Life Is Sacred
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Life Is Sacred

Exodus 20:13  (ID: 1696)

The value that we place on human life is directly related to our view of God. Alistair Begg explains that because life is a gift from God and we have been created in His image, God is honored when we respect His image in one another. Viewed from this perspective, the requirements of the Sixth Commandment challenge our thoughts, words, and actions toward one another.

Series Containing This Sermon

Pathway to Freedom

Exodus 20:3–17 Series ID: 20501

Sermon Transcript: Print

Turn with me, if you would, to Exodus 20:13, where we find the sixth commandment. There are four words in English, two in Hebrew. The two words in Hebrew simply say, “No murder.” “No murder.”

In 1963, in Scotland, there were two convictions of murder. I remember I was eleven years old. I can remember one of them in particular, but there were only two in the whole year of 1963. Last year in Chicago there were eighteen every week. The sixth commandment is phenomenally relevant in our world today. The sixth commandment does not negate the death penalty—I’m not going to address that now—but the death penalty is actually found in Exodus 21:[12]. And Exodus 21:[12], which points out that “anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death,” is clearly not contradicting Exodus 20:13. But that’s another matter for another time.

I’d like to tackle this subject under four headings this morning: first of all, considering with you the matter of authority, and then the problem of hostility, and then the issue of sanctity. Actually, just three will be fine.

The Matter of Authority

First of all, then, the matter of authority. The matter of authority.

Fundamental to this sixth commandment, as with all commandments, is the issue of the existence of a personal creator God. In Exodus 20:2 you read, “I am the Lord your God.” And then, in verse 3, the phrase begins, “You shall have no other gods before me.” And the ability of God to bring this divine pronouncement upon his creation is directly founded upon the fact that he himself is none other than the Creator: “I am,” therefore, “You shall…”

The Bible tells us that the universe exists, and the reason that it has form and meaning is because it was created personally and purposefully by a creator God. The very fact of all that we see around us is, says the Bible, as a result of the existence of a God who personally and purposefully created each part and each aspect of all that is his own. The Bible goes on to say that mankind has been made in the image of God[1] and that there is a continuity between our finite selves and our infinite creator. And this infinite creator stands behind the universe and provides for it its final source of meaning.

It is on account of God’s creative handiwork that we have personality, that we have morality, that we have dignity, and that we have value. There is no other basis for the personality, morality, dignity, and value of man, save than that it is founded in the fact of this personal, infinite, creator God. Consequently, the Bible also teaches that there is a qualitative distinction between man (that is, men and women; I use “man” generically) and other organic life. We are not simply part of the animal kingdom. We are certainly not part of the flora kingdom.

Our “mannishness,” as Francis Schaeffer put it years ago, points out the very fact of our distinction with the rest of created order. “The mannishness of man.”[2] What does Schaeffer mean by that? Well, he means a number of things.

For example, he points to the creativity of man. He points out that it is man rather than the animals who have created art. We are the ones who do the flower arrangements. We are the ones who have created, all down through history, these magnificent objects for our perusal. We are the ones who have created supersonic aircraft, have built our buildings. You don’t see chimpanzees doing flower arranging. You don’t see gorillas flying Harrier Jump Jets, at least not… I haven’t seen them at all. And the very fact of our mannishness distinguishes us from the rest of the creative order.

In some strange way, our fear of death is an indication of the difference between ourselves and the rest of creation. The leaves on the trees have not been hanging up for the last month looking at one another and saying, “You know, I’m so afraid to fall off this branch here and get sucked up by that big thing. The prospect of this is awesome to me.” The leaves have no such notion at all. They’re obviously inanimate; they cannot think. And there is no apparent indication in the animal kingdom of there being much difference there.

The mannishness of man is revealed in our ability to verbalize. We are the ones who can speak. “Oh,” says somebody, “I saw something on 20/20, and they showed these two monkeys, and when they did this and that to them, the monkeys scratched here, and then it scratched here, and they had this big thing—it lasted thirty-five minutes—pointing out that the monkeys were speaking.” Get serious, huh? Okay? Now, we’re not going to deny their ability to communicate, but Shakespeare wasn’t a monkey, and no monkey wrote Shakespeare plays.

