The flood of bad news easily overwhelms us these days. Some of us are old enough to remember when we did not know who was doing what to whom in Iceland right at the moment but we live in a world when we know these things now. In North America, we live in an upside-down world in which acts and relationships that were illegal only a few years ago are now not only legal but those who do them demand that we not only tolerate them but approve of them. Most recently, the State of New York amended its abortion laws to permit abortions by a “health care practitioner licensed, certified, or authorized under title eight” to abort the life of an infant up to “twenty-four weeks from the commencement of the pregnancy” or when the infant is no longer viable or when the abortion is “necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.” The legislature also repealed legal protections for infants after twenty-four weeks of gestation. It is no longer a homicide to abort an infant up to the point of delivery. The new law is explicit that infants in utero are not considered legal persons. This is a remarkable revision of New York law because it comes after and in light of contemporary medical technology that allows physicians to see infants in utero in remarkable detail and to perform surgery on them in utero before twenty-four weeks.
Explicitly denying personhood to a human being, upon whom neonatal surgeons are performing medical procedures, who have human DNA, who were conceived by humans, who gestate within a human mother, who are otherwise treated as humans medically is simply bizarre. Our knowledge of human development has never been greater or clearer. The viability of infants who are born prematurely has never been greater. On March 14, 2018 Cullen was born in Alabama at twenty-two weeks. He was just over 13oz. He went home in August. In Alabama, Cullen is regarded as a human being. In New York law he is not and subject to abortion under the deliberately broad and vague “health” exception. This law and the celebration surrounding its signing puts one in mind of the language used by the Apostle Paul about the pagans of the ancient world.
17Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20But that is not the way you learned Christ! (Eph 4:17-20; ESV)
Paul draws a sharp contrast between the pagans and the Christians. This is part of the Jewish “two ways” tradition of analyzing the world. See the book of Proverbs for a classic expression of this approach. Our Lord used this analysis regularly as did James. Paul applies it here to the spiritual state of believers as distinct from pagans.
Paul speaks to the Ephesians solemnly. He testifies (μαρτύρομαι) “in the Lord.” This is not his private opinion. This is God’s Word through Paul to the Ephesian church. “To walk” is a metaphor for “to live.” We do not conduct ourselves like the pagans. Our way of life is distinct because our religion, our understanding of God, ourselves, our salvation, and of the world is distinct from that of the pagans. Their minds are “in futility” or “vanity.” By the sovereign grace of God, ours are not. God has regenerated our minds, our hearts, and our wills. He has made us new persons and a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). The pagan understanding is “darkened.” There are truths and realities that they simply cannot see until God gives them sight to see. Here Paul is teaching just what our Lord said to Nicodemus: “You must be born again” (or born from above; John 3:7). By God’s free grace, we who believe do so because “we have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3, 23).
In contrast, the pagans are “alienated from the life of God.” By God’s grace, we are no longer so alienated. Once upon a time, we were so alienated but now, by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, we who were strangers have been brought near to God. The dividing wall between Gentiles and Jews has been broken down. All who are in Christ are near to God because he has come near to them, in Christ and by his Holy Spirit (see Eph 2 [all]). The pagans are ignorant because their hearts are hard. This is not merely an intellectual problem. It is a spiritual problem. It is not a lack of information. This is the amazing thing. They have seen the same ultrasound images and the same video images as we. They can see that what is growing inside the mother is a human with arms, and legs and they celebrate the right to end that little human’s life anyway. The ignorance is not a lack of information but a lack of spiritual life within those who look at the images. There is no fear of God, no reverence for innocent life.
This spiritual blindness has consequences. Paul speaks of a “callousness.” That is an apt word for what we see too often in the news. People lash out at others in acts of mass violence without any regard for life because they are hurt and angry. They have lost any sense of empathy for others. People kidnap innocent women and children and sell them into slavery because they are callous.
The grotesque things we see in the news are fruits of spiritual darkness. Paul knew whereof he spoke. He did not live in a monastery. He sold tents in the market. He heard everything. He saw everything. When he wrote that the pagans are “greedy” for more “sensual” experience he was describing what he saw with his own two eyes. He heard others in the market talking about what they were going to do when they closed up shop. He knew what took place at their parties.
Paul’s account of the difference between belief and unbelief, between spiritual life and spiritual death is so sharp and vivid because he remembered how the world looked before the Lord softened his calloused heart and opened his blind eyes. He knew that he was utterly dependent upon the free, sovereign grace of God for all that he now had: new life and true faith and through faith, union and communion with Christ.
So it is with all of us who believe. God has sovereignly given us new life. That is why we believe. We see only because God opened our eyes. We grieve for the life of legally innocent infants taken in pursuit of pleasure and autonomy only because of the grace of God in our hearts, minds, and wills. We have, by grace alone, “learned Christ.” We now seek to live “in Christ” because Christ lived, died, and was raised for us.
We do not look at those who celebrate the new abortion law in New York as those who have no sin. We mourn and we hope that God the Spirit will convict them of their sin as he has convicted us who believe. We pray that he will give them new life as he has given it to us. We pray that he will give us grace to walk in a way that is worthy of the grace we have received so that the world might see that we have indeed “learned Christ.”
—R. Scott Clark, Escondido.