The statistics are daunting. More and more young people raised in Christian homes abandon the faith when they leave for college. Growing up, they quoted Bible verses, worshiped every Sunday, and knew all the right things to say. So what went wrong? It’s because they’ve been living on a borrowed faith instead of making it their own. They had religion, but they never had a relationship with Christ. What about you? Is your faith your faith, or is it a borrowed faith?
All Roads Do Not Lead to God
Someone once said all roads lead to God, and it doesn’t matter what we believe as long as we are sincere. That is not true at all. The Bible says there is only one way to God, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. If we try to attain a right standing with God by any other means, even by doing things like worship, praying, or giving money, we will be rejected if our heart is not right with Him. We must first come to God by faith, trusting in the blood of Christ for salvation. So, have you ever come to God the way He has said we must come?
Open your Bibles and go to Genesis chapter four, please. Have you ever known a person or a family who, when you looked at them, everything seemed perfectly normal until you got to know more about them, and then you just kind of realize, “Hmm, it’s not quite what I thought. Things are not what they seemed.” You see this on the news sometimes, there’s been a guy who’s been keeping people hostage in his house for five years, or there’s a guy who’s found out to be a mass murderer, and they interview his neighbors or his co-workers, and inevitably, the people say, “We had no idea. We would talk to the guy every time he came in and out of his yard.” Or, “I sat next to him at work, had no idea, he seemed normal, everything seemed fine.”
Well, as we come to Genesis four today, it opens with a scene that seems perfectly normal. It seems like an average, nice little American neighborhood kind of life. Let’s take a look at it here, Genesis 4:1. “Now Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.’ And again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain was a worker”—or a tiller—”of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruit of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” Now, let’s pause there for a second. When you first read these opening verses of chapter four, everything seems pretty normal. You have a husband and wife, they have two children, they have jobs, they are involved in worship, seems like a snapshot of a nice little American family. But appearances can be very deceiving, because this chapter quickly reveals to us that things are not what they might appear to be. There are some very disturbing things bubbling beneath the surface here.
Let’s read on. Go back to verse three and and pick this up again because this is really central to everything we’re going to talk about today. “In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” Now watch this: “The Lord looked with favor”—or with respect, or regard—”on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering He did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” So we surely we need to pause here and we need to ask the obvious question, “If they were both bringing offerings to God, if they were both worshiping God, why in the world did God accept Abel’s offering and reject Cain’s offering?” It seems kind of unfair of God, doesn’t it? From the outset, it seems unfair. We would say—in our modern day terms—they were both attending worship. They were both in the Sunday service. They were both singing the songs, listening to the sermon, and dropping some money in the box, they were both doing “the thing.” The difference between Cain and Abel’s offerings and the way they brought their offerings to God is something that we must not overlook. Not only the difference in their offerings themselves, but the difference in their hearts.
What we see here is that, from almost the very beginning of time, people have tried to come to God and be accepted by God in two distinctly different ways. You have, first of all, those people who attempt to find acceptance with God on their own terms, but God cannot and will not accept those people. Then you have those who realize they can never find acceptance with God on their own terms, by their own means, and so they come humbly, they come by faith, trusting in the blood to pay for their sins. One way that Abel’s offering was very different from Cain’s offering is that Abel brought his offering to God by faith, and Cain did not bring his offering by faith. Now, if you look at these verses, you say, “I don’t see that in there, Phil. So, sounds like you’re adding to the Scripture.” It does sound like that, doesn’t it? But remember, I’ve told you, we must look at all the Scriptures and get the big picture.
