“By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead” (Hebrews 11:4).
My journey in Jesus Christ has included two pivotal moments that helped define my faith. The first pivotal moment was the evening Jesus spoke to my heart: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). I discovered that night, sinners never find themselves; they’re only found by the redeeming love of God. The second pivotal moment occurred one afternoon when I sought God for an answer concerning sin when he answered: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). God’s response to me was spiritual, not the carnal answer I sought. In two brief moments, occurring several years apart, God opened my eyes, and more importantly, he opened my heart, to the mystery of the faith I proclaim! Hallelujah!
Genesis 4 opens with the births of Cain and Abel, and then moves quickly on to their offerings to God and then to the infamous murder of Abel. Cain and Abel brought God offerings appropriate to their occupations. Abel, a shepherd, offered God a portion of his flock; whereas, Cain, a farmer, offered God a portion of his harvest. Both occupations were as reputable as the other. Some say that God favored Abel, because his was a blood offering for the atonement of sin, but I don’t think so. Scripture says that Abel offered God the firstborn of his flock, while making no similar elaboration to describe Cain’s offering, but again, to base a conclusion from that alone is more conjecture. Abel’s heart was why God favored his offering; Abel brought God an offering by faith. “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead” (Hebrews 11:4). Everything else the brothers did, with regard to their offerings, whether first fruits, or rotten fruits, or blood offerings, or hidden grudges, misses the point; none were the root, but rather, the fruit. And Abel’s faith speaks to me today as a precursor to the gospel.
Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfil them (Matthew 5:17); Jesus came to show us a more excellent way. The apostle Paul understood that the law was good, but sin seizing the opportunity, used the written code to arouse our sinful passions (Romans 7:5), but through Christ, we’re released from the law to serve in the new way of the Spirit (Romans 7:6). We have been set free; set free from sin and not to sin; we have been set free from the written code. So do I disregard the commandment and steal, as one no longer under the law? Of course not! God didn’t want his people stealing when he gave them the commandment, and God doesn’t want us stealing today. But we don’t steal for the sake of a written code; instead, the Spirit calls us to give up everything, even our very lives; that’s the more excellent way. Chase after a written code, and I’ll fall short every time; the only way for me to fulfill the Law and the Prophets is by the Spirit. Our faith will produce the good works God has already prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). No wonder James proclaimed so fervently that faith without works is dead (2:14-26). As with Abel, our hearts bear witness.
I find that I’m hardwired for legalism, or at least it often feels that way, yet to follow that path is exhausting, to say the least, not to mention unfruitful. So I get why Jesus offered rest to the weary and burdened; that his yoke is easy and burden light (Matthew 11:28-30). This isn’t easy stuff; otherwise, there probably wouldn’t be so many books written on the subject, there probably wouldn’t be as many denominations, and more church treasuries would probably be overflowing. Look at all the different ways Jesus married the letter of the law with the spirit of the law; more examples than I care to get into today.
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