Post-abortion men and women have the same problem I do: There’s really nothing we can do to turn away the righteous wrath of almighty God. People who are "dead" in their sins can't possibly help themselves before the bar of Divine justice. Someone else must take the rap for us. Thankfully, someone has.
The starting point for human healing begins with the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A holy God designs a good world where the humans He made to worship Him and enjoy communion with Him forever willfully rebel against their creator. Although these rebel humans deserve God’s almighty 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-abortion men and women need this gospel. With it, they live each day assured God accepts them based on Christ’s righteousness not their own. They experience unspeakable joy knowing their past, present, and future sins are not counted against them. Yes, the Gospel is good news, but it can’t be had on the cheap. As James R. White points out, “God’s love shines with its full and proper glory only when it is seen in its biblical context—against the backdrop of God’s holiness and hatred of sin.”
The Bad News…We’re All Sinners
Man’s 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.
“There is no one righteous, not even one. …All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:10, 23).
But the bad news is even worse than we first imagine. As John Piper points out, “the problem is not that we have all done acts that are sinful, but that we are sinful…By nature we are rebellious, disobedient, and hardened against God.” Left to ourselves, 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). We don’t seek God and we don’t want to seek Him. We’re getting exactly what we deserve.
But wait…There’s Good News
After leaving no doubt about man’s true condition, Paul sets forth the remedy. The only hope for sinful man is “The righteousness of God that comes through faith.” (Romans 3: 21) God accepts us based on Christ’s righteousness, not our own. Though we were dead in our transgressions and sins and objects of His wrath, God did what we could not do for ourselves. He made us alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5). “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” As a result, we’re saved from the wrath we justly deserve (Romans 5:6, 9). That’s great news for the repentant sinner, but it’s not the message most people want to hear. 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 judicial guilt until, through a miracle of grace, we renounce all hope of justifying ourselves:
Mankind has a terrible problem, and the apostles left no doubt as to the fix: “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
A gifted friend and colleague responsible for saving countless unborn lives once explained his motivation for pro-life activism this way (paraphrase). “Jesus gave a very clear answer 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 so 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.
The 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 almighty 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 rap for us and provide the righteousness we don’t have.
Thankfully, 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. The work is totally His. 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, I'm the worst sinner I know, and I deserve only wrath and judgment. 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 judicial guilt before God is the righteousness of Christ applied to my account. I stand only in Him. With that in mind, I approach Christian service not from a sense of guilt, but gratitude. I'm doing a whole lot better than I deserve thanks to the sin-bearing work of Christ on my behalf.
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.
“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?”
Martin Luther's legendary dunghill example as explained by James R. White answers the question decisively not only for post-abortion women, but for all true Christians. In 15th century Germany, farmers, needing a way to fertilize their fields, would pile up refuse from their farm animals. These dunghills dotted the landscape leaving a stench that was anything but attractive. Luther allegedly used this commonplace example (though we are not sure where he used it) to demonstrate the difference between justification and sanctification. According to the illustration, our sinful state is like a dunghill: ugly and offensive, having nothing that would commend it to anyone, let alone God. Justification is like the first snowfall of winter that covers everything, including the dunghill, in a blanket of pure white. The smell is gone. The repulsive sight is gone. The dunghill is still intrinsically a dunghill, but now it’s covered.
Likewise, 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. Our behavior and 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! No longer are we God’s enemies, but His own adopted and dearly loved children. My message to this hurting post-abortion 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!”
If that does not make us want to shout for joy, no matter how bad our past and present difficulties, I’m afraid nothing will!
Permit me one final example, one relayed 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 all sinful human beings who desire reconciliation with God, your place is at the foot of the cross.
Here’s how to get started.
First, stop making excuses. If you are a woman who conceded to have an elective abortion, stop blaming your boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, or husband. If you are that boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, or husband, stop blaming the woman you impregnated. Step up and admit that you took a human life and that you did so without justification. But don’t stop there, because your problem is a whole lot worse than you imagine. Not only do you do bad things (like participate in abortion decisions), but the Bible also says that you are bad by nature. The whole disposition of your thoughts and attitudes are in open rebellion against God, your creator. You’re 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. The 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. There’s only one solution: You need a substitute who can pay the debt for your sin and live the life of perfect obedience God requires. Thankfully, Jesus did both so that you could be completely forgiven. True, once you experience forgiveness, 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 (which, in light of your own sinfulness, isn’t very good at all).
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 is 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. Consider reading C.J. Mahaney’s Living the Cross Centered Life and Jerry Bridges The Gospel for Real Life. Both will help you learn the foundation upon which your new faith is built.