Sin’s Slippery Slope

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We can overcome sin and temptation by striving to live a daily, holy life.

Genesis(10) (Part of the Origins(9) series)
by Marc Webb(30) on March 7, 2021 (Sunday Morning(184))

Grace(4), Mercy(8), Righteousness(4)

Sin’s Slippery Slope

How many of us would consider ourselves responsible people. Here is a little quiz from Bustle.com to see how responsible you may be. These are Eleven habits of a responsible person. Number one, responsible people do not make excuses. Two, they organize their lives. Three, they are on time. Four, they cancel plans ahead of time. Five, they control their emotions. Six, they don’t complain. Seven, they know trust needs to be earned. Eight, they are consistent. Nine, they admit their mistakes. Ten, they are self-disciplined. Eleven, they don’t procrastinate. How did you do? Are you a responsible person?

Who are you accountable to? Over our lifetimes we are accountable to many different people, some short-term such as different bosses or friends. If you own a business you are accountable to the different customers you sell to. We are accountable to the government to keep the laws and to pay our taxes. We are accountable to people for the long-term such as our parents, our siblings, our spouses, and of course God.

One of the first thing God did after creating Adam was give him responsibility. He was responsible to name the animals, he was responsible to take care of the garden, he was responsible to “keep” or guard the garden and he was responsible to defend his wife and himself against Satan and sin. We saw last week that Adam remained passive when the serpent confronted his wife and in effect refused to take responsibility and then refused to be accountable when confronted by God. ​​ When we refuse responsibility we pave the way for refusing to accept blame and in the process, accountability begins to disintegrate.

The following comes from Walton’s commentary. A true story is told in the setting of New Orleans in the 1980’s by policeman John Dillman. Two men had contrived a get-rich scheme. One of them developed a relationship with and married an innocent young woman and took out a sizeable insurance policy on her life. During their honeymoon he took her for a walk and just as his accomplice was driving by in a rental car, pushed her to her death under the wheels of the speeding vehicle. The suspicions of the insurance company eventually brought the two conspirators to trial. What struck Dillman as unbelievable during the trial was the total lack of remorse on the part of the two criminals. What reminded the author of Cain was the next part of the description: “Pointing to the way the police kept interfering in their lives by pursuing, interrogating and charging them, the two men complained that they were themselves the real victims in this whole affair and implied they ought to not be punished but consoled.”

In this illustration we see one of the most insidious aspects of human fallenness: a refusal to be held accountable. When we refuse to take responsibility for our sin, accept the blame for the consequences of our actions and to be held accountable for what we do and say, we burn down the bridges of reconciliation. To put the problem another way, the distance from God is not just because we sin, it is because we enjoy sin, cherish sinful ways, even protect our right to sin and resist any attempt to harness our depravity. The only way back to reconciliation, forgiveness, and God has as its first step a recognition of the problem and a repentant desire to do something about it.

In our scripture, this morning, we will see what happens when we refuse to be responsible for our family, for ourselves, and for our sin. We will see what happens when we aren’t accountable to anyone, not even God. We will see that sin rules us instead of the other way around as we allow it to take us down its slippery slope to a point of no return. But there is good news. We are told that we can master our sin when we take responsibility for it and are held accountable to it. What is important is how we respond when sin is right outside our door waiting to get a foothold in our lives. Which brings us to this morning’s big idea which is we can overcome sin and temptation by striving to live a daily, holy life. The warning in this morning’s scripture is that unconfessed and unrepentant sin separates us farther and farther from the presence of God. While we will never be perfect this side of heaven, we must be diligent against letting sin and temptation rule in our lives. When we strive for daily holiness, when we do what is right every day, we can overcome sin and temptation and not allow it to take us farther and farther away from the presence of God. ​​ 

Let’s pray: God, I pray that you would give us ears to hear and eyes to see what you want each of us to learn from your holy scriptures. Help us to guard our hearts and our minds against Satan and sin as they try to gain a foothold in our lives and drag us away from your presence. In Jesus name, Amen.