There is a distinction that is written in from the creative stamp of God. In the minds of men and women, our minds are able to conceive, they’re able to recollect, they are able to project. And in fact, no honest philosopher is going to deny this, because from the dawn of history, man has by his art and by his accomplishments distinguished himself from the rest of creation.

And we ought not to be in any doubt about this. We ought not to be confused about it. The Bible is very clear. It’s very ordered in what it teaches. God created. He is an infinite creator God. He made man. He distinguished man from the rest of the creative order. Man was made in the image of God, unlike the rest. Man was given a never-dying soul. And no other view of the world gives an adequate explanation of what we see around us.

Now, a view of the world is simply the answer to the question “Who am I, where did I come from, why am I here, where am I going, and does it really matter?” If you write those questions down on a sheet of paper, and then you write your answers to them, the things that you write as an answer are your worldview. That’s how you explain your existence, that’s how you explain the universe, that’s how you explain your world. And traditionally, the humanistic perspective of the Western world has been left struck dumb before these issues. The pantheistic worldview that has come from the East has also had little to say. And at this point in the late twentieth century, here in our Western world, as men and women have recognized that this kind of mechanistic, scientific rationalism holds no answers, they find themselves now on a quest for spirituality which will perhaps explain to them their reason for existence. So what we have is this strange amalgamation of Western individualism and Eastern mysticism, which produces some of the most unbelievably crazy nonsense that we have ever seen in the whole history of the nation.

But the Bible is really clear. The Bible is very clear. God is an authoritative God. God spoke and the world came into being. God is an infinite creator. God is personally involved with that which he has created. And behind this sixth commandment, “You shall not murder,” lies the authority of the creator God.

The Problem of Hostility

Now, the reaction to authority is one of hostility. That’s our second point: the matter of authority, the problem of hostility.

The problem of hostility is aptly summarized by Paul in Romans chapter 8 when, in the course of a wider argument, he makes it clear that the natural man, or the mind of sinful man, is hostile to God. Romans 8:6: “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” So we know a number of things, then, about men and women as created.

Number one, they have sinful minds, and they don’t like the idea that God is in control; therefore, they do not submit to God’s law, nor are they able, ultimately, to do so. They are controlled by their sinful natures, and therefore, they cannot please God. So instead of acknowledging God’s creative work, man chooses to believe instead that the universe has existed forever, in some form, and that its present form just happened as a result of chance events way back in time. So, Joan Baez, the grandmother of folk music, says we “are the orphans in an age of no tomorrows.”[3] We have no yesterday, we’ve got no tomorrow. We are lost in time. What is she doing? She’s expressing her view of the world.

The evolutionary concept of our existence starts with an impersonal beginning, plus time, plus chance. That’s the explanation. There was always something around; there was an impersonal force. Then we have the passage of time, and we have a number of chance occurrences, and then “Hey! Welcome to the world. Hey! Good morning! Glad you arrived, baby. Welcome to a meaningless, absurd universe. Your arrival is significant insofar only as it makes me feel certain emotions, but you have no reason to be at all, and we might as well tell you that right up front.” If we were honest, we would tell them that right up front, because it is that worldview which allows us to suck them out of the womb before they arrive, because we believe them to have no reason to exist, right up front.

Who expresses it best? I think Woody Allen. You know, he’s the guy who said, “It’s not that I’m afraid to die. It’s just that I don’t want to be there when it happens.”[4] He’s one of the saddest, most tragic clowns of the late twentieth century. His lifestyle is an expression of his worldview. The way he lives, the things he says, what he does, what he writes, what he acts is an expression of who and what he is. He’s honest in that respect. In Annie Hall, in a supposedly humorous line, he says mankind is left with “alienation, loneliness, [and] emptiness verging on madness. … Life,” he says, “is divided into the horrible and the miserable.”[5] So you’ve got two roads you can go: you can go the horrible road, or we have the miserable road. But the fact is that we’re all living on the verge, the cliff edge, of total madness.

Now, you think about it: just turn your newspapers over and read them, read some of the magazines and watch the news reports, and that doesn’t seem so far-fetched an idea, does it? It actually seems like we are living on the verge of total madness. So much of what goes on around us, we say, “This is unbelievable! This is insanity!” Why? Because the law of God, the Maker’s instructions that are here for all of time, have been taken, closed, shelved, stuck in a museum, and we, the modern men and women, will carry on fine by ourselves, thank you very much. We will live with an impersonal beginning plus time plus chance, and we’ll make sense of it ourselves.

