In this Sunday’s sermon, we learned that the most important question someone must answer is, “Have I trusted in Christ as my Savior?” Our answer to this question determines both where we will spend eternity and the motives for everything we do that is related to God. As we saw in the illustration of the two men who had very similar lives – both born about the same time, both grew up in the same town, same church, both tithed, both were baptized, both took communion, both served in church and in their communities - but at the end of their lives God only accepted one of them because everything they did was from two very different motives. One did what he did for salvation, in his own effort, having rejected Christ’s free gift of eternal life while one did what he did from salvation, by depending on God’s Spirit he received when he trusted Christ alone as his Savior from sin.
God is not pleased with us trying to “work” for or “earn” His grace. Grace, by definition, is free. It is undeserved favor from God and not based on what we do, but upon what Christ did for us! The good news of the gospel says that God has offered us one “life-raft” – that is Christ – to be saved from our sins. Filled with the Spirit, Peter preached to the religious leaders in Acts 4:12 the same exclusive message,
“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
It’s settled, then. If Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, then there is no other way, truth, or life. But is this kind of gospel exclusivity found in the first few chapters of Genesis? I think it is, and specifically in Genesis 4:3-8.
“So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’ Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.”
So just like the two men in our sermon’s illustration, one man’s offering (Abel’s) was accepted but the other man’s (Cain’s) was rejected. God accepted one and excluded the other. But why? To be honest, the exact answer will have to wait until heaven, but there are some solid clues we can pick up on in Genesis and a comment on it from Hebrews.
For one, God may have set the standard for acceptable sacrifices in Genesis 3:21 by offering a blood sacrifice to cover sin. He slaughtered an animal to make clothes for Adam and Eve, a covering of His own choosing and a much superior covering to their fickle fig leaves of their own making. By offering fruit of the ground instead of an animal, it may not have been an approved sacrifice for sin at this time.
Secondly, it could have been that he didn’t offer a quality sacrifice. Abel, we know, offered the firstlings of his flock but we don’t know if Cain honored God with the first fruits of crop. Maybe he was just giving God some leftovers and not of the top. In the Law, it was the first of a certain harvest or flock that was to be given, typifying Christ the first fruit and the first and only Son of God. Another mark of quality was that the sacrifices had to be without blemish or defect like our spotless Lamb too (Heb. 9:14).
It may have been a combination of things that didn’t make Cain’s sacrifice acceptable, however, I think Hebrews 11:4 gives us the sufficient clue we need. It says,
“By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.”
If the gift of a blood-sacrifice was required for sin like in the Law, sin was something clearly standing in the way between Cain and God (Gen. 4:6). So not only was it likely not an approved sacrifice, but it was also not offered with the right motives – God’s way, and by faith.
When Abel looked at his sacrifice, he saw his own sin and that he deserved death. He saw his helpless condition as a sinner and his need to be saved by it – his was by faith. Cain, however, it just doesn’t seem saw the seriousness of his sin problem. He was offering the work of his hands and wasn’t taking sin seriously – he does, after all, murder his brother after this out of a fit of jealous rage! Something tells me this man’s heart was unrepentant and offered his sacrifice with religious pride – by works.
Many works-based and not faith-based sacrifices are offered to God every day by those going through the motions of church activity and religious service. They don’t understand that things like communion, baptism, tithing, witnessing or serving is to be done from salvation and not for salvation. Whatever the exact case with Cain and Abel, it does reminds us that we must approach God His way and not our own, and His way, the Bible says, is by grace through faith in Christ.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
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