So, if you want to hold your place in Genesis four and turn all the way over and near the end of your Bible, to the book of Hebrews. If you go to Revelation, that’s the last book and then you put it in reverse and go backwards, you’ll hit Jude, 3 John, 2 John, 1 John, 2 Peter, 1 Peter, James, and then Hebrews. It’s right near the end, Hebrews 11:4. Watch this: This is thousands of years later, and the writer of Hebrews makes a reference all the way back here to Genesis chapter four. This is another link you can connect. It says this: “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain. By which he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his gifts. And by faith, even though he is dead, he still speaks.” This is a powerhouse verse here, so I’m not going to linger here, but I’ll let you dig into this on your own more. There are a couple of things to take note of here. There are some people who look at Genesis four and say, “Well, it had nothing to do with the actual elements, the substance of their offerings themselves.” That’s not correct. Some people say, “Well, it was only their attitude in the offerings.” That isn’t correct, and we see that, one place is here in Hebrews 11:4. Their attitude was important, their approach to God was critical, as it is for us. It says, “By faith Abel offered to God”—What?—”a more acceptable sacrifice.” And what it’s saying, by contrast, is Cain’s sacrifice was not acceptable to God, and it goes on to say that Abel “was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of”—What?—”his gifts.” So God accepted Abel’s gifts, but He did not accept Cain’s gifts. We’ll get more into that as we go through the Scriptures and we talk about the sacrifices that God required, and then we’ll come back in a moment to this last phrase in Hebrews 11:4 where it tells us that, “Hey, even though Abel is dead, you better pay attention. He’s still speaking to us today.”
Now, jump back to Genesis chapter four. If we’re following this storyline carefully from what we saw in Genesis three last week, where Adam and Eve were driven from the garden, never allowed to return, and now there’s a silent gap there between Genesis three and Genesis four. It’s a period of time, God doesn’t give us the details. Now, all of a sudden, you see this family offering sacrifices to God, so surely, we need to pause there and go, “Hmm, how’d they suddenly know about sacrifices? There’s no mention of that in Genesis one, two, and three. So where did that come from? Well, somewhere along the way, God must have sat down—and I use that expression, forgive me, I’m putting it into human terms—but somewhere along the way, God must have given clear instructions to Adam and his family on how they were to worship Him, and how they were to bring offerings to Him, and what those offerings were to look like. This must have happened. If God had not given them clear instructions on what He required in His offerings, then He never would have been justified in rejecting Cain’s offering, because God never judges us unjustly. So at some point between Genesis three and four, Adam and his family were given specific instructions by God on how to worship.
As I’ve told you before, what God has given us in His Word are tiny snapshots of the biblical history, and thank goodness for that, because if God gave us every moment of every day of every person’s life mentioned in the Bible, we’d have to carry the Bible around in an 18-wheeler. So God in His wisdom has given us just this tiny, condensed version. Folks, there are places in the Bible where with one turn of a page, hundreds of years pass by in silence, and God doesn’t say a word about it. You know what we need to do? We need to leave it alone. That’s hard for me. You programmers, you accountants, you engineers, doesn’t that drive you nuts? Because for me, as a former programmer, I’ve got to have every single bit and byte in place or I can’t sleep. So for me, I’ve had to learn over the years to quit having spasms here when I can’t fill in all the pieces. I’ve learned to just say, “Okay, let it go. Let it go. It’s in God’s hands.”
So somewhere here, God gave them instructions on exactly what He required of worship, and yet Cain decided in his heart that he was going to do it his own way instead. He was going to worship God the way that he chose to worship God, and Hebrews 11:4, as I said, reminds us, “Hey, pay attention. These events still ought to speak to you today, and there are things you need to learn from this. There’s wisdom you can gain from Cain and Abel.” The reason that we need to pay attention to this passage of Scripture, this event in history is that if we live for God, and worship Him as He has told us to, we will find grace and strength and hope as we live for Him. We will know the joy of what it means to walk in His paths, we will know the thrill of living a life that is lived for Him. But if we choose as Cain did, to walk in our own ways, to live by our own rules, to come to Him on our own terms, then folks I’m telling you, we will find that sin will take over and corrupt even our worship.
So how does God respond to Cain in this moment? Look at verses six and seven. God is so patient and good. “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry?'” You notice the questions God has asked already in Genesis three and four? God knows all the answers to this, and yet He comes to people and He courteously gives them an opportunity to respond. “Cain, why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” Do you get what God seems to be hinting at here in this? He’s essentially saying to Cain, “Cain, you have no reason to be upset, son. I explained to you and your family what was expected of you. Why are you upset about this?” Teachers, do you ever have to say this to your students? “Why are you complaining about the grade you got? I explained to you what I expected on this assignment. You have no reason to complain. I explained this to you. God is saying, “Cain, why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what’s right, will you not be accepted?” Watch this: “But if you do not do what is right,”—you ever caught this phrase?—”sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it. You must rule over it.”