Neither pragmatism nor emotionalism is able to stand against the tide of the present devaluation of human life.

The problem of the rejection of God’s authority is the problem of man’s hostility. Paul Gauguin, is it? Is that how you pronounce his name? I’m not good at the pronunciation of these names. I think that’s him—the painter. Before he tried to commit suicide after his final painting, he scrawled on his painting, “Whence come we? What are we? Wither do we go?” He says, “What’s the point of all this stuff? Where did I come from, why do I exist, and where am I going?” The answer of modern man to “Where do I come from?” is “Nowhere.” “Why do you exist?” “No reason.” “Where are you going?” “No Place. PS: Have a nice life!”

Why do we labor this? Why am I taking time to say this? Because listen, loved ones, this morning: unless we understand that this is the essential difference between ourselves and our nonbelieving friends, unless we understand the perspective of our neighbors and our colleagues who study with us in university and walk the halls with us and take business trips with us and who play ball with us, unless we understand where the discrepancy lies in our thinking and we are able to dialogue concerning that truth, all we will ever be left with is sloganeering and a kind of knee-jerk reactionism.

And frankly, conservative evangelicalism has got sloganeering down to a fine art. We know the slogans we’re supposed to shout, because somebody on the radio told us what we’re supposed to shout. They told us which box we’re supposed to tick. They gave us the preprogrammed material for what conservative evangelicalism believes. And then we’ll just tick all that, and we’ll make those phone calls and call all those people, and we don’t know why in the world, necessarily, we will, but we will, because it’s what you’re supposed to do. Meanwhile, our friends, they’re getting their stuff sent to them to tick their box, make their phone call, embrace their cause, and do their deal. Until we recognize what underpins the convictions, we can’t dialogue at all concerning it.

Now, if you think about it, neither pragmatism nor emotionalism is able to stand against the tide of the present devaluation of human life. I’m going to say that to you again, ’cause you didn’t get that, I know. Pragmatism, on the one hand, which simply says, “I don’t think we should kill anybody because of the utilitarian idea”—you know, “Don’t kill them. We’ll have to put them somewhere.” All right? So there’s a utilitarian notion in it: “I don’t think we should kill people, ’cause it’s not a nice idea.” Or emotionalism: “Well, I… No, I don’t think so.” Okay? Neither pragmatism nor emotionalism can stem the tide of the devaluation of human life. ’Cause there are a lot of pragmatists around, there are a lot of emotionalists around, and a lot of radicals still left over from the ’60s. Now, the guys from the ’60s, they were really radical about peace and life and love and everything, right? Could they do it? No, they couldn’t do it! Because they had radicalism without roots. They had a program without principles.

So how is it possible, then, for this transformation to take place? There needs to be the principles, a firm set of principles, expressive of a biblical worldview, providing an adequate reason for the unique value of all human life. That then provides the substance and the basis for us exalting the sanctity of life and seeking to correct those who would devalue human existence. Until we engage our friends and our neighbors in that kind of dialogue—our agnostic friends and neighbors—then we’re not having any discussion with them at all. Do you know that?

The whole abortion debate is not a debate. It’s a rabble. It’s one group on one side shouting their slogans and another group on the other side shouting their slogans. And we need to understand that the reason this individual shouts this way—I don’t accept it, but I know why they do: because they believe that the existence of man began in an impersonal way, plus time, plus chance. They believe that man is simply a Social Security number. He is a unit. His significance is only in the spectrum of the utility of his life. As long as it is going well, and as long as he’s not sick, and as long as he likes it, then he will continue with it. But if he grows sick, or he doesn’t like it, or he needs to curtail it, then he will pull the plug on it, or someone else will do it for him. We’ve got to show them that the reason they believe that is because their perspective on the world is wrong. They are logically illogical. There is a logic within their closed view, but their closed view is wrong.

