April 26, 1998

SWITCHING SIDES

If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it… But if a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life. Ezekiel 18:26-27

Sometimes people switch sides. Even on issues where it seems everyone’s mind is made up and no one’s willing to change, some people end up switching sides. Take abortion, for instance.

Senator Edward Kennedy once said, “Human life, even at its earliest stages, has a certain right which must be recognized–the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.” Today, however, Senator Kennedy supports abortion.

Another prominent politician once wrote, “Life begins with conception.” He said, “I have always been supportive of pro-life legislation. I intend to remain steadfast on this issue… I believe that the life of the unborn should be protected at all costs.” Those were the words of Richard Gephardt, now the leader of the Democratic party minority in the House of Representatives and a staunch supporter of abortion. Mr. Gephardt switched sides in 1987 when he was planning to run for the presidency.

Guess who wrote the following: “It takes three to make a baby: a man, a woman, and the Holy Spirit… What happens to the mind of a person, and the moral fabric of a nation, that accepts the aborting of the life of a baby without a pang of conscience? What kind of a person, and what kind of a society will we have 20 years hence if life can be taken so casually?” The Rev. Jesse Jackson said these things. He described abortion as “killing infants” and warned it “may leave us with a hell right here on earth.” But then the Rev. Jackson set his sights on the presidency and switched sides and took a pro-abortion stance.

Another leading figure voted repeatedly to restrict federal funding of abortions. He stated in a letter his “deep personal conviction that abortion is wrong.” He once voted to define the term “person” to “include unborn children from the moment of conception.” That was Senator Albert Gore in earlier days. But as his political ambitions grew, Al Gore switched sides.

In 1986 Bill Clinton wrote, “I am opposed to abortion and to government funding of abortions.” Then he ran for president and switched sides. President Clinton went so far as to champion late term, partial birth abortion, a procedure so gruesome that even some otherwise ardent abortion supporters are squeamish about it.

These prominent American politicians, spotlighted in World magazine, apparently thought it best to switch from pro-life to pro-abortion. As they were switching sides, however, some even more astonishing switches were occurring the other way. A number of people on the cutting edge of abortion became pro-life.

Dr. Beverly McMillan was the director of an abortion clinic in Mississippi. “Everything in my life seemed to be going well,” says Dr. McMillan, “but I was miserable. When I had tried everything else, I decided to try God. I started reading the Bible, and as I was reading the Bible I started getting more uncomfortable doing abortions. I eventually started going to church. It was a Protestant church that didn’t particularly talk against abortion, but I felt after awhile that the Holy Spirit was saying, ‘Choose you this day whom you will serve.’ I decided to serve the Lord, and resigned from the clinic.”

Norma McCorvey was the woman identified as “Roe” in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark abortion decision Roe v. Wade. Norma spoke proudly of Roe v. Wade as “my law.” She once told a reporter, “This issue is the only thing I live for. I live, eat, breathe, think everything about abortion.” But guess what? Norma McCorvey switched sides. Today she strongly opposes abortion.

Why did she switch? Well, the title of her story is Won By Love. She was changed by the love of other people and the love of God. Norma was helping to run an abortion clinic when she met up with pro-life protesters. In one confrontation with a woman named Anne, Norma called Anne all sorts of awful names and spit in her face. Anne smiled. Norma screamed, “How dare you smile at me?” Anne wiped the spit from her face and replied, “Jesus loves you, and so do I. And I forgive you.”

Another person who affected Norma deeply was seven-year-old Emily. This little girl liked Norma and often hugged her. Norma took a liking to Emily and told her, “I like kids and wouldn’t let anyone hurt little kids.” Emily responded, “Then why do you let them kill the babies at the clinic.” That shook Norma. It shook her even more to learn that little Emily had almost been aborted back when Emily’s mother was under pressure from her boyfriend and family members to end the pregnancy.

One Sunday Norma McCorvey agreed to go to church with Emily and her mother. When the preacher got to the end of the sermon, he said, “Is anyone here tired of living a sinner’s life?” Norma says, “How could I say no? I had been tired of it for years, but it was the only life I knew!” She broke down crying and kept saying, “I just want to undo all the evil I’ve done in this world. I’m so sorry, God. I’m so, so sorry.” Finally she stopped crying and started smiling. “I no longer felt the pressure of my sin pushing down on my shoulders,” she says. “The release was so quick that I felt like I could almost float outside.”

Norma McCorvey trusted in Jesus and was baptized. At that point she was convinced late-term abortions were evil but still thought first trimester abortions might not be so bad. But then one day she took a close look at a poster of fetal development. “Something in that poster made me lose my breath,” said Norma. “I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, ten-week-old embryo, and I said to myself, ‘That’s a baby!’ It’s as if the blinders just fell off my eyes and I suddenly understood the truth–‘that’s a baby.’ Abortion wasn’t just about ‘products of conception,'” she told herself. “It was about children being killed in their mother’s wombs. All those years I was wrong.”

