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Unacceptable Worship

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Genesis 4:1‑7

Unacceptable Worship

Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.  She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.”  Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.  In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.  But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.  The LORD looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour.  So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.


fear that the average professing Christian has never had a worship experience.  Asked to define worship, the average Canadian would be unable to offer a suitable definition.  Perhaps the greater tragedy is that the average professing Christian is ill equipped or even incapable of providing a definition.  You must bear in mind that God is not obligated to accept all that we proffer as worship.  Not all that parades under the guise of worship is worship, nor is it acceptable to God as worship.

What is worship?  The definition grows out of the heart.  As with so very much of that associated with the Spirit of God, worship must be experienced rather than explained.  Worship is that intimate time one spends in the presence of the Living God.  There the worshipper will quietly adore Him in wonder, admiration and awe.  Worship is the continuing experience of waiting in boundless confidence as one marvels in His power and grace.  Anything less is not worship.

In the fourth chapter of Genesis we learn for the first time that not all which man offers is acceptable to God as worship.  What elements are to be avoided if we will please God in worship?  Worship involves the whole being—attitude, action and ascription.  Therefore, unacceptable worship would be any effort that fails in one of these areas—attitude, action or ascription.

Unacceptable Attitudes — God rejected Cain’s worship.  The text illustrates that Cain exhibited at least three attitudes unworthy of God and thus unworthy to be recognised as worship.  The attitude is the most difficult part of our worship to control because it challenges our very being.  If our attitudes will honour God we must ruthlessly confront our own desires and our own thoughts, compelling each to submit to the Mind of Christ.

Cain possessed an attitude of self.  He was concerned with how he could promote his own interests instead of discovering what would please the Lord.  Verse three reads: In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.  At first glance this appears to be a noble and commendable action on the part of Cain.  However, it was an unacceptable sacrifice to God.  We must see his actions as God saw.

There are several reason why this sacrifice was unacceptable and we need to think carefully about each of these reasons.  Each of the reasons I shall shortly provide will reveal an expression of self.  Cain attempted to avoid responsibility for his own particular sin.  Cain tried to provide his own justification.  Cain attempted to gain entrance into the presence of the Living God through His own efforts.

Cain attempted to avoid responsibility for sin.  Note the Word of God in Hebrews 9:22The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  God Himself instituted the sacrificial system, a system that always pointed forward to the perfect sacrifice that He Himself would provide.  When God made coats of skin for Adam and Eve He slew the animals, teaching them that it was their sin which caused death.  His action also compelled them to acknowledge that only through the shedding of blood would atonement be provided for sin.  They knew, and Cain knew, that only through shedding blood could a way into the Divine presence be secured.

Two major sacrifices were given Israel under the Law.  One was a sweet savour offering and the other was a non-sweet savour offering.  The sweet savour offering was, in general, to provide reconciliation between man and God.  It was to provide a way for man to come into the presence of God that they might fellowship together.  The non-sweet savour offering was designed to remove sin from man, making him acceptable before God.  The non-sweet savour offering was to make man guiltless and pure before God.  Both offerings required the death of another in order to be effective.

A burnt offering was to be a male without defect—a perfect young bull.  It was to be presented at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting so that it will be acceptable to the LORD.  The one making the sacrifice was to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it [would] be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.  He is to slaughter the young bull before the LORD, and then Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and sprinkle it against the altar on all sides at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting [Leviticus 1:3-5].

A fellowship offering was to be an animal from the herd without defect, either male or female, presented before the LORD.  The one presenting the fellowship offering was to lay his hand on the head of his offering and slaughter it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.  Then Aaron’s sons the priests were to sprinkle the blood against the altar on all sides [Leviticus 3:1, 2].

The sin offering was to be a female lamb without defect.  The worshipper was required to lay his hand on its head and slaughter it for a sin offering at the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered [Leviticus 4:32, 33].

