The Story Of Cain & Abel
By Carl Knott
How many religions do you suppose there are in the world? Could you make a list of them? Could you count them all? How long do you think it would take? How big of a piece of paper would be required to write them all down - all the religions of the world?
Would you be surprised if I told you that it would be easy to do? Yes, really quite simple! You see, actually, there are only two religions in all the world. We are talking about what religion does with man's basic problem, sin, and about the question of how man can obtain forgiveness and eternal life. There are really only two religions. Even though there are many different names of religions, and many different religious practices, there are only two basic religions.
One religion is the religion of Cain, and the other is the religion of Abel, and they are found in Genesis 4:2-7. Genesis is the book of beginnings, and here we find the beginnings of all the world religions, in Cain and Abel. Cain's religion is a religion of works, and Abel's is faith in a sacrifice, a substitute. There are no others. Either you believe like Cain, or like Abel. Let's think about them, each one, and let's see which one you are like, Cain or Abel?
The Religion of Cain
First we will think about Cain. Genesis 4:3 says that he brought of the fruit of the ground to the Lord - that is - the results of his own hard labors as a gardener. We must admit that Cain was not a lazy man - he worked hard! In Genesis 3:19 God had said that man would bring forth fruit from the ground only by working hard. That is exactly what Cain did. He worked hard, he grew tired from his labors, but at last he had the fruits of his labors, and he presented them to the LORD on an altar.
But there was a problem. Cain presented the fruits of his labors, but he labored, he made a garden of a cursed earth. Genesis 3:17 says that the earth was cursed, so what Cain presented to God came from something that was cursed.
Then there was another problem. Cain's offering to God did not cost death. There was no animal to he killed, no blood was shed, no life was given. It was a bloodless sacrifice that Cain offered. In that way Cain was failing to see the seriousness of the guiltiness of his condition as a sinner. He was saying that sin is not so serious as to require death, it isn't necessary for any life to be given - "God can just accept the best that I can do." He presented his own good works and expected to be accepted.
There are many people like Cain in the world. It is quite common to hear people say that they believe that God will accept them if they do the best they can. Many think that it is okay to have their own ideas about how to reach God and heaven, just as Cain did. What is your idea? Do you think it is enough to be sincere and to do the best you can? You might say, "After all, if we do the best we can, who can ask for more?" But God can ask for more, because He is perfect. Do you think that turning over a new leaf will help, that is, repenting and improving your life? Maybe you are like those who say they have cleaned up their lives, or have joined a church, or are now following certain rules to be better persons? Cain also did his best.
But poor Cain had to find out and many others, maybe even you, will have to find out. God does not accept man even if man does the best he can - because the best he can do, like Cain, comes from something cursed. Just as the earth was cursed and could not produce good, so also the heart of man is evil and cannot produce good. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of this when he said, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil" (Jeremiah 13.23). In Ecclesiastes 7.20 we read, "For there is not a just man upon the earth that doeth good and sinneth not." In Isaiah 64.6 we read "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags."
God is so pure, so holy, so perfect, so righteous, that nothing that man can do will measure up. Yet people keep right on trying to reach God through man's religions, religions like Cain's, religions of works. Their practices may he different, they may follow various rules, but their ideas and teaching regarding how man can be accepted by God are the same: works. So, all these many religions in the world are really just many varieties of the same religion. Which variety is yours?
Varieties of Cain's Religion
The Hindu must make sacrifices, say prayers, and live a pure life. The Hare Krishna believes he will save himself through the virtue of saying "Hare Krishna" a certain number of times each day, along with other practices. The Buddhist follows the eight-fold path to Nirvana (which means "nothingness"), including quiet prayer and giving money as well as other works. The Muslim keeps the five pillars of Islam: the witness ("kalimatu ash shahada"), prayers ("salat"), giving to poor people ("zakat"), going without food ("saum"), and the journey to a holy place ("hajj"). The Roman Catholic must be baptized as an infant, confirmed, receive the sacraments (mass, extreme unction, etc), pray, do good works, and continue in the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Many Protestant churches also, having slipped from the truth of the Gospel, are preaching baptism, faithfulness to the Church, and good works as a means of being accepted by God.
