The Lie Religion Tells
“Be good,” we hear! So, how good is good enough? Biblically, we read the account of Cain and his brother Abel. These two men, paint in our mind’s eye, a very vivid picture of what is, and is not acceptable to God! We may be familiar with the record, but have we truly understood the message in it for you and I? Let’s see…
What do we know about Cain? Regrettably, we know about the sordid account of his parents – Adam and Eve. We know too, about his brother Abel. Further, we know that Cain was, “A worker of the ground.” (Genesis 4:2)
Doubtlessly, Cain’s parents would have informed him about all the events that transpired in the garden. Yet, we find that Cain followed in the footsteps of his parents, and the mistakes of history were once again repeated! Yes, his parents tried to make themselves presentable to God by sewing fig leaves together and covering over their guilt. So too Cain, he brought the produce of the ground – his own efforts.
Indeed, today, history continues to repeat itself. People all over the world, are still trying to make themselves look presentable to God! Like Cain, they toil so hard to bring forth the fruits of righteousness! Yes, religion says, “Work hard, and God will accept your offering!” But, just as with Cain, “For Cain and his offering he had no regard,” so it is with the religious one’s “offerings” today. (Genesis 4:5) This lack of acceptance with Cain’s offering, did not go over well with his prideful, religious heart, and he became “very angry.” (Genesis 4:6)
Well, Abel also, will have heard the account of what transpired in the garden, regarding his parents. He will surely have noted that, their fig leaf efforts availed not, but that God clothed them.
We find that Abel was, “A keeper of sheep.” (Genesis 4:2) This makes one wonder, was Cain envious of his brother because of his occupation? For, while Cain will have been sweating in the heat of the day, working hard to produce a crop, Abel will have been sitting in the shade of a tree observing the sheep!
In coming to Abel, we read that “He was commended as righteous.” (Hebrews 11:4) What then, we must ask, was it that made Abel righteous in the sight of God? Was it his obedience, or was it something else?
We find then that, Abel had a totally different conclusion as to himself than his brother had about himself. Abel understood that he had nothing of worth in himself that God should accept him. Therefore, Abel “Brought of the firstborn of his flock.” (Genesis 4:4) Yes, with clarity, we witness here an offering that typified the offering of, “The Lamb of God”! We observe here, a “substitutionary” offering.
There was no pride on Abel’s part. He realized that he was a helpless sinner! He knew that he could do absolutely nothing to make himself acceptable to the holy God! He knew he didn’t stand a chance. Therefore, he put forward an offering that typified the Worthy One – the Lord Jesus Christ, and found his acceptance in Christ! He recognized that only the grace of God would ever do!
The Lie of Religion
Some folks say that, “Cain was disobedient and Abel was obedient, and this is why one was accepted with his offering, but not the other.” However, this falls far short of what is so strikingly shown! For, Cain’s offering represented himself. It presented his own efforts in being good. What Cain did, speaks of this verse, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (~Isaiah 64:6)
Yes, the lie of religion is that, I can make myself acceptable to God by what I do – by my obedience!
On the other hand, Abel did not present himself, for he knew there was nothing of worth to present. Therefore, he presented a substitutionary offering that represented the Savior that would take his place upon the altar of the cross! Indeed, Abel’s offering represented the one who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
It is true, religion lies, “There is another way to the Father! All you have to do is obey!” However, the Word of God cuts to the truth, and says, “All our righteousness is as filthy rags.” (~Isaiah 64:6) Yes, Adam and Eve’s fig leaves were as, “filthy rags” to God, and so was Cain’s offering. Both represented self-effort – self-righteousness. In this way, religion snubs its nose at the substitutionary work of Christ on its behalf! It says, “You can gain your own righteousness via your obedience; your own efforts of being a good person!” Religion refuses to acknowledge that we must be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ in order to be accepted by God! No wonder God does accept our “offerings,” for they mock His Son, who is our substitutionary offering! And no wonder God accepted Abel’s offering, for it represented God’s beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ – the Righteous One!