I am struck by the fact that there is but one way into the presence of God and that is by acknowledgement of your own sin and through casting oneself on His mercy.  Whether the offering was for the purpose of fellowship or to atone for sin, the worshipper was himself or herself required to kill the animal offered.  This was a powerful reminder of the responsibility of the worshipper for his or her sin.  There was no possibility of reducing worship to mere form if the act of worship began with such vivid confession of personal guilt.  Perhaps we would benefit from a reminder before ever we attempt to worship of our own guilt and of our own responsibility for broken fellowship.

No individual deserves salvation.  No individual deserves the privilege of coming into the presence of the True and Living God.  It is impossible to enjoy the presence of God except He should deign to be present with those seeking to worship.  God is not obligated to grace our efforts with His presence, though He delights to do so.  Salvation, fellowship with God, forgiveness of sin … all is given by God to the humble soul.  Whenever an individual says he or she will worship God, trusting Him for salvation and trusting themselves to do some good work, they are attempting to avoid responsibility for their own sin and they are attempting to force their way into the presence of God.

Cain attempted to provide for his own justification.  There are but two religions in this world.  One religion says that we must do something in order to merit salvation.  It says we must engage in some activity in order to be justified and in order to merit Heaven.  That religion depends totally upon how effectively we engage in some particular activity.  The other religion says that we can never merit the love of God and that we can never merit salvation.  We must cast ourselves fully on the grace of God.

A number of groups claiming to be fellow believers can be found on the fringes of the Faith.  Among those groups are the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  They claim salvation is capable of being earned.  They are uncertain of much of anything when speaking of God’s grace.  There is an answer provided for such people, and we should not hesitate to give it when we confront them.

It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do [Ephesians 2:8-10].

Another group calls itself the Worldwide Church of God and a growing number of evangelical scholars are saying that they have changed and are now Christians.  They still follow the teachings of a senile, twice-divorced, lecherous old man who ruled so completely in their lives that they were required to give more than thirty percent of their income to his cult.  They submitted, and still submit, to such an extent that they permit even the breaking up of homes and dissolution of marriages.  Is there no answer for such a group?

There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.  They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.  Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.  In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.  Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping [2 Peter 2:1-3].

Seventh Day Adventists are embraced as Christians by many Christian scholars today.  Are they accurate when they teach we must avoid certain foods and that we must observe certain days for worship and that we must rely on the ranting of an epileptic woman claiming to be a prophet of God?  Are they correct to insist that Christ doesn’t know who is to be saved that that He must engage in celestial investigation in order to determine who shall be saved and who shall be lost?  Is there no answer to such a group?

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?  If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.  What does the Scripture say?  “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.

Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.  However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.  David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are they

whose transgressions are forgiven,

whose sins are covered.

Blessed is the man

whose sin the Lord will never count against him.

Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?  We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.  Under what circumstances was it credited?  Was it after he was circumcised, or before?  It was not after, but before [Romans 4:1-10]!

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” [Galatians 2:20, 21]!

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.  Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.  They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.  For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer [1 Timothy 4:1-5].

This is the essence of what I have said—you cannot provide your own justification.  God alone is able to set the prisoner free.  God alone justifies.  Only those so justified can worship the True and Living God.

Cain attempted to force an entrance into the presence of the Living God.  The only way to God is through Christ who gave His life in our place.  I say it again, there is but one way into the presence of God, and that is through Jesus Christ.  It was Jesus Himself who averred, I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me [John 14:6].  That same Jesus spoke on another occasion to warn No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day [John 6:44].

It is folly to presume that you can avoid responsibility for your own sin.  It is folly to presume that you can provide your own justification.  It is folly to presume that you can gain your own entrance into the presence of the Living God.  This is the attitude of the man who says he will be saved in his own time.  His assertion is simply wrong.  You cannot be saved… you cannot be forgiven of your sin… you cannot be justified… you cannot come into the presence of the Living God at your discretion.  We are dependent upon Him for these gifts.

