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.” 2 Then she also gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel became a shepherd of flocks, but Cain worked the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain presented some of the land’s produce as an offering to the Lord. 4 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, 5 but He did not have regard for Cain and his offering. Cain was furious, and he looked despondent.
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you furious? And why do you look despondent? 7 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.”
8 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”?
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. 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.
5 Therefore, when He came into the world, He said:
“Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
But a body You have prepared for Me.
6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin
You had no pleasure.
7 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.
I 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.