Heavy topic today. Can we lie to women who are seeking abortions, if by lying we increase the likelihood of saving the baby’s life? When this question came in, it immediately grabbed my attention. It’s a question from an anonymous woman. “Pastor John, hello and thank you for this podcast! I work in a crisis pregnancy center in a small community in the Bible Belt, helping meet the needs of pregnant women and single mothers. Along with providing access to clothing and parenting classes, we also share the glorious message of Christ’s work on the cross for sinners. It is our desire that expecting mothers make the right choice. I know God is sovereign, and only the Holy Spirit can make dead hearts come alive to make those right decisions. And this leads to my question.
“Our clinic has experienced pressure from volunteers and leaders, supported by local pastors, to pressure women and couples to ‘save the baby,’ or else the mother and father will be condemning their child to an eternal hell for withholding from them a chance to be born, live, and accept Christ as their Savior. You have made a strong case that babies who die or who are killed are saved. I’m thinking of APJs 514 and 684. The theology I hear in the clinic is wrong. And I think others in the clinic know it’s wrong too. I have come to now believe that this is an intentionally manipulative scare tactic, an ‘anything goes’ approach to the goal of saving lives. And that’s my question for you. Is it permissible to intentionally scare and manipulate mothers with untrue doctrine if it increases the likelihood that a baby will live?”
If this question were simply a yes-or-no question with no other implications, I’d probably skip it. I’d say, “Tony, let’s just move on because nobody wants to listen to an episode where I say, ‘No. Next question.’” But that is my short answer — namely, no, it’s not permissible. From a biblical point of view, from a Christian point of view, it is not permissible to intentionally scare and manipulate mothers with untrue doctrine in order to increase the likelihood that a baby will live. No.
And I’m not just focusing on the “scare and manipulate” part — that’s bad enough. When I say no, I’m mainly focusing on the use of untrue doctrine — doctrinal falsehoods, lies — in the service of a guess as to whether a child’s life will be saved. In other words, I’m saying no to making a practice of lying about sacred things in order to increase — according to our own human guesswork — the possibility that a child would not be aborted. I’m saying no to that.
But the reason I’m willing to say more about this question (rather than just no) is that there are wider cultural implications behind that question as I hear it. This practice of bending or marginalizing or flatly contradicting serious, biblical, moral considerations in a human-invented so-called “life-saving strategy” has taken root in American Christianity in recent years with harmful effects that we have scarcely seen the end of. In other words, I don’t think this particular practice of compromising moral means to accomplish hoped-for good ends is the only case we’re facing.
Workers for the Truth
So, let me try to say something about this kind of strategy against that wider cultural situation. The biblical reality at stake — the biblical reality at the root of the issue — is that God is a God of truth “who never lies” (Titus 1:2). “Let God be true though every one were a liar” (Romans 3:4).
And consequentially, his people are people of truth. We are “fellow workers for the truth” (3 John 8). We “speak the truth with [our] neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25). “For we cannot do anything against the truth” (2 Corinthians 13:8). We “do not lie to one another” (Colossians 3:9). We do not join the devil in his nature, for “when he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
“To think we can borrow the devil’s strategy of deception to save life is going to backfire.”
Truth is at the heart of who God is and at the heart of who we are as his people. So, a so-called “life-saving strategy” built on regular deception is utterly contrary to who God is and who we are as his people. It aligns us with the devil, who is not only a deceiver from the beginning but also a murderer. So, to think we can borrow the devil’s strategy of deception to save life is going to backfire, and we are going to be found serving his purposes, not God’s.
Against Every Evil
Now add to this basic truth about God and his people the biblical abhorrence of doing evil that good may come — in other words, coming up with human strategies that involve moral compromise in order to pursue human guesses that more good will come in that way. The Bible opposes that presumption.
For example, the apostle Paul defends himself against that very accusation in Romans 3:5–8:
If our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come? — as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.
Wow. When people accuse Paul of teaching that we may do evil so that good may come, he’s angry. And he says, “Let them be condemned.” That’s serious.
Forsake the World’s Weapons
Later in Romans 6:1, he asks, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” And his answer is not just no. His answer is that it contradicts the very nature of who we are as new creatures in Christ. “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2). In other words, new creatures in Christ trust God with the outcomes of walking in Christian integrity and holiness. We trust God with the outcomes. Christians should not do evil that good may come. It’s a lack of faith. We should not embrace evil practices or evil people in the vain hope that such compromises will advance human-created strategies for doing good.
It is virtually certain that our duplicity will be exposed — indeed shouted from the housetops. And when it is, the undermining of Christian integrity may send more people to hell and more babies to the dumpsters than if we had spoken the whole truth, lived consistent lives of radical Christian integrity, loved others, made sacrifices, been willing to suffer, and prayed earnestly.
I think that one of the great needs of the hour is for Christians to stop compromising our biblical faithfulness by using the weapons of the world in the service of strategies that we think are more likely to do good because we have calculated that compromise will work.
Here’s a closing admonition from Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:3–4: “Though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” God is able to make consistent, humble, trusting, sacrificial obedience have vast, soul-saving, life-giving effects beyond all our human calculations of what good may come through compromise.