Monday, August 11, 2014

Cain, who came to God on his own terms and repented only of the personal consequences of his sin

Cain is a near perfect example of a Biblical character who relied on his own "dead works," and, hence, manifested only a defective form of repentance. Cain, it will be recalled, fell down a slippery slope of sin that started with arrogance--approaching God on his own terms. Cain obviously was on speaking terms with God prior to his sin, because, even after his sin, God spoke to him directly seeking repentance. See Genesis 4:9-10. Both Cain and his brother Abel understood they were to bring an offering to God. Abel brought an acceptable offering of fat portions from his flock, Genesis 4:4, an animal sacrifice that correctly acknowledged that Abel was unable to save himself and was awaiting God's perfect sacrifice for his sin. Cain, by contrast, brought some grain he had produced, the fruit of his own labors. Cain brought an offering to God on his own terms, one designed to remind God of his own works, not to remind Cain of his need for a savior. God accepted Abel's sacrifice, but did not accept Cain's sacrifice. Genesis 4:4-5. The writer to the Hebrews explains this difference in God's acceptance of Abel's offering and his rejection of Cain's in terms of the faith, or lack of it, shown by the two offerings:

1 Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen. 2 For by this, the elders obtained testimony. 3 By faith, we understand that the universe has been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which are visible. 4 By faith, Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had testimony given to him that he was righteous, God testifying with respect to his gifts; and through it he, being dead, still speaks.... 6 Without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to him, for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him.
Hebrews 11:1-4, 6.

Abel believed God, and brought the sacrifice God had requested because he believed God would reward him for seeking after God. By contrast, Cain brought an offering that showed his faith in himself and his conviction that he did not need to seek God. Cain obviously believed in God, in the sense of believing in His existence. In the passage in Genesis, Cain brings a sacrifice to God, God talks to Cain, and Cain talks to God! But Cain was totally missing the second half the Hebrews 11:6 formula. He believed God, but saw no benefit in seeking God as He had prescribed. He relied upon the "dead works" of which Hebrews 6:1 speaks. His "worship" was designed to show God Cain's own self-sufficiency, and God rejected it.

So, at this point, God offers Cain his first opportunity to repent. God saw that Cain was angry that his offering hadn't been accepted (Gen. 1:5), and told him: “Why are you angry? Why has the expression of your face fallen? 7 If you do well, won’t it be lifted up? If you don’t do well, sin crouches at the door. Its desire is for you, but you are to rule over it.” (Ge,. 1:6-7)(WEB). At this point, the acts of repentance that would have accompanied salvation in Cain's life were quite simple. All he needed to do was overcome his murderous anger, take his focus off his brother, place it on God, and bring God a right sacrifice. God wanted Cain to make the same recognition of his own insufficiency and dependence on God that Abel had.

However, Cain's response was to yield to his jealous anger. If God was going to play favorites, and accept Abel but not Cain, Abel had to die! Cain, the first murderer, killed his brother. (Genesis 4:8).

Here, again, God gives Cain not one but two opportunities to repent. God first asks Cain, "Where is Abel, your brother?" Cain gives an evasive answer that manifests his total lack of concern for his brother. "I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9). God, who knew exactly what Cain had done, then spoke judgment on Cain--still in an effort to induce repentance:

“What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground. 11 Now you are cursed because of the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 From now on, when you till the ground, it won’t yield its strength to you. You will be a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth.”
Genesis 4:10-12 (WEB).

Although God's judgment on Cain was severe, it was clearly an attempt to induce repentance in that God let Cain live. The legal precept announced just a few chapters later in Genesis would have called for Cain's immediate execution: "Whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in his own image." (Genesis 9:6). God permitted Cain to live, though as a fugitive and wanderer. In response, Cain himself recognizes that he should die for his sin, and expresses his fear of this consequence to God: "Whoever finds me will kill me." (Genesis 4:14c). God even provides Cain a mark so that those who find him will not kill him, and promises sevenfold vengeance on anyone who kills Cain. (Genesis 4:15).

However, even after all of God's merciful attempts to bring Cain to repentance, Cain is only able to manage an expression of fear for the consequences of his act:

13 Cain said to Yahweh, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me out today from the surface of the ground. I will be hidden from your face, and I will be a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth. Whoever finds me will kill me.”
Genesis 9:13-14 (WEB).

Cain never repents of his self-sufficiency, his "dead works." He also never truly repents of the sin of murdering his brother. He only "repents" of the severe consequences his acts brought on himself.

In addition to the passages discussed above, Cain is cited as an example in two other New Testament passages. In Jude 11, in speaking of false teachers who have infiltrated the Church for their own gain, the writer says: "Woe to them! For they went in the way of Cain, and ran riotously in the error of Balaam for hire, and perished in Korah’s rebellion." From what has already been said, it can be seen that false teachers have gone "in the way of Cain" in that they have preferred their own self-sufficiency, their own "dead works," to the truth of Christ, and are willing to destroy others to maintain it.

Finally, I John 3:10-13 well summarizes the matter of Cain, and its application to our lives:

10 In this the children of God are revealed, and the children of the devil. Whoever doesn’t do righteousness is not of God, neither is he who doesn’t love his brother. 11 For this is the message which you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 unlike Cain, who was of the evil one, and killed his brother. Why did he kill him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s righteous.
I John 3:10-13 (WEB).