When I first encountered the following quote on a popular pro-life blog, I had to do a double take and reread it in full context.
Remember that these abortionists are misguided. They are sinners, just like you and me. And they are also REDEEMABLE. They are not our enemy. Our enemy is the sin of abortion.
These misguided souls are our brothers and sisters in Christ, whether you like it or not. Let this be a reminder to pray for their conversion with increased fervor.
If you don’t believe that these abortionists featured in “After Tiller” can experience a conversion, then you don’t know the same God I do. The God I serve is in the business of miracles.
On one hand Abby Johnson says abortionists are “our brothers and sisters in Christ.” Then she asks us to “pray for their conversion.” Although tempered with some truth, this is a serious error.
First, people who are unrepentant and murder children for a living are not our “brothers and sisters in Christ.” No Christian disagrees that an abortionist can repent and experience the love and grace of Jesus Christ. No one disagrees that our enemy is sin and the devil. But are abortionists already our “brothers and sisters in Christ” because they may be redeemable? Of course not!
Second, the idea that abortionists are simply “misguided souls” who are “just like you and me” belies a deep underlying misunderstanding of what is meant by “conversion” and “salvation.” While it is true that believers in Jesus Christ are sinners in that we fall into sins of omission and commission, to equate the abortionist’s unrepentant sin of child murder with the struggle that believers wage against sin is a shocking perversion of the Gospel.
The Word of God itself makes a strong delineation between those who love God and those who hate Him. What does the Word of God say about those who are unregenerate and not yet converted to Christ?
- They are slaves to sin (Romans 6:17).
- They are haters of God (Romans 1:30).
- They are haters of Christ (John 15:18-20).
- They are haters of Christ’s followers (Matthew 10:22).
- They are children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).
- They are children of the devil (1 John 3:10).
While it is true that we are all sinners and deserve hell, the doctrine of “total depravity” does not mean that each sinner is as bad as he can possibly be. Nor does it mean that all sins are equally as abominable in the sight of God. In fact, the “shedding of innocent blood” is singled out many times in Scripture as something that God especially hates (cf. Proverbs 6:17). That is not to whitewash the nature of sin in general. In fact, in order for there to be the “Good News,” there must first be the “Bad News.” By nature, we have hearts that are hardened toward God both by our sinful nature and a lifetime of sinful actions that add up with “compound interest.” This is a most radical corruption.
Jeremiah 17:9 – The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Romans chapter 3:10-18 is the famous passage by the Apostle Paul that gives a litany of scriptures that show that non-believers are by nature at hateful toward God.
As it is written:
“There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”
“Their throat is an open tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit”
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
“Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Destruction and misery are in their ways;
And the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
From a modern perspective, this is “hateful” language toward sinners. In fact, liberal theologians have committed the error of stating that although Jesus preached love, it was that Pharisaical scoundrel, Saul of Tarsus, otherwise known as St. Paul, who lobbed a stink bomb into the newly born “religion of love.” Of course, liberals ignore the dozens of scriptures in which Jesus himself speaks of hellfire and eternal condemnation for those who will not enter the kingdom of God.
Softening the Heart – Is it Scriptural?
It is true that the Bible uses the hardening or softening of the heart as a metaphor for those who come to saving faith in God. There are dozens of scriptures that speak of this. But who is ultimately responsible for our salvation? It is the Lord himself who hardens and softens.
Exodus 7:3 – But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt.
Note that what God has decreed always comes to pass. God promised to harden Pharaoh’s heart and in response, Pharaoh hardened his own heart.
Exodus 8:15 – But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.
Then as a result of Pharaoh hardening his own heart, God hardened it to the point where he could not even hear the words of Moses and Aaron.
Exodus 9:12 – But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses.
Exodus 10:20 – But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go.
Throughout Scripture, we see it is the Lord who hardens and softens hearts.
Ezekiel 11:19 – I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.
Ezekiel 36:26 – And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
John 12:39-40 – Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”
Romans 9:18 – So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
No one by the strength of their own will has the power to soften their own heart so that God may account them “good enough” to merit salvation. Neither do Christians have the power to soften sinners’ hearts. Only God may do that. Although we can’t pretend to know the will of God perfectly, there is a simple way of understanding and applying this truth.
- If God has hardened the hearts of sinners, then harsh preaching will harden them more.
- If sinners are not convicted by the Holy Spirit of their sin, then soft preaching that affirms them in their sin will also harden them.
- If God has softened a sinner’s heart, then hard preaching will convict them of their sin and lead them to repentance.
- If the Holy Spirit has already convicted them of sin, then soft preaching might still serve to lead them accept the love and mercy of God – but it is still a deficient Gospel.
But the issue isn’t hard preaching vs. soft preaching. The objective is to preach a pure Gospel full of truth with a heart of love for all.