And we could go on, because all over the world there are really hundreds of thousands, even millions of people who believe like Cain and try to reach God and be accepted by Him on the basis of doing the best that they can. They are working to please God, just like Cain. It is all the same religion - hoping that somehow we can convince God to accept us by doing things just right or by showing our sincerity and good intentions. After all, they say, He knows we're not perfect!
But God's response to all these people will be the very same as His response to Cain: rejection. Read verses 5-7 of Genesis 4 again. God will not accept us if we approach Him bringing our works to Him. Why not? Because works do not pay for sin.
Only death pays for sin. Please remember that or you will not understand the message of the Gospel repeated so many times in the Bible. "The soul that sinneth, it will surely die" (Ezekiel 18:4). "Those who practice such things are worthy of death" (Romans 1:32). "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). What will pay for sin? What will take away sin so that we can be accepted by God? The answer is DEATH. Only DEATH will do it.
Cain's sacrifice failed because there was no death, no blood shed, and his works could not make a holy and just God accept him. It apparently seemed so reasonable to Cain, like Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof is the way of death." Cain was sincere, but you can be sincere and still be mistaken. Many people are that way today.
Think about all those religions we mentioned, and all the thousands, even millions of people that they represent. No one questions even for a minute that all those people are sincere - they really believe they are doing right. It seems right to them. But the Word of God says "there is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof is the way of death".
There are many of them that practice those religions, and they have done it for many years, and they have many arguments to say why they think they are right. But they are wrong because of where their road ends. Where does it end? In death. It doesn't save them at the end. At the end they are not accepted by God and they do not get into heaven. So if the end of the road is death, why should you go down it? What good does it serve to be faithful all your life in something that is mistaken and cannot save you? None.
The religion of Cain, good works, man's efforts, "doing your part", etc., this religion seems right, but is wrong. God rejected Cain's offering and He thus announced since the very beginning that He will reject all who approach Him in those ways. It is time for us to learn from the example of Cain and Abel.
God has made it plain since the beginning, but many people have not cared to look into His Word, or have not paid attention to what it says, or simply did not think it was important. God does not accept works. God does not forgive sin on the basis of works. God will not let people into heaven on the basis of their works. Works cannot pay for man's sins, and so they can never satisfy God.
What about you? Have you come to the place where you have recognized that you are a sinner? Do you really believe that you are a sinner? (Read Mark 7.20-23). Perhaps you are convinced that you are a sinner, that your own heart produces wicked things. Then you know that no amount of good works will take away those sins or the guilt that you have, nor can faithful religion that you may practice.
Remember Cain! He was never accepted. NEVER. In 1 John 3:12 Cain is called "of that wicked one" and it says that "his own works were evil." In Jude v.11 we read, "Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain..." Don't go the way of Cain. Your good works and your religious practices do not make you acceptable to God rather they can only give false hope. Therefore you must repent of those very good works and religious practices if you want to find the salvation of God.
Do not secretly hope that you are different and that God will accept your good works or your religion. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace are 'ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." Titus 3:5 says "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us..." How can this be? Let's look at Abel's religion, and we'll see how God can and will accept us.
The Religion of Abel
Abel's religion is the religion of substitution. A lamb was killed and put on the altar and sacrificed to God. Blood was poured out, a lamb had to die and be offered in Abel's place. God said he had done "well" and accepted him. "Cain offered the sweat of his brow, but the sweat of his brow was no substitute for the blood of the lamb", someone has said. It is true. Abel offered a life in the place of his own. He knew that sin was a serious thing, and that only death could pay for it. How did he know that?
Read the first 7 verses of chapter 4 over again, and remember that the Lord killed the first animals in Genesis 3:21 to cover man after he sinned. We believe that God must have taught them the right way to sacrifice. Abel believed what God had said, and in his faith he offered a better sacrifice than Cain, who did not believe but tried to come to God his own way.