Our scripture is found in Genesis 4:1-16. There are three points this morning: Hope, Horror and Heart. We see hope in Genesis 4:1-4. This is what God’s word says: Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, “I have gotten a man child with the help of the Lord.” Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering;

We can imagine that the first hearers of Genesis are probably on the edge of their seat at the end of chapter 3. Adam and Eve who had it made in the Garden of Eden had just allowed the serpent to tempt them into disobedience and sinning against God. They have been banished from the Garden, no longer in perfect communion and fellowship with God and are now under the curse of sin. The first hearers must have been wondering now what? The next chapter has to be better, right? And as chapter 4 starts they are probably filled with hope as they see the beginnings of new life. Adam had relations with or “knew” Eve and she conceived and gave birth to Cain. The word “to know” in this context would not have been a casual thing but intimacy at its deepest. Adam and Eve had made a permanent commitment to each other which God had in mind in Genesis 2:24 when he said that for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh. This was the beginning of human marriage for the purpose of being fruitful and multiplying and filling the earth. ​​ 

Cain’s birth would have been a hopeful sign to the first hearers that God was not done with mankind, that he had created to be in relationship with himself. Eve names her first child “Cain” which sounds like the Hebrew word for “acquired.” Commentators are split on what she may have meant by “I have gotten a man child with the help of the Lord.” The question is whether she thinks she was able to create a human being just like God did or thinks she was able to create a human being with God’s help. The first would have been a prideful statement and the latter would have been a statement of joy and praise to God. The latter makes sense as she may have been thinking Cain was a fulfillment of the promised offspring in chapter 3 or she may have been praising God for helping her through childbirth since God had promised there would be pain in giving birth. Even after their sin, God was still involved and cared deeply about the details of their lives.

In a matter of fact way, we are then told of Abel’s birth. By describing Abel as “his brother” it is apparent that Cain is the focus of the story. The name “Abel” means “breath” or “vapor” and is the word translated as “vanity” in Ecclesiastes. Weirsbe says that “Cain’s name reminds us that life came from God, while Abel’s name tells us that life is brief.”

Next we are told that Abel “kept” flocks while Cain worked the soil. The first hearers would not have been surprised by this. The Israelites had two main occupations outside the home: the “keeping” of the animals and the working of the soil. The younger brother seems to have been given the lighter task while the older brother carried on the family business. And the mention of their work sets up Cain and Abel bringing their offerings to the Lord. We have already seen a dedication to the mandate to be fruitful and multiply and to work. Now we see a dedication to the worship of the Lord. This is the first mention of offerings and sacrifices in the Bible. We aren’t told when this started but God may have instituted it when he “sacrificed” the animals to make the “skin coverings” for Adam and Eve before they were banished from the garden.

“In the course of time” shows us that the bringing of offerings to God was customary for Cain and Abel. Cain brought offerings from the fruits of the soil while Abel brought offerings from his flock. The verb used means the offerings were gifts given to honor God and in celebration. It was probably a yearly offering in celebration of the harvest and God’s provision for them. We notice a difference in the offerings themselves. Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil and Abel brought the “fat portions” and some of the “firstborn” of his flocks. It would not have been lost on the first hearers that there was a difference in the quality of the offerings. Lastly, we are that the Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering.

Our next point is Horror and that is found in Genesis 4:5-10. This is what God’s Word says, “but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.”

The first hearers would have been hoping that the next chapter was better but hope would soon turn to horror. Cain is on the precipice of sin’s slippery slope and instead of taking responsibility and being accountable for his actions he allows temptation and sin to rule over him.

We notice that Cain’s offering was not acceptable to God. Scripture does not give us a reason for this but commentators have offered us their reasons why. Here are a few: One, Abel brought an offering with blood in it. This would have been important for a sacrifice of atonement but commentators believe these offerings were a thank offering not a sin offering. Two, Abel brought the best parts, the fattest and firstborn, from the flock. The first hearers would have understood that the fattest and firstborn would have been important in their sacrifices. But in Leviticus 2, it says cereal offerings did not have to be first fruits but it did have to be the finest. Here we are not told if Cain’s offering was his finest nor is he criticized for it not being so. Three, maybe God simply decided to accept Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. We see in Genesis that God’s sovereignty is displayed in his choices of those who receive his blessing. He chose Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph’s first two sons over Reuben and we even see a rearrangement of blessing being given to Joseph’s younger son instead of the older one. Four, maybe God likes shepherds better than gardeners. That’s probably not true. If you remember, Adam was given the responsibility of taking care of the garden and shepherding wasn’t even mentioned as one of the responsibilities in the garden. What we can know is that neither offering, in and of itself, was better than the other.