Here, once again, in these two seemingly simple verses, we see the kindness and goodness and grace of God. He is patiently giving Cain an opportunity to turn from his ways, to repent, and to make things right. God did exactly the same thing with Adam and Eve. It was God who pursued them after they sinned. It was God who went looking for them, calling out for them to come back to Him. He reached out to them. First, God questions Cain, and then God gives him instructions on what he needs to be careful of. He’s giving Cain an opportunity on how to come clean, but now the ball is in Cain’s court. Cain now has to decide whether he’s going to accept correction, or whether he’s going to harden his heart even further.
You ever have those moments? God’s been knocking on the door, knocking on your door. You hear a word spoken by a godly friend and it pierces your heart, and God says, “I’m speaking to you, I want you to deal with that thing.” And you just stuff it down further. You hear something in a sermon, or a message on the radio, or a Christian song, and boy, you just feel that piercing and God’s saying, “I’m calling out to you. I’m trying to reach you again. I’m giving you an opportunity to turn, to cleanse your heart, to make it right. You have another chance in that moment—might be your last—to come to God, to allow Him to cleanse your heart or to harden your heart even further. We’ve all had those moments. I bet you we’ve all had experiences of making both choices. The Bible says, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.” I wonder if God has been speaking to you about anything. Over and over again, you just hear that gentle knocking. “Let me in.” We really need to deal with this. We just keep shutting the door. “Not today. Not today. Not today.”
Folks, can I just tell you, when God pursues us that way, it’s the pursuit of a loving, caring Father. It’s like I had to do. I remember so clearly, when Nick was maybe three or something, I don’t know. We were playing soccer in the front yard together, and the ball went out towards the road, and Nick, as a youngster, oblivious to the dangers of traffic, ran as fast as he could after the ball, straight for the road, and I was a good 20 feet away over near the house. I yelled at him, but he didn’t even hear, I guess in his excitement to get the ball, and he ran straight for the road, and a car was coming. I ran with all my might, and I just dove right at the curb and I grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him so hard that it just ripped him off his feet, and he slammed on his back on the grass, and it kind of knocked the wind out of him. He, sort of, began crying just a little bit, and he looked up at me like, “What in the world? Why did you do that?” And the best I could, I tried to explain to him, “I did that because I love you. I wanted to save you from danger, you could have been killed.” Folks, when God pursues you over a matter, He’s not doing it because He’s unkind, because He’s trying to limit your joy in life. I wish I had learned this lesson much sooner than I did. I wish all those times that I closed the door, I wish I wouldn’t have. God loves you as His child, and He’s pursuing you because He wants to bring you back into fellowship with Him.
I can’t imagine how God’s heart must have been breaking for Cain. Cain didn’t see it. He was bent on going his own way. Psalms tells us that there are those people who are bent on rebellion, and they will waste away in their sin. Sandy and I had an encounter with one such person on Thursday night, someone that I know. I’ve tried and tried and tried and tried and tried for decades to reach him. We just happened to see him and he got out of his car as we were getting into ours. He was three feet, maybe four feet away, and when he saw me, he yelled at the top of his lungs, just to offend us and insult us. He yelled out, “Blank Jesus Christ,” and He cursed the name of Jesus Christ. Then he walked off. I told Sandy he does this a lot, and when I got in the car, I looked over and her eyes were this wide, and she said, “What was that all about?” I said, “This is what I’ve been telling you. There’s someone bent on rebellion.” When God says, “If you do what is right, you will be accepted,” He’s saying “Cain, I’m asking you to deal with the real issue here, and the real issue is your heart.” God is saying, “Cain, this has nothing to do with favoritism between you and your brother. It’s all about the condition of your heart.” This is the warning we all need to hear. Listen, sin is never far away from your door. It’s always out there crouching. The picture is like an animal bent down like one of those leopards with his muscles tense, ready to pounce at any moment, and he doesn’t just want to pounce. He wants to have you. He wants to take you. He wants to devour you. Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief comes only”—don’t miss that word “only.” I missed it for years. The only reason the thief comes “is to steal to kill and to destroy” you. He’s after you. He’s after me.
