Even Cain Was Religious
Does it matter what we believe concerning the Bible? Many people, very religious ones at that, will tell us that it doesn’t matter what we believe, so long as we are sincere. Does it matter what we practice in religion, what we do and teach? Again, many of our friends, sincere and quite religiously-minded, will say that the details do not matter. “Just do what feels right in your heart,” I have been told, “and God will surely accept it.”
Is that what the Bible teaches us? That we can worship the Lord in whatever way we choose, however we see fit, and He will happily accept it and bless us for it? Let us take a look into Scripture and see.
Does it matter what we believe? Jesus very clearly tells us that it does. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). We must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that through Him, and Him only, can salvation be found (John 8:24). There are many religious people in this world who will give Jesus the credit of being a good teacher and prophet, but they will not acknowledge Him as Deity – they do not see Him as God the Son. By denying the Deity of Christ, we deny the very thing He claimed of Himself when He told the Jews, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). Those Jews had no trouble understanding what Jesus meant…they took up stones to try and kill Him!
Does it matter what we practice? Can you and I worship however we please, doing religious things that God has given us no permission to do, and expect Him to be pleased with us? Both Cain and Abel brought offerings unto God (Genesis 4:3-7). Cain, a tiller of the ground, brought fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel, a keeper of sheep, brought God of the firstborn of his flock and their fat. God respected Abel’s offering, but he did not respect Cain’s.
Why did this happen? After all, hadn’t Cain worked hard to till his field and produce this offering for the Lord? Hadn’t Cain done something religious? Surely, but notice the words of Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.” Yes, Cain had offered a sacrifice, but his was not done of faith like that of Abel’s. Where does faith come from? “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). For Abel to offer his sacrifice by faith, it means that God had revealed to them what He wanted them to offer. Abel obediently did as His Lord commanded; Cain chose to offer something else. It seems clear from God speaking to Cain in Genesis 4:7 that Cain knew better, but chose to do wrong anyway: “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.”
Therefore, because Cain chose to do something other than what the Lord commanded, his worship was rejected.
The same is true for us. We can do all sorts of religious things, seemingly for the cause of Jesus, but if we do them without His authority, our worship will be rejected, too. God’s people are an obedient people, as Jesus clearly outlines: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15); “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). Therefore, if we do not keep His commandments, the implications are quite clear: we do not love Him, and we are not truly His friends!
Surely, someone reading this may be about ready to jump out of his or her seat and exclaim, “But we ought to have a heart of joy and peace and love! I’ve seen Christians who always kept God’s commands, but they didn’t show love!” Absolutely. Our service to the Lord must be done with all sincerity of heart, with fruits of the Spirit abounding (Galatians 5:22-23). We must have both to please the Lord: obedience and a proper heart. Jesus sums this up for us nicely in John 4:24: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
I am very afraid that some of my brethren have latched on to the popular religious idea that zeal is all that matters. Many seem to think, “If you are overflowing with emotion and love, then it does not really matter what you practice…don’t get caught up in the details!” Though quite popular, this sentiment is simply not true.
Let us remember the words of Paul: “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2). Zeal is certainly necessary in serving the Lord properly; the Laodiceans are an example of God’s anger at saints without zeal (Revelation 3:14-22). But zeal must be tempered with knowledge.
God knows what pleases Him. He has told us exactly what He wants through Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We do not lack anything in knowing how to please Him, for He has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).
We cannot practice whatever we want. Cain tried that and failed. Nadab and Abihu tried that and failed (Leviticus 10:1-2). Everyone in the history of mankind who has ever tried that has failed. If my actions, religious though they may be, are not according to pattern left by Jesus and the apostles, then I will fail to please God, too.
We must follow the pattern that God has given us, because He knows better than we do. “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). Faithful children obey their parents. Loyal soldiers obey their orders. And faithful Christians obey their Lord’s commands without wavering. If we follow His ways with a willing heart, then we will be accepted by Him…just like Abel was.