Since God was silent on the reason it probably means that he knew something that we don’t. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Weirsbe in his commentary says, “Cain wasn’t rejected because of his offering, but his offering was rejected because of Cain. Cain’s heart wasn’t right with God.” And Gangel & Bramer say, “The contrast in the offering here is between offering what God had decided was acceptable and what Cain decided was admissible.”

The NT also gives us insight about this. Hebrews 11:4 says, “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.” And 1 John 3:12 says, “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 brothers were righteous.” Cain’s heart gave the lie to his offering and Abel’s faith was the key for the acceptance of his.

The same is true for us today. We can make sacrifices to God with our tithes and offering, our time and our talents but if it is not done with a righteous heart it means nothing. We see these words from David in Psalm 51:16-17, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” We can be in church on Sundays and Wednesdays or whenever the doors are open but that doesn’t mean we are true believers. God wants us to do more than just go through the motions when we worship him. Our hearts must be right before the Lord for our actions to be counted as righteous. We must strive for daily holiness which is more than just obeying God’s commands. It means we obey because of our love for God and what he has done for us. That brings us to our first next step which is to get my heart right before the Lord so that my actions are counted as righteousness.

Now that God had declared Cain’s sacrifice unacceptable what was required was a change of heart on Cain’s end. Instead Cain becomes angry and his face was downcast. The Hebrew word implies Cain was “burning with anger.” Why was Cain angry? Maybe he felt he was being treated unfairly by God or maybe he was jealous because Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and his wasn’t. No matter the reason, his attitude toward God and his reaction didn’t come from a holy and righteous heart. ​​ Cain wanted to make the rules for his relationship with God just like Adam and Eve had wanted to in the Garden. All three of them wanted to make decisions that were not dependent on obeying God’s commands.

God now has a conversation with Cain that reminds us of a conversation between a parent and their child after the child is caught doing something wrong. God’s trying to prompt Cain into changing his heart and repentance so that their relationship could be restored. We see the love, grace and mercy that God has for his children. He is still interacting with his people, even when they sin, and pursuing a relationship with us, even if we don’t seem to want one with him.

God’s rhetorical questions imply that he wants Cain to think about why his offering wasn’t accepted instead of getting angry. Mathews says, “God questions Cain for the same reason he questioned Adam and Eve in the garden. Not to scold but to elicit an admission of sin in order to bring about repentance.” God wants Cain to do what is right. If he does what is right he will be accepted, but if he doesn’t he is in danger of “wrongdoing.” “Wrongdoing” can be translated “sin” so notice Cain may not have been sinning at the time but was dangerously close to doing so.

Cain had failed to meet God’s standard for worship and was being given an opportunity to do the right thing and if he failed to do so sin was waiting right outside the door. Sin wanted to devour him and it desired to have him in the same way that a wife desires her husband. This desire was strong but God wants Cain to master it. The great thing is that Cain could overcome the temptation and not sin. It was within his power to master it and be “lifted up” or restored into a right relationship with God. He could overcome it by doing what was right which reminds us of our big idea: we can overcome sin and temptation in our lives by striving for daily holiness.

Let me illustrate it this way: Do we always come to worship on a Sunday morning passionately ready to worship God the way he should be? I can admit I don’t and I would think that all of us at some time haven’t. We make excuses like I am tired or not feeling well, maybe we had an argument with our spouse or children on the way to church. When we leave worship we feel like God hasn’t spoken to us like we thought he should. We go through our week and one thing after another goes wrong and we start to wonder where God is and why he doesn’t answer our prayers for deliverance from what we are going through.