Cain possessed an attitude of bitterness.  Verse five states that Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.  Verse six notifies us that God observed Cain’s anger.  Bitterness always comes between an individual and God.  There is no way an individual can worship acceptably with a bitter heart.  Listen to Jesus’ warning in Matthew 5:23, 24.  If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Bitterness, you see, is a mark of the uncrucified man.  The individual who harbours bitterness and malice is devoid of the grace of God.  Mark these verses.

As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;

there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.

All have turned away, they have together become worthless;

there is no one who does good, not even one.”

“Their throats are open graves;

their tongues practice deceit.”

“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”

“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”

“Their feet are swift to shed blood;

ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.”

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

[Romans 3:10-18]

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you [Ephesians 4:29-32].

If you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.  For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice [James 3:14-16].

Those verses warn against bitterness harboured in the heart.  Contrast such bitterness with the heart that reflects the love of God.  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres [1 Corinthians 13:4-7].

Cain exhibited an attitude of cynicism.  Verse nine says, I don’t know [where Abel is].  Am I my brother’s keeper?  In effect Cain said, Religion is as I conceive it.  It has no real impact in my life.  That attitude is common today.  People, some even in our churches, by their lives testify that religion is as they conceive it to be.  They dictate to God how they will worship and then they do as they please calling their actions worship.  The prevailing attitude in our nation is that religion has no real impact in the world in any case.

One awful day the cynical soul will stand before God.  In that day every cynic will be compelled to confess truths they refused to confess in this world.  They will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  They will confess that it would have been by grace alone that they could be saved.  They will confess that the only worship God ever accepted is that which was as He designated.  Listen to the Word of the Lord. 

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

but made himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

[Philippians 2:5-11]

Unacceptable Actions — Cain’s worship was unacceptable because of his actions.  He demonstrated that he was a man controlled by his own desires and emotions.  Note Genesis 4:8.  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.  One cannot read this without thinking of the warning Jesus issued in Matthew 5:21, 22.

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, "Do not murder," and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement.  Again, anyone who says to his brother, "Raca," is answerable to the Sanhedrin.  But anyone who says, "You fool! " will be in danger of the fire of hell.  The message Jesus delivered was iterated by the Apostle of Love almost six decades later.  This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.  Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother.  And why did he murder him?  Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.  Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.  We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers.  Anyone who does not love remains in death.  Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him [1 John 3:11-15].

Note this singular truth: what you think is what you will shortly be.  What is in your heart will soon be expressed through your life.  People know what you are by what you do.  People know your thoughts by the way you act.  Perhaps you will recall the words of Jesus in Luke 6:43-46.  No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.  Each tree is recognised by its own fruit.  People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

Why do you call me, "Lord, Lord," and do not do what I say?

Frequently I hear people say they cannot become Christians because they would have to quit smoking or quit drinking or quit going to movies or quit…  You get the idea.  Perhaps you have heard such excuses from people trying to avoid the love of God.  You need to know that a Christian is never identified by what he doesn’t do!  Those who use such things to avoid the grace of God are in effect saying that smoking or drinking or going to movies is their god.  They cannot worship because these other things are in the way.  Because they have chosen these things in place of God their actions are unacceptable and therefore their worship is unacceptable.  Such people are condemned because they worshipped the wrong god.

Because I perform a certain action or because I avoid a particular action can never be the means by which you may determine my Faith.  I wish all of you were like me!  I wish all of you followed by example in many things.  However, you will never become a Christian because you perform certain deeds or because you abstain from other deeds.

Drinking will not condemn you to hell.  If drinking stands between you and Christ, however, it has become your god and you will suffer condemnation.  If you are a believer and you drink, alcohol can master your life, rendering you ineffectual in your service to Christ.  Sex is a powerful motive force in human lives.  Sex will never condemn you to hell.  However, if your pursuit of illicit sex interferes with your service to Christ (and it must), then sex has become your god and you are under eternal condemnation.  Anything which masters you causes you to stumble and thus to offer unacceptable worship.

