It’s funny how you can know a Bible story, even understand its significance, and one day its meaning comes over you anew.
I’ve known the story of Cain and Abel ever since, well, I can’t remember a time I didn’t know it. My parents were wonderful about teaching me the Bible, and “Cain and Abel” is a story every Sunday school child hears early.
And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”
-Genesis 4:3-7 (NKJV)
For a long time, my childish mind thought God rejected Cain’s offering because of the attitude of his heart, which is partially true. Cain’s attitude caused him to offer the wrong sacrifice.
As a child I thought, What’s wrong with giving vegetables instead of a lamb? After all, we tithe money, or donate food to food pantries, which is giving to God. Cain was giving God the best he had. It must be he was covering up his wicked heart by this sacrifice, and that’s why God didn’t accept it.
But no. It hit home again this week that it truly was the material of the sacrifice itself that God could not accept. Why?
Because it wasn’t an atoning sacrifice at all.
Oh, sure, Cain gave the best fruit of his work to God. But only blood can atone for sin. Cain’s sacrifice didn’t hide his wicked heart, but exposed it.
In effect, Cain’s offering said, “I know I’m a sinful human, but look at how hard I’ve worked. By the sweat of my brow, I’ve coaxed good fruit from this ground You cursed. Here is the very best of my work. Now can’t You forgive me?”
But Abel’s offering acknowledged, “I know I’m a sinful human. I cannot wash away my wrongdoing. So I offer the blood of this lamb, as You require, to cover my sin. Will you forgive me?”
See the difference?
Cain’s offering boasted of his work, what he had done, and how he deserved forgiveness.
Abel’s sacrifice confessed his guilt, acknowledged God’s requirement of a blood sacrifice, and exhibited obedience to God’s holiness.
Thus early in the Bible, in chapter 4 of the first book, we glimpse what God declares in detail in several New Testament epistles.
We can never earn forgiveness. It must come through innocent blood being shed on our behalf.
‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’
-Leviticus 17:11 (NKJV) emphasis mine
Which brings us to Jesus and His death on the cross. He was innocent, and He spilled His blood on our behalf.
For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.
-Hebrews 10:4 (NKJV)
Abel’s sacrifice only covered his sins for a time. “Atonement” means “covering.”
But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come…
Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
-Hebrews 9:11-12 (NKJV)
It isn’t about what we do for God. We can’t earn our salvation. His grace, given through the blood of Jesus Christ, is all we can rely on.
Sometimes as born-again Christians, I think we forget.
We slip up and act against God’s will. So we say, “Lord, please forgive me for Jesus’ sake. I promise I’ll do better. You know I’m trying so hard. And I’m doing good in other ways. I’m trying to be worth Your trouble, trying to walk in victory more often than I fall.”
And God says, “It isn’t about what you do, or don’t do, or try to do.”
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast.
-Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV) emphasis mine
being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
-Romans 3:24 (NKJV) emphasis mine
For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
-Romans 8:13 (NKJV)
You will miss God’s grace if you try to work your way into His favor. Cain lost God’s favor through his pride in giving his own best, not what God required.
In Jesus, God has already provided what He requires. We must simply claim it.
P.S. Perhaps someone will say, “What about the verses that teach holy living and good works?” Oh, yes, those are wonderful, too! But that, my friend, is a topic for another time…