Recently, I witnessed a travesty. In the wake of the killings of George Floyd, well-intentioned pastors gathered at Atlanta’s state capitol to lament his death and speak out against injustice. Sadly, not one pastor shared the gospel.
No one mentioned Jesus is our only hope. No one mentioned the cross. No one spoke of our Savior who didn’t merely preach against oppression but who submitted to it for the salvation of souls. No one mentioned the hatred in our own hearts that testifies to our need for redemption.
I left that gathering sad not only about the loss of Floyd, Taylor, and Arbury, but sad about the state of so many, so-called churches today.
The Gospel Comes First
I long for churches to address injustice. One of my favorite pastors of old, Abraham Booth, boldly preached against the slave trade in eighteenth-century England. He joined the efforts of William Wilberforce to address a nation enslaved to the sin of slavery.
Booth knew the gospel comes first. He summarized the Good News as “mercy to the miserable” and “grace to the unworthy.” The core message of the church, the message that must flavor everything, the message that must permeate every sermon, the message that must be preached so clearly from our pulpits that no rational human being can leave our sermons without it ringing in his or her ears is simple: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15).
The church is a custodian of this message. To assume or ignore this message while calling the church to action—be it to protect unborn lives or black lives—is to implicitly reject our Savior’s own definition of eternal life: to know God the Father and God the Son (John 17:3).
Redemption is the message of the church. We must preach it since no other institution on the face of the planet is charged to protect and proclaim this Good News. The gospel comes first. If we ignore, downplay, skip over, or neglect Christ crucified we are consigning a world to hell and the world’s blood is on our hands.
But that’s not all . . .
The Gospel Bears Fruit
When we preach the gospel, we preach a powerful message. Everyone gripped by the saving truth of Jesus Christ will eventually care the way Jesus cares. Jesus is the One through whom and for whom everything was made (Col. 1:16).
Consider this: a three-week old baby, growing in the womb of a woman weaving rugs in Tunisia—that baby was made through and for Jesus. A sixteen-year old brown man who grew up in Atlanta’s projects and is now going to the DMV for his driver’s license—he was made through and for Jesus. A ninety-seven-year-old Alzheimer’s patient, friendless and alone in a state-run nursing home in Kansas—made through and for Jesus.
The fruit of the gospel is love for that unborn baby, love for that young brown man, and love for that senior.
The gospel is a crucified Savior. The gospel produces men and women who will fight for the well-being of those made in the Father’s image and for the Son’s glory. The fruit of the gospel is churches that live not only to see sinners saved but to see sinners loving and doing good to all (Mark 12:30–31; Gal. 6:10). Booth put it well when he said the gospel’s “natural tendency must be to produce and promote love to God, and love to man.” Pro-gospel churches will be saturated with pro-life Christians.
Down to Brass Tacks
Every pro-life sermon should be a pro-gospel sermon. To avoid the gospel when preaching on the sanctity of life is like avoiding the entrée when going out to dinner. Ridiculous.
Yes, Psalm 139:13–16 is a wonderful, pro-life passage. “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the day that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them” (v. 16). But don’t neglect the overarching point of the psalm. God searches and sees our hearts. He knows us intimately. He knows our sin, and he knows we need a Savior. Therefore, run to Christ as fast as you can. That’s the point of Psalm 139.
Yes, Ephesians 2:11–22 is another, wonderful pro-life passage. Christ created “in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace” (v. 15). Every life matters since Christ came for Jews and Gentiles. Every ethnicity has equal footing in the church of the living God (Gal. 3:28). But don’t neglect the overarching point of Ephesians: the reason we can be at peace with one another is because of the peace we have with God. Therefore, run to Christ as fast as you can.
We are living in a day and age where Christians are trying to make sense of how the gospel connects to everyday life. Christianity is not a pie-in-the-sky religion. It calls for change in the here-and-now. However, if our calls for change, if our pro-life advocacy ignores the gospel of Jesus Christ, we’ve failed entirely.
I was saddened that day in Atlanta to hear pastors say nothing of the gospel. But I’m encouraged by so many churches and pastors I know who are both pro-gospel and pro-life. That’s the way it should be since the two go hand-in-hand.
Aaron came to Mount Vernon Baptist Church in June 2008 after completing his Masters of Divinity in Biblical and Theological Studies and his Ph.D. in American Church History from Southern Seminary.
Prior to pastoral ministry, Aaron worked as a legislative assistant to the late U.S. Senator Mark O. Hatfield. After leaving his career in politics, he went on staff and served as an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. While in seminary, Aaron served as an elder and interim pastor at Third Avenue Baptist Church.
Aaron is the organizer and host of Feed My Sheep, an annual conference for pastors and church leaders in the Atlanta area. He also serves on the administrative team of the Greater Atlanta Baptist Network where he leads a monthly pastors fellowship.
In addition to pastoral ministry, Aaron is a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary (Atlanta), and the author of Character Matters: Shepherding in the Fruit of the Spirit (Moody, 2020) and Politics and Piety: Baptist Social Reform in America, 1770-1860 (Pickwick, 2014).