We need at the same time to be able to articulate to our agnostic friends that we are not simply about crusades for certain slogans and ideas, but the reason that we uphold the sixth commandment and the sanctity of human life is because, unlike them, we believe that there was a moment in time, a millisecond, in which a creator God, who has always existed, made creation. And as a result of that, he established in the creation of man morality, a sense of right and wrong; dignity, as having been made in his image; personality, as distinct from the rest; and intrinsic value because of who he is.

Now, we then need to go on, as they will say, “Well, how in the world did we get in the predicament in which we find ourselves?” Then we will move from Genesis chapter 1 and chapter 2 into Genesis chapter 3, and we will show how the fall of man leaves men and women today in a world not the way that God created it, not the world that God intended, but the world in the way in which man has spoiled it.

You see, our neighbors… I drove behind a car yesterday that it said, “Pro-family, pro-kids, pro-choice.” Okay? All right? Now, don’t all start nodding your head like a bunch of knee-jerkers. Listen a minute! Listen! That was driven by a young couple. Now, why do they say that? They say that—presumably, if we could engage them in dialogue—because of what their view of the world is. Now, we know that that’s biblically wrong, but we need to shut up long enough to allow them to talk out their notions which underpin it; to dismantle for them, graciously and kindly, the silly non sequiturs in their argument; and to share with them the wonder of a personal creator God who has revealed himself in Jesus. Because the only hope is the redemption of their lives, not the instruction of their minds. And if we think to win by shouting louder, we’re crazy.

Now, if this is too philosophical for us this morning—this is philosophical theology or theological philosophy—I want you to know that I’m looking forward to this afternoon to talking to some fourth- and fifth-grade children here in the church. And the kind of questions that they have asked me—I’m supposed to answer all these questions between five thirty and six thirty—are questions like “Who created God?” “Why was God never born?” “Did God really die?” “Does God love Satan?” “When Jesus died, if Jesus is God, why didn’t everything go crazy and out of control?” So, for those of you who want to have a Christian experience that can be reduced to seven little slogans to make you happy, five verses that you learned, carry on your way. But I’ve got to tell you that the kids in your house are asking more sensible questions than many of us are even thinking about. And they are our tomorrow. They are our children. And they are on the forefront of these issues.

The Sanctity Matter

Now, the authority matter, the hostility matter, and the sanctity matter. Let’s come to the issue, then, of the sanctity of life.

The sanctity of life is underpinned by this view of the world—by the fact that God is Creator, that he is personally involved, that man is hostile to that truth, but it doesn’t alter the fact of the sanctity of life. Human life is sacred, says the Bible, first, because it is God’s gift, and secondly, because man bears God’s image. You can read of this in Genesis 1 and Genesis 9. Human life is the most precious and sacred thing in all the world, and to end it or to direct its ending is God’s prerogative alone. So we honor God by respecting his image in each other, which means consistently preserving and furthering the welfare of one another, especially as it relates to life.

Human life is the most precious and sacred thing in all the world, and to end it or to direct its ending is God’s prerogative alone.

Well then, how is this commandment broken? Let me suggest four ways in which the commandment is broken.

Number one, it is broken by homicide. Consider how little regard there is for human personhood when daily in each of our cities men and women are blown away, drugged out, dragged out, drowned, destroyed simply as a matter of course—when, despite the tourism factor, the word is abroad in Europe: “Forget Disney World. That’s not a smart place to go for your vacation. If you stop for a picnic, it may be the last thing you ever do.”

I was just in Los Angeles last week. They tell me that they have stopped firing now from the bridges across the freeway. What they’re doing is rolling their window down and throwing pipe bombs though the windows of the cars that drive beside them. Can it be that eleven- and twelve-year-old boys in a shopping center in Liverpool see another little child, a three- or a four-year-old, come with his mom to the store, lure him away with sweets, and beat him to a bloody pulp? Yes!

The meaningless absurdity of life without God leads to the tragic destruction of human existence. Once you break the link between a personal creator God and his creation, once you dismantle the first eleven chapters of Genesis, you are left with the most unbelievable implications. And that’s where we’re living our lives. Behind a facade of wisdom we have become the foolish people of our world. We know that the Jeffrey Dahmer incident was disgusting. Our minds recoil from the very pictures that were contained in some of the descriptions in our newspapers and some of the interviews on our TV. And we stand back from that, and at the same time we turn around and watch countless millions flood their way into cinemas all across the nation to watch the cannibalistic adventures in Silence of the Lambs. It doesn’t shock me that that exists. What shocks me is that the average Mr. and Mrs. X in our culture are prepared to expose themselves to such unbelievable degradation of human existence. That is the real indication of the depth to which our decadent culture is coming.