Jesus our Only Hope
Unquestionably, Cain could not arrive at the place where he was willing to acknowledge that he had nothing of worth in and of himself to present to God. For in his pride he had offered that which represented his own righteousness, instead of that which represented the offering of the Lord Jesus, whereby a person alone is able to receive the righteousness of God. Then, when God did point out his error, he got “very angry,” and ended up murdering his brother!
The problem with religion is that, people are seeking to be reconciled to God by what they do! They are trying to reach up to God. When in fact, the one and only solution is, God reaching down to man by Jesus Christ and Him crucified! This is the one and only way for people to be placed back into a right relationship with God.
Truly, it is purely the grace of God for Him to send Jesus to be our sin-offering! There was absolutely nothing in us that, warranted the holy God to send his uniquely born Son on a rescue mission, to save us by going to the cross to be our substitute! Yes, Jesus is our Passover Lamb! It is only His blood applied to the “doorposts and lintel” of our “house,” that will give you protection from God’s judgement!
Without question, only the finished work of Christ on your behalf could ever get you into God’s holy Heaven! We see that it is Jesus who paid, not only the debt of your past sins, but of your future sins too! With a certainty, some 2000 years ago, all of your sins were placed upon Jesus Christ by God! As here written, “And the LORD laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) For, were not all of your sins future when Christ hung upon the dreadful cross? Absolutely! Was not God’s wrath exhausted upon His beloved Son for the sins of your lifetime? No question! “He was crushed for our iniquities,” and “Having forgiven us all our trespasses.” (Isaiah 53:5, Colossians 2:13) Therefore, Jesus cried from the cross in victory, “It is finished”! (John 19:30) This is why we read, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) Again, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Therefore, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised.” (Romans 8:34) No, none can “condemn”! Why? Jesus was already condemned in our place! He was your sin-offering!
Now, it doesn’t stop there either! For all who believe this good news, receive the very righteousness of Jesus Christ as one’s “garment”! As recorded, “He [God] has covered us with the robe of righteousness.” (Isaiah 61:10)
Just listen to these words! “For Christ suffered once for sins; the righteous for the unrighteous”! (1 Peter 3:18)
No, we can never obtain any kind of righteousness by our feeble attempts at obedience! We will all fail to achieve it! No, none of us have perfectly loved all people – especially our enemies! Much rather, we need to humble ourselves before our holy God and admit, “I’m a helpless sinner oh God! Only you can save me, and please save me now!” Yes, we read God’s promise, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!” (Romans 10:13)
I ask, are you still sewing fig leaves together, that God may accept you? Are you still offering up the produce of the ground to present to God? Are you still trying to be obedient, in order to make yourself acceptable to the all-knowing God? For to such, God will say, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
So then, if you desire to abide in Heaven, you will need to be equally as righteous as God Himself is. Therefore, we are left with two choices as to how to become righteous. Firstly, we can try to make ourselves righteous through our feeble attempts of obedience. In this, we know that “all” will “fall short.” It is simply an impossible feat to gain a righteousness equal to that of God’s! Indeed, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (~Isaiah 64:6) Secondly, we can, like the prodigal son, receive our righteous from the Father as an undeserved gift!
Yes, God took the sin of your lifetime and heaped it on Jesus. He bore the wrath in your place. Do you believe it? In turn His righteousness if given to you as a gift! As written, “The free gift of righteousness.” (Romans 5:17) Indeed, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.” (Titus 3:5)
Listen with care, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing [such as obedience]; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) If we could gain righteousness by our obedience, we would have a boast! Therefore we read, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded…For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law…And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)
May God grant you light to understand the marvellous gospel message! And, in light of all that has been said, let me remind you once more, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13) This is God’s promise to you!
Victor J Reimer
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Photo credit: “OTO104. Cain and Abel” by pcstratman
*Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), copyrighted © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.