The Gospel tells us that we are all sinners and deserve nothing more than the wrath of God. Therefore, repentance of sin should be taught and preached. Those who are born-again as a result of hearing the Gospel are able to repent and believe. Christ’s perfect righteousness is imputed to us by grace through faith as a free gift. Our sins are imputed to Christ through His once and for all sacrifice. Our sins are all washed away by the blood Jesus shed on the cross. This is called justification. Not only are our sins forgiven – which is a great thing – but Christ also broke the power of sin in our lives at the cross. We are then sanctified or “made holy” as we continue to grow in grace.
This is true conversion.
By way of disclaimer, I am Reformed in my theology of salvation. However, none of what I’ve claimed here would have been foreign to the great scholars of the Catholic Church such as Augustine of Hippo or Thomas Aquinas, who certainly taught that we obtain salvation by the grace of God, who alone is able to change hearts. This would not have been foreign to the many popular Arminian preachers, such as John Wesley, Andrew Murray, A.W. Tozer or Leonard Ravenhill. They might disagree with a few of the above points, but they would certainly agree with the following.
Soft preaching can just as well “love” sinners into the pit of hell because it justifies them in their sin rather than pointing them to the cross. However, the message of the cross will always be offensive to those who are perishing. This is unavoidable. A cross-less message is a message that is powerless to save. Of course, we must preach out of a heart of love, having been forgiven ourselves, showing the grace and mercy of Christ we have received.
Truth vs. Experience
What of the charge that sidewalk preachers are hateful and ineffective because they and yell and scream at women?
First, “screaming” is a subjective term. In the few seconds that these preachers have to reach a women entering the front door of a death mill, there is a sense of urgency. There is wisdom crying out in the street (Proverbs 1:20-33).
Here in Orlando the sidewalk counselors use “truth horns.” At right is a picture of Reilly Sproul, who is R.C. Sproul Jr.‘s son (and R.C. Sproul’s grandson), pleading with abortion bound women at Orlando Women’s Center to save their babies. He is adopted. He is telling the women that his birth mother loved him enough to give him to a loving family and how much he loves his adoptive family. No one can doubt this is a precious example of God’s grace. I’ve seen God use all sorts of methods and demeanors to save lives such as Reilly Sproul’s.
I don’t make the presumption that anyone is wrong when they say sidewalk counselors need to be compassionate in their preaching. I do fault them for really bad theology when they presume to call people who are trying to save lives, “hateful” or a “cult” — as some have done on social media and elsewhere. I will continue to defend street ministers who preach the Truth against these attacks.
Second, it is never a legitimate argument to pit experience against biblical truth. Abby Johnson may be able to show a hundred converts to the pro-life cause out of a gentle and loving witness. I may be able to show in central Florida alone a few dozen true conversions to Jesus Christ who came through a loving witness that included some harsh words and confrontation. I can also show at least a few dozen abortion “doctors” who simply quit doing abortions after being exposed to their business associates, OB/GYN patients and neighbors as child murderers.
In her book, Targets of Hatred, abortion clinic owner, Patricia Baird-Windle, stated that the Aware Woman abortion center had a total of 24 abortionists over the years who chose to quit rather than be exposed as child killers by pro-life advocates. We don’t know for a fact whether any of them ever came to know Jesus Christ as their Savior. However, we need to face the reality that there will always be a reprobate element in this world. God hardens those whom He hardens. Note that Pat Windle titled her book, Targets of Hatred. In the end, she completely ignored the dozens of Christians who prayed for her conversion, talked to her one on one, and had nothing but a loving and long suffering attitude toward her.
One could argue that if a few had not been so harsh with Pat Windle or if others had just loved her more, then she could have been loved into the kingdom of heaven. But that is simply a false hope. It ignores a simple truth. We can harden our own hearts, but only God can soften our hearts. And despite the experience of those who have come to the Lord out of either hard love or soft love, our mandate is to preach the Gospel to all creation.
Sinners an active role in hardening their own hearts. What do we do then about those who have hardened themselves against God and will not ever be saved? Even in those cases when there is not true repentance, we can rejoice when an abortionist quits because babies will be saved. We don’t need to shed endless tears over the wicked who refuse to repent.
In fact, Jesus even commanded His apostles in Matthew 10:14, “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.”
This essentially means we should concentrate on those who have not yet heard the Gospel. This does not mean we cannot be long suffering with the wicked and continue to work for their salvation.
God can change the heart of the most hardened sinner. But it will not be due to our continual work to try to “soften” their heart by neglecting the hard sayings of Scripture. When the full Gospel is preached, then we have an assurance that souls are being won to Christ. With a deficient Gospel, we can never know if former abortionists aren’t simply being won to a “cause.”
I would like to believe that the pro-life movement will reform itself. Unfortunately, what I believe is that even the word “pro-life” will in time become irrelevant and meaningless as a description for defending all Persons who are created in the image of God. What is needed is not a simple reform, but a revolution, a 180 degree shift toward a biblical, Christ-centered ministry that will take the Gospel of Life to the gates of hell.