So, homicide reveals it.

Secondly, suicide reveals the breaking of the sixth commandment—the act of willfully causing one’s own death. The suicide, in making himself the object of murder, still remains the subject of it. Suicide offends against community, in that we don’t have the right to deprive others of us. That’s not pride to say that; that’s just true. We don’t have the right to deprive our families of us or our friends of us. That is not our right. Suicide offends against human dignity, because if you think it out, if sin is to do what we please—to decide the purpose of our lives without rendering account to anyone else—then suicide is the ultimate realization of that dream. Because in suicide more than in any other act, we defiantly say, “I am the master of my own destiny.” It is the ultimate expression of freedom, from one perspective, selfishness on the other, and futility at the end of the line.

The Bible says—Ezekiel 18:4—God says, “All souls are mine.”[6] First Samuel 2:6: “It is the Lord who kills and the Lord who brings back to life.”[7] And yet the locals in Waterford Township, Michigan, know of Paulsen Street. They call that there “The Road of Death,” because it is there that the man by the name of Kevorkian has enabled some fifteen or more people to go into eternity. And when you read the list, you discover that of the fifteen listed here, five of them were in their forties, four of them were in their fifties, and only one had reached the age of eighty. Kevorkian, expressive of his worldview and of his major ego, says, “‘Everyone is a phony’”—that is, everyone except him. “Doctors are ‘socially criminal.’ Legislators are ‘barbarians,’” and “church officials are ‘religious fanatics.’”[8] Hearing of a man who had killed himself with a shotgun blast, Kevorkian responded by saying, “It makes me mad that people feel they have to shoot themselves. Imagine what a blast that made,” he says. “You don’t see the tragedies. … What … are we doing? Nobody cares.”[9] Therefore, “Mrs. Stewart, put on this mask and all will be well.”

Where does that come from? How do people process information? That is a mind that is hostile to God. That is a Romans 8:7 mind. The mind is hostile to the authority of God. It rejects the authority of God. It rejects the notion that God personally created, that he is interested in his creation. And every one of us reacts to say it disgusts and disappoints us to see a man so abjectly suffering that he blows his own life into oblivion. We agree with that. We agree with the problem of a lack of care. We agree with the issue of emptiness and loneliness and a sense of alienation. But the answer of the Christian is not “Here, wear the mask.” The answer of the Christian is “Here, meet the Christ, the one who is touched with the feelings of our infirmities, the one who is the answer to the deepest longings of our lives, the one who endured death in order that we might discover life.” And yet suicide and the destruction of life is on the ascendency. This is not going to go away. And bar a revival in our country, this will get worse.

The American Hospital Association says, “70 percent of the six thousand deaths in hospitals every day are a result of some decision such as halting or withholding of treatment. And some doctors say they routinely give their dying patients the means to take their own lives, but only after determining a patient isn’t just depressed or in need of new medicine.” Doctor John Flexner, a Vanderbilt Medical School Professor who teaches death, dying, and bereavement courses—he teaches death, dying, and bereavement courses—says, “If a terminal patient wants to die,” there is a way he can help. “I say, ‘I’m giving you this prescription medicine and this sleeping pill. And for God’s sake, don’t ever take them together, and never take too many of them, because that would kill you.’” And so the person walks out the door, and as soon as the will-o’-the-wisp fancy comes across the computer screen of their mind, having been provided by the doctor who teaches death, dying, and bereavement courses, they slip one of the pills, the rest of the medication, and then what happens? They stand before the bar of God’s judgment.

The raging debate over the beginning of life should not be viewed as a matter of scientific or technical judgment. It is a moral issue.

See, they don’t believe that. They believe that they go to oblivion. It is appointed to man once to die,[10] and after this comes nothing. See, now, that’s their worldview. So, they are consistent with their worldview: “I don’t like it here. I’m unhappy here. Nobody cares for me here. There is no purpose in my existence. There is no fear in my going. Therefore…” Final exit.