This is a warning we must not miss, we cannot miss. But it’s easy to look at Cain and say, “What a dummy, what an idiot. Who would ever do that?” But the truth is, we must learn from this. Because Cain’s struggle is my struggle. Cain’s struggle is your struggle. It’s called sin. As we talked about last week, we’re all infected with it. We’re all diseased from sin. And sin can cause us to turn even acts of worship, even acts of offerings into acts of self-righteousness. Sin can cause us to turn even ministry into moments of self-promotion. Sin can cause us to turn acts of service for God into attempts to put people in our debt and say, “Well, I did this for you, so you kind of owe me now.” Even moments of worship and offering, even moments of ministry, even moments of service for God can get polluted by sin in our hearts. This is such a dangerous thing. We think that it if we show up at a building on Sunday morning at 10:30, that we’re all good. We’re not. This means nothing if our heart is not engaged with God. If our heart is not pure before Him, it means nothing. We might as well be in a bar. This means nothing if our heart is not with Him.
We actually have no right to look at Cain and say, “What an awful man.” Maybe what we should say instead is, “I have the same tendencies in my heart.” And we should constantly pray, “God, please, please keep me aware of the sin at my door, and please keep a watch over my heart.” Let us not forget what Cain was doing right before this moment. He was worshiping God. He was bringing an offering to God. It is so deceptively easy for us to bring our worship to God, to bring our offerings to God, and to do it all with a heart that is distant from the very one we are supposed to be worshipping. It’s not even connected, not even close. In fact, it might even be harboring anger towards God. It’s possible to worship God outwardly every Sunday, and yet inwardly, our heart has no intention whatsoever of submitting to His commands. You know what, I told you at the beginning this sermon was going to be different from last week. I guess I wasn’t thinking.
It’s easy for us to have a form of godliness but have no substance inside, to not have the real power that that godliness brings. In the Old Testament, God said to His people more than once, “Please, just stop worshiping Me. Stop bringing your offerings and sacrifices to Me. I can’t take it anymore. I’m sick of them. Shut the temple doors,” He said. “I’m done. I cannot take your offerings,” He said, “because you worship Me with your lips, but your hearts are far from Me.” He said, “Keep your sacrifices, I want your heart.” Can I just illustrate this in a maybe borderline crude way? Because I really want to drive this home. And it’s a question that doesn’t need to be answered because it answers itself, I hope. Husbands, wives, how would you feel—actually, God uses this illustration in the Bible, so I guess I’m okay. How would you feel if your spouse came home to you every night and declared their undying love to you, and then said “Oh, I gotta go. I gotta get back to my affair with that other person. But I love you, be back in a little bit.” It’s absurd, isn’t it? It’s utterly absurd to think that your spouse would be okay with that. And yet God said to His people, “That is exactly what you’re doing to Me.” Imagine the heartbreak of God. Imagine, “Oh God, I love You. Thank You for saving me. I want to live for You,” and off we go doing our own thing. God says, “Obey Me, bring your worship to Me in the way that I’ve asked you to.” “Eh, I’ll do it my way.” Me and ole Frank Sinatra, we’re going to do it my way. God is up there just going, “My Son gave His life for you, and you’re running off with a mistress?” The beautiful, remarkable thing that we see here is that God was not only confronting Cain about this, but He was also reaching out to Cain in grace. He was trying to give him another chance to turn around. But sadly, Cain was unwilling to deal with his own heart, and he left the presence of God unchanged, unmoved, with a heart that was just as hardened as before.
Look now, as we try to wind this up, look at how things went from bad to worse. See, every time you and I turn our back on God’s offer for repentance and change, things get one step worse. Verse eight, Cain left God and it says, “And Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” It’s awful to think about, after seeing the beauty and purity of God’s creation in Genesis one and two, that sinless environment, it’s horrible to think about what verse eight is telling us. It’s horrible to think about what sin has already done in this short period of time, what it’s already done to the world. Adam and Eve are the only two people in history who were not born, they were created by God. So now, their two boys were the first people born into the world. Think about this, the first person ever born was a murderer. The second person ever born was his victim. It shows you the destructive power of sin, and how corrupt sin can make anyone become, and it shows how far and how fast sin will spread. We sometimes think, “Hey, what I’m doing isn’t going to affect anybody. This is just my thing. Nobody’s going to get hurt by this.” Don’t kid yourself. From Adam and Eve’s first little sin there in the garden—and I say little in quotes. Just look at how quickly it multiplied, and the place of utter depravity it has now brought the human race to. Someone once said—I’m sure you’ve heard this, I think it’s worth repeating—”Sin will take you farther than you want to go, it will keep you longer than you want to stay, and it will cost you more than you want to pay.” It’s very true.