What a switch! Norma McCorvey helped launch the abortion age in America, and in her spiritual life she counted on crystals and her book of Runes. But that was the past. Now she says, “I’m one hundred percent sold out to Jesus and one hundred percent pro-life. No exceptions. No compromise.”

It’s hard to imagine a more surprising switch than Norma McCorvey–unless it’s Dr. Bernard Nathanson. Back when Bernard Nathanson was in medical school, he got his girlfriend pregnant. He didn’t want to get married and convinced her to get an abortion, which was illegal at the time. Years later, after Nathanson had become a doctor, he got another woman pregnant. He told her he would have nothing more to do with her if she didn’t have an abortion. Then he calmly informed her that he would do the abortion himself. How did Nathanson feel as he disposed of his own child? “I had no feelings,” he says, “aside from the sense of accomplishment, the pride of expertise.”

Eventually Dr. Nathanson became a co-founder of the National Association for Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), which succeeded in getting the anti-abortion laws overturned and then called itself the National Abortion Rights Action League. Nathanson directed a New York abortion clinic which was the largest in the western world. He presided over more than 60,000 abortions and was called “the abortion king.” [Canada: Bernard Nathanson was for the United States what Henry Morgenthaler was for Canada.]

But as ultrasound technology became common and knowledge of fetal development increased, Nathanson became more and more uneasy about abortion. Finally he stopped doing abortions altogether and began to speak out against abortion. His new, pro-life views, he says, were scientifically based, not rooted in any religious convictions. All this time he remained an atheist, with no belief in God or divine revelation.

But it wasn’t enough to quit doing abortions. His past kept haunting him. Dr. Nathanson says, “I felt the burden of sin growing heavier.” He often thought of suicide. He went to a psychiatrist, but that was useless. Then, as he saw the love and prayer and spiritual power of Christian people in the pro-life movement, he began to think more seriously about God. The thought of God, says Nathanson, “instantly converted my past into a vile bog of sin and evil; it indicted me and convicted me of high crimes against those who had loved me, and against those I did not even know; and simultaneously–miraculously–it held out a shimmering sliver of Hope to me, in the growing belief that Someone had died for my sins and my evil two millennia ago.” This former atheist wrote a book titled The Hand of God and was baptized on Easter, 1996.

Yes indeed, sometimes people switch sides. Prominent politicians who were once pro-life have become pro-abortion, often in conjunction with growing political ambitions. Meanwhile, some leading figures in the abortion movement have switched sides and become strongly opposed to abortion, often in conjunction with a crisis of conscience and newfound faith in Jesus Christ.

Switching sides can be hard. For one thing, it hurts our personal pride. Any time we hold to a certain belief, we’d rather not think we might be wrong. Switching is even harder if we took our original position publicly. It’s embarrassing and awkward to do a flip-flop in front of others. The switch is hardest of all if we haven’t just been holding a wrong opinion but have been actually involved in doing wrong. It’s frightening to think we may have done horrible damage that we’ll never be able to undo. How can we afford even to think it was anything but good? How can we consider switching sides? And what hope would there be for us if we did switch? Isn’t it too late once the damage is done? Won’t our past be held against us forever?

To answer that, let’s go back about two centuries to a man named John Newton. This man cursed God, mocked Christians, and lived a rotten life of drinking and womanizing. He was also involved in the slave trade. Eventually, though, Newton realized that he was a sinner and put his faith in Jesus Christ to forgive his sins. However, even after his conversion, he worked for awhile as the captain of a slave ship. Newton had repented of many personal sins, but he was still blind to the social evil of slavery. However, as God’s grace continued to work in his life, Newton eventually came to see slavery as a great evil. He became a powerful preacher of salvation in Jesus Christ and also became an outspoken opponent of the slave trade. Newton switched sides, both in relation to God and in relation to the great moral issue of his age.

But what about his past? What about the sins he’d already committed? What about the dreadful damage he had already done to others? After all that, could a wretch like John Newton simply switch sides and expect God to love him and give him eternal life? Yes, he could–not because Newton deserved it but because of God’s amazing grace in Jesus Christ. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me,” wrote Newton. “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

Only because of God’s amazing grace can we leave behind an evil past and have a new future. In the Bible book of Ezekiel, chapter 18, the Lord says:

If a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:21-23)

God is pleased when wicked people enter a new life. When John Newton turned from cursing God to trusting God, when he turned from promoting slavery to opposing it, God was pleased. When Norma McCorvey turned from crystals to Christ, when she turned from promoting abortion to opposing it, God was pleased. When Bernard Nathanson turned from atheism to the God of Jesus Christ, when he stopped destroying unborn babies and began to defend them instead, God was pleased. The Lord is not pleased by the death of the wicked. He is pleased when they turn from their ways and switch sides and find new life in him. He promises that none of their offenses will be remembered against them.