Cain was mastered by bitterness and envy and therefore his worship was unacceptable.  What has mastered you?  What is the most valuable thing in the world to you?  That which you treasure most is your god.  Your treasure, and thus your god, may be determined by conducting a simple test.  Where does your mind turn when it is free to think any thought you wish?  What thing or person or thought gives you the greatest pleasure in all of life?  What one thing or person would you most hate to be without?  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also [Matthew 6:21].

Unacceptable Ascription — In Genesis 4:13,14, Cain ascribes character to God which differs significantly from the character we witness when God is pleased to reveal Himself to us.  Cain intimates that God is evil and that God has not dealt justly with him.  Such ascription is unacceptable and promotes unacceptable worship.  Listen to the initial words of one of the most beautiful of the Psalms.

Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones,

ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;

worship the LORD in the splendour of his holiness. 

[Psalm 29:1, 2]

God is not a genie who obeys our every command.  God is sovereign.  God is holy.  God is righteous.  God is glorious.  God is awesome.  Isaiah provides a moving description of our God.  Listen to his words.

See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power,

and his arm rules for him.

See, his reward is with him,

and his recompense accompanies him.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:

He gathers the lambs in his arms

and carries them close to his heart;

he gently leads those that have young. 

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,

or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?

Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,

or weighed the mountains on the scales

and the hills in a balance?

Who has understood the mind of the LORD,

or instructed him as his counsellor?

Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him,

and who taught him the right way?

Who was it that taught him knowledge

or showed him the path of understanding? 

Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;

they are regarded as dust on the scales;

he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.

Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,

nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.

Before him all the nations are as nothing;

they are regarded by him as worthless

and less than nothing. 

To whom, then, will you compare God?

What image will you compare him to?

As for an idol, a craftsman casts it,

and a goldsmith overlays it with gold

and fashions silver chains for it.

A man too poor to present such an offering

selects wood that will not rot.

He looks for a skilled craftsman

to set up an idol that will not topple. 

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?

Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,

and its people are like grasshoppers.

He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,

and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

He brings princes to naught

and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.

No sooner are they planted,

no sooner are they sown,

no sooner do they take root in the ground,

than he blows on them and they wither,

and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. 

"To whom will you compare me?

Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One.

Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:

Who created all these?

He who brings out the starry host one by one,

and calls them each by name.

Because of his great power and mighty strength,

not one of them is missing. 

Why do you say, O Jacob,

and complain, O Israel,

"My way is hidden from the LORD;

my cause is disregarded by my God"?

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the LORD

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint. 

[Isaiah 40:10-31]

Notice one great truth.  If we approach God with the wrong attitude, acting in a wrong manner or ascribing to Him wrong character, we cannot worship.  Yet, for a little while He extends His mercy to us and draws us to the point of confession and worship.  After he had sinned so grievously, Cain discovered God drawing out his heart.  Why?  Why?  Where?  [cf. Genesis 4:6, 9].  These are questions of grace to bring Cain to the point of mercy where he would seek pardon.  It is the same manner in which God acted with Cain’s parents after their awful rebellion.  In Genesis 3:9, 11, 13 we see God asking Adam and Eve in an effort to bring them to repentance.  Where?  Who?  What?

Thus does God approach the heart of each of us.  Why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast?  Where is your brother?  Why do you persist in this attitude of exaltation of self?  Why do you continue in a spirit of bitterness?  Why are you so cynical?  What is this you are doing?  Of whom are you speaking?  When God questions our heart it is to draw us out to the point of confession and to receive forgiveness of sin.  I have good news for you.

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him [Hebrews 9:27,28].

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.  For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.  If it could, would they not have stopped being offered?  For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.  But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all [Hebrews 10:1-4, 10].

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire" [Hebrews 12:28, 29].

Do you not see?  This is grace, but at the same time it is a warning.  Believer, check your worship.  Unbeliever, cast yourself on His mercy and receive His grace today.  Amen.

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