Leaving religion to follow Christ – Part three

Jesus_writing_sandWho told Cain and Abel to offer a sacrifice? And why did God regard Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s? Was it the nature of the sacrifice, or was it about the nature of offerer’s heart?

And what does this have to do with leaving religion to follow Christ? Hopefully, that will become evident here.

This is part three in this series. In this part, we will look at the nature of religion. Let’s start at the beginning:

Adam was intimate with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain. She said, “I have had a male child with the Lord’s help.” Then she also gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel became a shepherd of flocks, but Cain worked the ground. In the course of time Cain presented some of the land’s produce as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also presented an offering—some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but He did not have regard for Cain and his offering. Cain was furious, and he looked despondent.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you furious? And why do you look despondent? If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. (Gen.4:1-8 HCSB *)

So, again, who told Cain and Abel to offer a sacrifice to God?

I’ve read many commentaries and heard messages (you probably have too) that say God didn’t accept Cain’s sacrifice because it wasn’t a blood sacrifice (even though non-blood sacrifices were perfectly acceptable in the Law).  Some speculate it was because Abel offered a firstborn of his flock. I get why we may want to come up with these reasons from reading the Old Testament, but the problem is, nowhere does it say any of these things here. In fact, nowhere does it say that God even wanted their sacrifice.

Three quick points about this passage:

First, there’s nothing in the Bible narrative to suggest that God established any sacrificial system up to this point. We must read this into the passage in order to draw that conclusion.

The second thing, it doesn’t actually say that God refused Cain’s sacrifice. It just says that He didn’t regard it (literally, “look at it”).

Finally, God’s response to Cain was that if HE “did what was right,” that HE would be accepted. Again, nothing here about the sacrifice itself. Then we must ask ourselves, what did God mean by Cain doing “what is right”?

adi_holzer_werksverzeichnis_835_abrahams_opferWhat I believe we’re actually witnessing here is the beginning of religion. Appeasing “god” by sacrificing things (or other people). In other words, making yourself feel good by offering anything but yourself. In fact, all pagan religions follow this same sacrificial modus operandi. It’s throwing your virgin daughters in the volcano so “god” won’t burn your village.

If we go back to the beginning, when Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened to “good and evil,” rather than seeing Him in as a loving Father in intimate relationship, partnering together in the Garden, they felt separation. So they hid from Him in fear. Tragically, they painted God’s face with Satan’s brush. God looked like Zeus or Molech…not like Jesus.

Because of the Fall, humankind begins to build religious constructs as a means to ease our guilty conscience while keeping God at a distance, building towers up to the heavens (literally or metaphorically) in order to reach up to God (or be God), even though, as Paul told the pagan Athenians, “He is not far from each one of us….” (Acts 17:27-28 ).

So, what does God do? We see Him acquiescing to this religious orphan mindset throughout the Old Testament. Why? Because He always meets us where we’re at, not where He’s at, whether it be animal sacrifice or giving them a king.

Religion has always been about sacrificing things or people to appease a distance deity; God has always been about surrender and other-centered love.

Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: 
Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
But a body You have prepared for Me.
In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin
You had no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come
In the volume of the book it is written of Me—
To do Your will, O God.’” (Heb.10:5-7 NKJV *)

If we look carefully throughout the Old Testament, we’ll find that, starting with Abraham, God progressively deconstructs this sacrificial view of worship in the hearts and minds of His covenant people. David and the prophets eventually pick up on this (Psalm 51:16-17; Isa.1:11-18; Jer.7:22-23; Hos. 6:6; Amos 5:21-24), but it was true from the beginning.

711px-Witch-scene4I think it’s also noteworthy that the first murder is religiously motivated. That says a lot about the nature of religion! Religion has had a very bloody history of violence and jealousy in the name of serving God.

But all God ever wanted was our heart. I talked about this in my two-part series, “What does God really want.”

I believe the difference between Cain and Abel was not the nature of their sacrifice. We don’t find God asking them for that. The difference was with the quality and nature of their heart.

Beloved, all God ever wanted was us. The only sacrifice He desires is a heart that walks humbly before Him and loves like He does. This is what all the Law and the Prophets are actually about (Micah 6:8; Matt. 7:12; 22:37-40). It’s not about appeasement because of fear; it’s about surrender and trust because of love.

