as we think of sanctity of life. The unborn babies are amongst the helpless and the voiceless. Some would argue that they are nothing more than disposable tissue, but we as people of the Word know better. 

We see God’s perspective in Jeremiah 1:5 as He speaks of Jeremiah the prophet. In Jeremiah 1:5 God says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I sanctified you; and I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”

In Psalm 139:13-16 we read,

13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
15 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.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

From these verses God declares to us that life begins long before the baby is ever born. In the womb life has begun. 

The Cleveland Clinic describes the birth process in this way:

Week 5: The neural tube (brain, spinal cord and other neural tissue of the central nervous system) forms. The tiny “heart” tube will beat 110 times a minute by the end of the fifth week.

Week 8: All of the major organs and body systems are developing. The fetus has web-like hands and feet. Eyes become visible and ears begin to form.

Week 9: The beginnings of teeth and taste buds are forming. Its muscles are forming and its body shape takes on more of a human appearance.

Week 12: All the organs, limbs, bones and muscles are present and will continue to develop in order to become fully functional. The circulatory, digestive and urinary systems are also working, and the liver produces bile.

Week 19: The fetus is getting stronger, and most people begin to feel kicks and punches.

Week 23: If born prematurely, the fetus may survive after the 23rd week with intensive care.

Week 32: Other than the lungs and brain, most other organs are well-formed and ready for birth.

Week 39: The fetus is full-term and ready to meet the world!

In our culture today the discussion over abortion is usually framed by the phrases Pro-life vs. Pro-choice. Some argue that a woman has the right to make choices in regard to her own body. In most cases that is true, but even the protections of the Bill of Rights are limited in any case where using one’s right causes harm to another person.

As stated previously, the scripture clearly teaches that life starts in the womb. At that point it is no longer a choice of a woman merely having control over her body. To end her pregnancy is to end the life of the unborn baby, the unborn person. 

As Christians who are subject to God’s Word this is the place that we must draw the line. We must champion the sanctity of life and the image of God in all people. This is not meant to be a simplistic solution to complicated life situations, but it is an effort to walk in truth and grace, convinced that as we walk in line with God’s Word that He will somehow provide for the needs of those who call out to Him. 

In recent times Roe vs Wade has been overturned. We praise God for the reversal of this law, but we cannot just approve and not be willing to step into the gap of those women who now face crisis pregnancies. That is why we are now partnering with the Houston Pregnancy Center. We seek to be part of the solution. As a church we must be willing to enter the fray bringing truth and grace to the situation. As donors, as volunteers, as pray-ers we must be willing to stand on behalf of the unborn, their mothers and their families.

At times, while fighting on behalf of the unborn, Christians have stripped the mother, who is considering having an abortion, of her sanctity and her dignity. We degrade, ridicule, judge, and condemn. We have claimed sanctity of life while showing the opposite.  In her moment of desperation, gentleness and compassion should be our way. 

In the midst of standing on the truths of scripture in regard to the sanctity of life and abortion, we must remember that we serve a gracious God who came to save the lost, heal the sick, deliver those in bondage. Those considering abortion are in a crisis. They are faced with a pregnancy that either they are others are wanting to end. At times it is a gut-wrenching decision. May we minister to them with truth and grace in such a way that we become part of the solution.

May we hear the words of Jesus as He defended the woman caught in adultery, “He who has no sin may throw the first sin.”

In our midst today there may be some who have actually had an abortion. If that is you, humble yourself before God, the one who makes all things new, whose grace is sufficient and whose love is unconditional. Bow before His throne and receive His forgiveness. May you know His healing and how precious you are to Him.

As we close I would like to share a story with you. When I was younger I used to teach high school. One day we had a woman come to share with our class. She told of being raised in the church, being a committed Christian and being part of the youth group. 

She went away to college. After being there for several years she returned home with an unplanned pregnancy. She had made a mistake with her boyfriend. She was humiliated, ashamed, afraid and not sure what the response would be once she arrived home.

I don’t remember everything that she told us that day, but I do remember what she said about her father. In the midst of the difficult days that followed he stood by her and faithfully loved her. That was not anything new. He had always loved her. But now it meant more. “Anyone can love us when we are lovely, but true love shows itself when we have fallen and need to be restored.”

May we be that type of church who have a firm grasp of both truth and grace. May we seek to draw out the image of God in each other. May we be that place of love for those who have fallen and need to be restored.