But we see again, after such a horrible, horrible act, God is amazingly, astoundingly still a God of such mercy and grace. He comes to Cain a second time, willing again to give him an opportunity to confess, to repent, and to come back to Him. Verse nine: “Then the Lord said to Cain,”—again, here He is with the questions, giving him a chance to say, to confess what happened—”the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don’t know,’ Cain replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?'” Do you hear the snarkiness in the response? “Not my job to look after him, he’s yours.” We don’t ever do that, do we? At work? The boss says, “Why hasn’t the client received the report?” “Wasn’t my job. It was his. Ask him.” See the the blame-shifting like we talked about last week? God is trying to reach Cain here, and Cain refuses to even answer the question.
The New Testament takes this even further. We look at this and we go, “You know, Phil, this doesn’t really apply to me. I mean, I would never murder anybody.” I believe you. Except Jesus raised the stakes. When He came, He said, “If you have hatred or anger against your brother, you’ve committed murder in your heart already.” And we go, “Oh, come on. That’s a pretty high bar.” Yeah, it is. So I guess all of us are murderers, then. So I guess maybe this does apply to us. Our tendency is to look at Cain and what he did here in verse eight and just recoil in disgust and horror, and point a finger at him. Don’t we sometimes get angry at the people God has sovereignly placed in our life? Have we never thought about taking revenge on someone who has deeply wounded us or hurt one of our children? Have we never pouted and sulked because we didn’t receive love from someone in the way that we felt we deserved to be loved? We’re actually doing the same thing.
Christ came to lift us up above that kind of life, to help us to live the way He lived, to, as the Bible says, “walk in His steps.” Who, when He was reviled, when He was abused, and accused, and criticized, and lied about, again, and again, and again, He did not strike back. He did not retaliate. No bad word ever came out of His mouth. No evil thought ever entered His mind. Instead, the Bible tells us: What did He do? He just gritted his teeth, and He got through it? No, no, listen. He entrusted Himself to the one who judges justly. There’s a lifesaver right there. It’s a lifesaver. “God, I don’t know what to do about this person. They’re about to drive me crazy.” “Hey, Phil, entrust it to the one who judges justly.” Might not be settled in your lifetime, but God is going to deal with this when it’s all over. Just trust it to Him. Don’t take revenge, don’t get even, don’t pout, and moan, and complain. “Trust Me, Phil, trust Me. You walk like Jesus walked, and trust Me.” What a powerful, powerful lesson.
We’ll see next week as we pick up here that God does have to pass judgment on Cain because, as I said last week, God can’t not judge sin. Sin must be judged. We’ll see how Cain goes out from here, and then we see the beginning of the real family line of the Messiah beginning to take shape. We’ll take a look at that, God willing, next Sunday, if we’re all still around and kicking. I want to close by just asking you, where are you on these matters? How are you worshiping God? How are you trying to attain favor with God, trying to attain a right standing with God? Are you coming to God the way that He has commanded us to come? There’s only one way to come to God. There’s just one way. Jesus said it in John 14:6. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” And how does that happen? It’s through His death on the cross. When Jesus died, He died for your sins and mine. His blood was spilled. Just like last week, in Genesis three we saw God had to kill that innocent animal to cover Adam and Eve and their nakedness and shame. It was a foreshadowing of the cross that was to come, how Jesus would shed His innocent blood to pay for your sin. Have you ever come to God that way, through Christ, through faith in Jesus Christ? If you haven’t, my friend, listen to me. You are lost. I don’t say that in a cruel way. I say it to reach out to you like I did to my son that day, pulling him back from certain danger. God is inviting you to come to Him today by faith as Abel did, to bring your life to Him right now this morning and say, “God cleanse me. I come to you by faith through the blood of your Son. I’m asking for forgiveness and eternal life.” If you’ve never done that, I pray you’ll do it today. We have people here who are ready to talk to you and pray with you this morning.