Do you understand why I belabored the first point? Because until we understand these things and engage our neighbors and our friends in that kind of dialogue, they will continue to live with their rhetoric, which is foolish and devastating.

Now, I need to say this before I move on and draw this to a close. Some of you are sitting out there saying, “Well, you know, I remember some years ago, when I sat with my loved one in the hospital, and it became clear to all of us that there was no possibility of there being any restoration in this individual’s life. We were guided by a caring physician who said that as long as we kept that gadgetry up there—all that technical, medical wizardry—all that we were doing was prolonging the experience of dying. We were certainly not extending the reality and sanctity of life. The physician said that if we were to withdraw the extraordinary means, then we would allow nature to take its course.” And that’s what you did, and that’s right. Physicians all down through the years have done that. And that is death with dignity. It’s not a euphemism for euthanasia.

Thirdly, abortion breaks the sixth commandment. The raging debate over the beginning of life should not be viewed as a matter of scientific or technical judgment. That’s the first thing you need to say. It is a moral issue. The reason that our godless friends are so concerned to say that a fetus is not a human being in any realistic sense is because they are still unprepared to say that it is wrong to murder children. Believe me, the day will come when they will decide it is okay to murder children. And on that day, the debate will be over about when human life begins. Because people will be honest enough to say, “We don’t care! We know it’s a child, we don’t want a child, and we are in control of things. There is no authority over us! There is no God who reigns! There is no personal creator! We were born without reason, we prolong our lives by chance, and we die in oblivion”[11]—Sartre. “Therefore, to be consistent within the framework of this worldview, there is no reason in the world why we ought not to go and take these intervention methods.”

The fact is, you and I know today that from any realistic objective perspective, we have to conclude that the fetus in the womb is, from the moment of conception, a human being in the process of arriving. The fact that for several months that fetus cannot survive outside the womb does not affect its right to the same protection which other human beings merit and which it will itself immediately merit as soon as it slips from the womb.

Dr. Jérôme Lejeune, the professor of genetics at the University of René Descartes in Paris—the guy who discovered the genetic basis for Down syndrome—says, “Life has a very, very long history, but each individual has a very neat beginning,” and that beginning is “the moment of … conception.”[12] Do you know that in the last twenty years there have been over thirty million abortions performed? Thirty million. Despite the fact that we are apparently wiser, better educated, and free, no previous generation has ever been as guilty of the wholesale rejection of the sixth commandment as ours.

Finally, the sixth commandment is broken by hidden murder. By hidden murder. Turn to Matthew chapter 5, and with this we conclude.

Some of us feel such a rising tide of moral indignation about the things that we’ve been studying that we’re about to go out and go crazy. We’re already applying this commandment to everyone else except us. Jesus knew that would happen. That’s why in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:21, he said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’” He says, “[But listen, I’ve got something to lay on you:] Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. … Anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Do you see what he’s saying there? He’s saying the same thing that we’re going to discover next Sunday morning about adultery. He’s saying, “You think because you managed to walk away from it in terms of any physical involvement, you’re clear?” He says, “Half of you are filthy adulterers in your mind, and you stand in face of judgment. You think because you have not been guilty of any of these things…”

And may I say in passing, there will be some who are here this morning, and you have been guilty of this. You have faced the issue of abortion. And I want to say this to you: God is merciful in relation to that as he is in relationship to everything else, and especially if your perspective was a worldview that was so warped before you came to faith in Christ. God understands that too. So I don’t want you to go out under any man-made burden of your own past. Don’t allow the devil to rummage around in your own areas of sin that has already been forgiven. If it has not been forgiven, then let’s talk and let’s pray.

But some of us are so proud of the fact that “Well, we never did that, and we never considered suicide, and I never shot anybody, I never banged anyone over the head.” Well, so what? Have you ever had a murderous thought? Did you ever drive away from a business meeting and say, “I’d like to kill that sucker”? Did you? Do you ever? Say, “You know what? I wish he would drop off the side of a cliff. You know what? The guy is a total empty-head.” That’s what “raca” means: empty-head, nincompoop, dog brain. “Anyone who says to his brother, ‘You are an empty-headed nobody,’ answers to the Sanhedrin, is guilty of judgment. And anyone who calls in question the morality and the character of an individual by saying, ‘You fool!’—namely, ‘You moral moron’—will be in danger of the fires of hell.”