Ever since Cain, men have been trying to come to God in their own way, trying to figure out a good way to get to heaven. It is a lot of sadly wasted time, because it is God's heaven and He has already told us how we may have eternal life and enter in. Abel believed God, and offered a better sacrifice than Cain. That is what Hebrews 11:4 teaches us.
All offerings are not equal, even when they are sincerely done. God rejected Cain and accepted Abel, because in Abel's offering there is (1) faith - he believed what God had said, and (2) obedience - he did what God said, which proved that he really did believe it. Most importantly, Abel's offering was a picture of that great offering that the Lord Jesus Christ would make one day in the future, on the cross, giving His life as the Substitute for us all.
You see, God accepted Abel because of Abel's lamb, substituted for him. And that is a picture of how God can accept you and me, not on the basis of any works, but on the basis of a Substitute. In John 1:29 the Lord Jesus Christ is called "The Lamb of God." He is God's Lamb, the perfect Substitute, who takes away the sin of the world. How does He do that? By paying the penalty for sin, death, for you, on the cross.
When He died, He was substituting for you, paying your death penalty. You see, you need a Substitute, you need a Lamb, or else you'll have to pay for your own sins. But the perfect Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, has already died in your place. The work is done. It is ready to be applied to you personally if and when you believe this wonderful news and trust the Lord Jesus to save you.
In 1 Peter 1:18-19 we read, "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." That is the wonderful act of substitution that the Lord Jesus accomplished on the cross for you. Read the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, and you will see how the prophet speaks, 700 years ahead of time, of the death that the Lord Jesus would die. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, having our sins laid upon Him, suffering for us so that we could be justified (declared righteous by God).
This has always been the only way that God has dealt with sin and accepted men and women. In the Old Testament the prophecies and sacrifices helped people to look forward, by faith, to the perfect sacrifice. In the New Testament the wonderful and long-promised sacrifice is performed when the Lord Jesus died on the cross outside Jerusalem.
Some people do not think it is very important whether He really died or not. But it is. If He did not die then the prophets of God in the Old Testament are false prophets. They spoke of Messiah, Savior, and prophesied of His death (like Isaiah 53). If He did not die then there is no one to take our sins away. God has already said that He absolutely will not accept good works (religion of Cain), and so there would be no hope for any of us.
But the Lord Jesus did die, and He did it for you and for me, being punished there for our sins (1 Peter 3:18). He rose from the dead the third day, and is alive, seated in the majesty on high, and is able to save all who come to God by Him (Hebrews 7:25). You must come to God by Jesus Christ, you see, there is no other way because there is no other substitute! Read John 14:6, Acts 4:12, and 1 Timothy 2:5 and you will see.
What You Must Do
So, what must you do if you are really going to be saved? Do not follow man's religions and man's old doctrines. Do not follow man's reasonings. None of these things will lead you to eternal life. Remember, "there is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12). It all seems so right, but it is wrong.
You must forsake Cain's religion, whichever of its forms you are practicing it, even if you have been taught it all your life, even if everyone around you is doing it. Even if you'll be different - the only one. What is more important? Do you think it is more important for men to accept you and be pleased with you, or for God to accept you and be pleased with you? Do not he like the Pharisees in John 12:43 who "loved the praise of men more than the praise of God". It is more important for God to accept you and be pleased with you, because He is the only one who can forgive your sins.
Give up Cain's religion. Do not trust in your good works or your religious actions. It is hopeless! Believe God's good news, the Gospel: Jesus Christ died for your sins, He was buried, and He rose again the third day. He died in your place, taking your punishment, for your sins. He rose again and is a living Savior who can forgive you and give you eternal life, save you eternally, if you will come to God by Him.