We’ll continue looking at this next time.

* Emphasis added.
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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 36 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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9 Responses to Leaving religion to follow Christ – Part three

  1. AfroScot says:

    Thanks Mel for this article. I never saw it this way.

    However, this is quite similar to Jephthah’s story. Did he really need to make a vow to God regarding a sacrifice if victorious? Afterall, God delivered the Israelites using Gideon and 300 men against the Midianites.

    I guess our orphan mindset think we need to “bribe” God for favour. We are so loved by God!

    God bless.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Excellent point, AfroScot. Jephthah shows us where this “transactional” orphan-mindset about God can lead us, even to the point of human sacrifice. He was reflecting the pagan mindset of his day. But this is actually satanic, it was never God’s heart. While Jephthah was very sad about having to sacrifice his own daughter, he (with her permission) still went through with it because he thought he had to. He was “put in a corner” by his own pagan religious mindset, if you will.

      This is why Jesus says not to make any vows at all. This is not what God wants; it’s pure religion:

      36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matt. 5:36-37)

      And Jephthah is a perfect illustration of what religion makes you do. You end up violating your own conscience, even doing the most evil things because you think you have to in order to please God. It’s compelled by forced obligation and fear, whereas God compels by His grace and other-centered love (2 Cor.5:14-15).

  2. Lydia Thomas says:

    “What I believe we’re actually witnessing here is the beginning of religion. Appeasing “god” by sacrificing things (or other people). In other words, making yourself feel good by offering anything but yourself.”

    Very convicting.

    • Mel Wild says:

      It is convicting, Lydia. It’s the cross we’re to take up daily….letting God be the judge, and living in His love instead of relating to Him in a transactional way. But it’s also where we find our life! It’s where the fullness of joy is found. The result is the fruit of the Spirit. We get to be the conduits of Him pouring out His love on to others. His life begins to flow through us. Jesus is our example (Phil.2:5-8): we offer ourselves to God to fill and work through instead of our religious sacrifices.

  3. “Beloved, all God ever wanted was us. The only sacrifice He desires is a heart that walks humbly before Him and loves like He does.” Why is this so difficult for us to get? Why is it so difficult for us to give? I think it’s because when we fail to abide in the Spirit (abundance), we live from scarcity of love, of worth, of grace. That scarcity creates fear and the orphan mind-set you so frequently talk about here. And it is all so unnecessary if we would just stop fighting His embrace.

    • Mel Wild says:

      “I think it’s because when we fail to abide in the Spirit (abundance), we live from scarcity of love, of worth, of grace. That scarcity creates fear and the orphan mind-set you so frequently talk about here. And it is all so unnecessary if we would just stop fighting His embrace.”

      YES!!! EXACTLY!
      Susan, you’ve just summed up my whole blog. The point of why I write! 🙂
      This is exactly why Christian “religion” is so mean-spirited and divisive and ugly and empty. Why it’s so NOT like Christ. We seem to think we can get life from God and still keep ours. And that is a dangerous mindset. It’s so deceptive because. like the Pharisees, we think we’re dutifully serving God. It’s actually quite sad. But this is foreign to the New Testament revelation. Our life only comes from abiding in HIS life, and what flows out of that life is pure grace and other-centered love. Otherwise, we have nothing, even though we think we do.

      Thank you, beloved sister, you have succinctly put what I have used hundreds of thousands of word to try to explain! 🙂 ❤

  4. Hebrews 11:4 says that by faith, Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice. I believe it is just a you wrote. Religion will offer sacrifices with no emotional attachments. It is more or less going through the motions. Relationships, however, believe that we frame our world (our ages) by faith and that we put our heart into the things we do unto the Lord. Abel had a desire to be pleasing to God while Cain was simply going through the motions.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Great point, Patrick. Going through motions is what Greg Boyd called “Sociopathic religion.” It’s doing what you think you’re supposed to be doing instead of actually being in the relationship. It’s like a husband studying his wife so he can look like a good husband instead of actually loving her and acting out of that love. As you described, it’s unfeeling and without reality. The difference between Cain and Abel is that Abel’s heart was right. God tried to get Cain to see this, but he would not. It’s a sad commentary on our prideful rebellion against love and intimacy with God. It’s based in fear, really.

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