So just because I haven’t shed someone’s blood, I’m not innocent. My heart has known murder. I’ve harbored thoughts that are as foul as a murder. Contemptuous anger has ugly bedfellows: animosity and malice and hostility, and our old favorite, gossip, whereby we kill people all the time. From great distances we spread the news. Out of the same mouth, as James says, comes the blessing of God and the cursing of our neighbors.[13] And every time I gossip, what I’m saying is, “This person did something or said something that I am incapable of.” And so I put them down, and I elevate myself, and I face the fire of hell.

And as hard as it is for us conservative evangelicals to understand and accept this, in the economy of God, nobody will go to a deeper hell as a result of having had an abortion than will the person who called his brother a moral moron or an empty-headed, dog-brained idiot that he wished would die. Sin is sin! And we have our little evangelical cozy ones, none better than gossip, whereby we malign, and we criticize, and we disfigure, and we desecrate, and we diminish the relevance and status and stature of our friends, and our brothers, and our sisters, and even our family. Jesus said, “Hey, smart guys! Hey, Pharisees! When you finish your talk on suicide, abortion, and homicide, remember Matthew 5:21. If you want to play that game,” he says, “by dealing down one another in the realm of gossip and harmful words, then you’re as guilty as the fires of hell.”

This law is not a ladder up which we climb to forgiveness, but it is a mirror in which we see ourselves in need of a Savior.

Concluding comment: those of us who are trying so hard to be good in studying these Ten Commandments must be just about out of our brains by now. Right? Those of us who have somehow continued to believe that we are able to conform to God’s righteous demands, we’ve been thinking this: “I didn’t do well on the first. Second, not so good. Third, bad! Fourth, horrendous! Fifth, my mother, I never called her. Sixth, I’m in deep trouble now!” Okay? So, some of us are sitting here, it’s like we’re sitting on a gigantic nail about seven inches long, and this idea of making ourselves satisfactory to God is an impossible dream. These commands make us squirm in our seats. And what they do to us is they say, “I’m not even going to try this anymore. I hate this stuff! I’m messed up so bad, I’m not even going to try and make myself acceptable and pleasing to God.” And that’s the end of the line.

But listen: those of us who have given up on the idea of using these demands as a means of making ourselves acceptable to God, as a means of achieving a right standing before God, we now recognize that it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit within our lives to conform us to the will of God, so that in obeying these commands, we’re not seeking peace with him, but we are finding pleasure in him. And there’s all the difference in the world. Although we fail, although we will never conform to the law perfectly in heart and mind and action, the new life that God has secured for us and given to us in Christ will enable us not only to tell our neighbors about this transformation but to show our neighbors the transformation.

This law is not a ladder up which we climb to forgiveness, but it is a mirror in which we see ourselves in need of a Savior. Have you ever come to Christ and turned over your life to him as Savior and Lord and King? You may today.

Let us pray.

Don’t leave here this morning unsure of these things. Our prayer room is open, there are people there. We would love to meet with you, talk with you concerning the forgiveness that there is in Jesus.

May the grace, mercy, and peace that comes from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one, today and forevermore. Amen.

[1] See Genesis 1:26–27; 9:6.

[2] Francis A. Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1972), 21.

[3] Joan Baez, “The Hitchhiker's Song” (1971).

[4] Woody Allen,Without Feathers(New York: Random House, 1975), 99. Paraphrased.

[5] Annie Hall, directed and written by Woody Allen (Beverly Hills, CA: United Artists, 1977), quoted in C. Everett Koop and Francis A. Schaeffer, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, rev. ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1983), 79–80.

[6] Ezekiel 18:4 (KJV).

[7] 1 Samuel 2:6 (paraphrased).

[8] Gannett News Service, “Kevorkian ‘Patients’ Travel Road to Death,” The Californian, February 22, 1993.

[9] Gannett News Service.

[10] See Hebrews 9:27.

[11] Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea (1938). Paraphrased.

[12] The Human Life Bill: Hearings before the Subcommittee on Separation of Powers of the Committee on the Judiciary, 97th Cong. 8 (1981) (statement of Jérôme Lejeune, professor of fundamental genetics, Medical College of Paris, France).

[13] See James 3:10.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.