Trust in Jesus Christ alone. He died for your sins, He is the only one who can save you. There is no other Mediator, no one else can go between you and God. The Lord Jesus is God's Lamb, who sacrificed Himself to pay for your sins. Abel's sacrifice was an act that was a kind of picture of what Christ would do. Abel's sacrifice was one of faith. Faith believes God's Word, and trusts in the sacrifice that God established, and that sacrifice is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Which religion is yours? Cain's, or Abel's? Does your religion say "DO", "do this", "do that, and you will be saved (maybe)" or does it say "DONE", "IT IS FINISHED"? Do not trust in your religion or your works any longer, or you will end up rejected like Cain. I'm asking you to give up those things and trust completely in the Lord Jesus Christ and what He did "once for all" on the cross for you. You will be truly, really saved! God will forgive your sins and give you eternal life right now if you repent of them and come to Him by Jesus Christ your Substitute. Call upon Him to save you because of what Christ did for you on the cross, believe in Him and He will save you now. I am going to close now with a very beautiful hymn - please read and think about its message, and call upon the Lord Jesus Christ to save you forever.
Not what this toiling flesh has borne, can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do, can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers, or sighs, or tears, can ease my awful load.
Thy love to me, O God, not mine, 0 Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest, and set my spirit free.
No other work save Thine, no meaner blood will do,
No strength, save that which is divine, can bear me safely through.
Thy work alone my Saviour, can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
(Horatius Bonar 1808-1889)
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Please do not teach people to repent of good works. You are saved by grace Ephesians 2:5,8 and you are rewarded according to your works Matthew 16:27, 2 Timothy 4:14. In Revelation 18:6 the "reward" is negative.
What we repent of is no longer a part of us as we accept by grace the gift of forgiveness by believing on Jesus and accepting Jesus as our Savior. Romans 10:9,
I Corinthians 3:13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. 14If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
"...without shedding of blood is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22).
Now that we have the whole of Scripture it is easy to see that blood was required to atone for sins. On the day of atonement, Israels most solumn assembly, the high priest entered into the holy of holies " not without blood" (Hebrews 9:7). A carrot or turnip would not do. Adam and Eve found out that plant matter could not cover their sins, and God showing them the way, would have instructed their children in like matter. " By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts" (Hebrews 11:4). Not everyone was a shepherd in the OT. A carpenter's lumber, a seamstress' needles, a masons chisels, nor a farmers vegetables would not suffice to atone for sins. "For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul." (Leviticus 17:11).
There were however various offerings such as the meal offering (Leviticus 2) which could have no leaven and was to be salted. Also, for the tresspass offering, if one was not able to bring a lamb, by the grace and kindness of God he could bring a little bit of flour for his sin offering, so that the poor as well as the rich could make their offering (Leviticus 5).
All of these offerings of course were just a shadow or type of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace" (Ephesians 1:7). Jesus could have been asphixiated or starved to death or poisoned, etc. However, No other type of death could purchase our salvation. Therefore, “we have redemption through His blood” (Ephesians 1:7), He “made peace through the blood” (Colossians 1:20), He “washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Revelation 1:5), and we are now justified “through faith in His blood” (Romans 3:25).
What "blood sacrifice" can be expected from a person who works in the field? There was no mention of the purpose of that particular sacrifice. The Law also include sacrifices that do not shed blood. So we cannot presume that Cain's sacrifice was not accepted based on its material alone. I would even go on the say that the "lamb" is God's way of hiding the truth from those Calvinists who believe that God chose Abel to salvation and chose Cain to damnation. The heart is more important than having the right status, for example, owning lambs in this case.
This is something that God has been placing on my heart for a while now, the issue of the works of Cain and how people can place so much faith into what they do rather than putting their faith into Jesus and the fact that he "finished" the work. There is nothing that we can do to earn our salvation, but there are plenty of people wbleepedwill tell us otherwise. I deal with Catholics at work wbleepedespouse the works issue and how we need to do good works to be acceptable to Christ, not seeing that they are following the path or way of Cain rather than accepting the free gift of God through his son, Jesus. Jesus said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. In many churches today, even Protestant churches by way of the Purpose Driven Church (privately, I have referred to it as the slave-driven church) movement, a gospel of works is being pushed hard. I myself look fully to the grace of God through his son, Jesus, accepting his sacrifice for myself, knowing that I could never do anything to earn salvation for myself. I was first saved back in January of 1979, but this has been an ongoing issue for so long. Your article really reinforces good sound logic relating to the issue of works versus faith.
David R. Bullivant