I run. Early in the morning you’ll often find me, western Pennsylvania weather permitting, hitting the streets of my neighborhood just as the sun is starting to rise. But before reading further, I recommend looking at the first sentence of this paragraph again. Despite its brevity, a lot of thought went into it. I very deliberately didn’t write, “I’m a runner.” To be a runner connotes a sense of skill that eludes me. Real runners have specific gear they like and strong opinions about sneaker brands. They rattle off their longest distance or their fastest run and proudly display marathon bumper stickers. As someone whose preferred physical activity is turning the pages of a book, running is something I do for health. But, comparing myself to people who really are runners, I don’t think I would ever describe myself as such.
How to Define a Pro-Lifer
We naturally define ourselves by what we do in this world, be that in work, academics, or extracurricular activities. But I often find that we limit that definition by comparing ourselves to others—by seeing what we are not doing in comparison to what others choose to do. And I find this to be the case in life ministry as well. Let me ask you—would you define yourself as a pro-lifer? If you are reading this blog, I have to assume you believe that life is sacred and should be protected. But would you define yourself as pro-lifer? Many people would be more comfortable saying, “I am a Christian, so I affirm Life,” or “I oppose abortion,” but would not define themselves as pro-lifers. Because you have a certain idea about what a pro-lifer is, right? You may think of someone who is regularly at an abortion clinic, praying or advocating, or someone who works at a pregnancy center. Or it could be someone within the government, seeking to promote life-affirming legislation. Yes, being a pro-lifer can be an unfortunately negative label in society, but life-affirming people also sense its weight, and how much—or how much less—they feel they are doing for the sake of life than others. But before we become tangled in our earthly definitions of what is and is not a pro-lifer, we should look at what the Word of God says.
How our Heavenly Father Defines Us
First, any earthly definition we give ourselves needs to be subjugated to the definitions that God gives us. We are new creations, and we are to “put off [the] old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24) Scripture also tells us that we are His adopted children (Romans 8:15), the body of Christ, His Church (1 Corinthians 12:27), and the Holy Priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:5).
It’s the knowing who we are in Christ that drives us to action. In fact, we are rather baldly told that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17) Our actions do not save us, but they demonstrate where our hearts are, which are in Christ. It is a message that Jesus himself thought important to share with His disciples before His death and resurrection: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples…You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that that your fruit should abide.” (John 15:8,16).
What is notable is this: a heart changed and redeemed by Christ will produce good fruit…but all of our fruit doesn’t need to look the same. In fact, Scripture tells us that they will be different! “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). We are all called to serve God and to love His gift of Life. But He has not called us to do ministry, especially life ministry, in the same exact way.
Hit the Life Ministry Pavement
Too often our self-given labels depend on comparing ourselves with others. But do not be intimidated by the ministry of others. Jesus never says He will value one person’s good fruit above another’s, nor does the Apostle Paul say that one gift is greater than another. All we are called to do is to be faithful and take action in the unique way God has called each and everyone one of us.
Maybe you are simply called to pray about abortion. That’s being a pro-lifer. Maybe you seek to comfort and visit the elderly. That’s being a pro-lifer. Maybe you are called to work with teens and talk about relationships and sexuality. That’s also being a pro-lifer. And perhaps one day you will be called to do life-ministry in a way that’s outside of your comfort zone or beyond what you thought you could do. If so, God be with you. Because, in the end, being a pro-lifer is not defined by the activity that you do, but simply in the act of serving Life and seeking to protect the unborn, elderly, and vulnerable, all for the glory and honor of God.
So, I am going to rephrase my introduction. I am a runner. I’m not a particularly fast runner, a long-distance runner, or maybe even a very good one. But I get up, stretch, tie my running shoes, adjust my ear buds, take a deep breath, and just do it. I am a runner simply through the action of running. Likewise, you are a pro-lifer, not because you fit every pro-life stereotype, but because you seek to serve, protect, and honor God’s gift of Life in the way that God has inspired you.
So put your shoes on and hit the road—because your life ministry needs you to be heading down the unique path that God has created for you to run.
Robin Ferguson serves as the Administrator for Anglicans for Life.