After making that clear, however, the Lord goes on to speak of people who do the opposite, who start out identifying with God but then switch sides and go bad. In Ezekiel 18:25 God says, “But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die.”

Some people start out fairly well. Perhaps they come from a family that told them of Jesus and showed them how to live as the Bible teaches. For awhile they seem to have faith and choose good over evil. But then something happens. They come to a point where it seems they’re more likely to get what they want if they leave righteousness behind and do whatever it takes to get ahead. They turn away from God and his ways. If that happens, says the Lord, any good from their past is useless. By switching sides they show that they never really knew God at all. If they had known him, they would have loved him too much to leave him behind.

Early in the program we saw five prominent political figures who once declared that unborn life is precious and abortion is wrong, but when their political ambitions grew and they wanted their party’s presidential nomination, they switched sides. According to Ezekiel 18, the righteous stand they once took doesn’t count for anything anymore. These men turned against what they once knew to be right, and God will judge them on the basis of where they now stand, not where they once stood.

Now, I use this as a public example of switching sides, not as a personal judgment about the eternal destiny of any one of these political leaders as an individual. Perhaps some of them trust Jesus for their salvation and love the Lord and yet have a terrible blind spot which still needs to be corrected. After all, John Newton became a Christian and yet remained mistaken for a time about the great social evil of his age and ran a slave ship for awhile even after his conversion. So perhaps some individuals who are dead wrong about abortion, the great social evil of our own age, may still be saved by God’s grace in Christ. The final judgment is God’s.

Rather than making final judgments about others, I must let their sins remind me of my own sins. Rather than speculate on exactly how God will judge other individuals, I must face the fact that he’s going to judge me, and you must face the fact that he’s going to judge you. Don’t ignore his warning that it’s possible to think we’re on God’s side and doing his will, only to end up switching to evil. If our righteous past is only a product of a good background or an environment that promoted goodness, it may be that our hearts have never really been in tune with God at all. In Ezekiel 18 God warns religious people not to assume we could never switch sides. Unless we really have a new heart and a new spirit from God, we will end up showing our true colors at some point and choose wickedness. Each of us needs a new spirit, one that doesn’t change when circumstances change, one that is in touch with God and remains joined to him forever.

God speaks very bluntly in Ezekiel 18 about switching sides for better and for worse. Then, just in case we missed it the first time, he repeats the basic point once again:

If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it; because of the sin he has committed he will die. But if a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life. Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live; he will not die.

There’s a clear warning here for those who switch from right to wrong, but the main emphasis is on God’s amazing grace for anyone who switches from wrong to right. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, the Lord can forgive and save you.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that God can forget even the worst wickedness if we turn from it. How could God forgive Karla Faye Tucker? She was a drug-crazed prostitute. She was involved in hacking two people to death with a pickax. Karla claimed that soon after being arrested and charged with murder, she had an encounter with Jesus Christ. She said, “I asked him to forgive me and I knew I needed forgiveness, and I knew that I had done something really horrible, but you know, I think right at that moment, what mostly hit me was his love. It just surrounded me, just put me in his arms and just said, ‘I love you.'” Karla was convicted of murder and spent years on death row. She showed love and kindness to others and radiated unusual joy and faith in Christ. Then she was executed. Shortly before Karla died, she said she looked forward to seeing Jesus.

Now, is it really possible that after committing such awful sins and crimes, Karla Faye Tucker could switch sides and enjoy Jesus’ love and go to heaven? When God says he won’t count the offenses of the wicked against them when they turn to him, was he talking even about prostitution and pickax murders? Could God forgive even those things? The simple answer is yes.

The blood of Jesus Christ is enough to pay for any sin, no matter how horrible. That may offend you if you look at the evils committed by some people God has chosen to forgive. But if you stop looking at them long enough to look at yourself, you’ll realize that it’s the best news you could possibly hear, the greatest fact you could possible believe. Amazing grace! God’s grace helps people switch sides and trust Jesus and delight in his love, leaving their past behind forever. Jesus died to pay for the worst of sins, and he rose again to overcome the damage caused by sin and death.

Karla Faye Tucker was responsible for killing two people with a pickax. The abortion providers I mentioned earlier were responsible for the deaths of countless unborn babies. If Jesus’ blood is enough to pay for their evil, it’s enough to pay for any evil you’ve committed. If Jesus’ resurrection power is great enough to give them eternal life, it’s great enough to give you eternal life. If God is loving enough to embrace them, he is loving enough to embrace you.

But you can’t receive his forgiveness and life and love if you pretend you’re fine without him. You must switch sides. The Bible’s word for switching sides is repent. My closing appeal to you is the appeal God makes at the end of Ezekiel 18.

Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die…? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.