I believe that is right where Cain is at this moment. He comes before God with a worship that is not worthy of what God expects or desires. Just like us, he knows what God expected and desired from him. The question is how does he respond? How do we respond? Do we blame God and get angry with him? Maybe God wants us to look at our motivations for coming to worship on a Sunday morning. Is it to just check off a box? Is it because we want something from God? God wants our motivation for worshipping him to come from a heart of love not from duty or just going through the motions.

When we realize that our worship is not being done in the proper spirit, do we pray and submit to God and repent of our attitude or do we lash out and blame God? Once we decide to lash out at God we have allowed that crouching sin at our door to come in and rule over us. ​​ Instead we need to master it and not let it get a foothold in our lives. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” and Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Sin was lying in wait at the entrance of Cain’s life. It was not waiting to pounce but was comfortably lying in wait. It wouldn’t have to do anything shrewd to catch his victim because Cain would just open the door and allow him to come in. The consequences of his reaction to God’s correction are more far-reaching than the initial sin itself. If he gives in to his anger it will result in sin’s mastery over him and this is exactly what sin wants. It wants to draw us into a life of sin and take us down its slippery slope, farther and farther away from the presence of God.

The narrator doesn’t tell us if Cain responds verbally to God’s correction and counsel. What we are told is that Cain seemingly lures Abel out to the fields, attacking and killing him. He takes him out to the field where he could do something he didn’t want others to see. His envy and jealousy of his brother has caused him to sin by committing the premeditated murder of his brother. We see the difference in the reaction of Cain to God’s correction and the reaction of Adam and Eve in the Garden. They made excuses and tried to shift blame while Cain resorts to murder. We see similarities in God’s questioning of Cain and Adam and Eve after their sin. He asked questions not because he needed the answers but to give them an opportunity for confession. Unlike his father and mother who passed the buck and then reluctantly confessed, Cain lies about what he has done and seems indignant, evasive and indifferent to God. He takes no responsibility for his brother. The irony was that Cain was to be his brother’s keeper in the sense that he had a responsibility to honor and protect him, not to despise and murder him.

Now God becomes the prosecutor. He asks Cain, “What have you done!” It is not a question but an accusation. God knew what he had done because Abel’s blood was crying out to him from the ground. The word used for crying describes the cry of the oppressed in Sodom and Gomorrah and the Israelites when enslaved in Egypt. Since life is in the blood, shed blood is the most polluting of all substances. The ground cries out for justice because Abel’s blood has made a stain on it that can’t be missed or ignored.

What started out as hope has turned into horror. The world of Adam and Eve has not improved in the area of sin as the first hearers would have hoped and next we will see what happens to Cain as God pronounces judgment on him. Our last point is Heart and we see this in Genesis 4:11-16. This is what God’s Word says, “Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” So the Lord said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him. Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”

Because of his sin, the murder of his brother, Cain comes under a curse from God. In chapter 3, only the erpent and the ground were cursed not Adam and Eve. The consequence of Adam’s sin was that the ground was cursed. He would have to toil harder to cultivate the soil as it would produce thorns and thistles. Because he has shed innocent blood that spilled into the ground, Cain has alienated the ground against himself. The ground will no longer yield its crop to him meaning that Cain could no longer make a living from being a tiller of the soil. He is driven from the ground the way his parents were driven from the Garden. He will now be a restless wanderer on the earth and have no home and have an even harder time making a living than Adam had.

Hamilton says, “For Cain it meant he would lose all sense of belonging and identification with a community. It was to become rootless and detached from all he knew. For him or anyone else at this time it was a fate worse than death.” ​​ Mathews says, “For Later Israel, a household’s tract of land was a sign of its covenant union with God. The Lord as land owner had generously bequeathed it to Israel as his tenants. The original hearers would have understood the significance of Cain not having a “tract of land” as his own and so would not be in covenantal union with God.”

Cain’s response shows us just how far sin has permeated the heart of humanity. He is not repentant or remorseful for killing his brother. He protests God’s punishment like the unrepentant thief on the cross. He responds with self-pity complaining that the earth had turned against him, God has turned against him and people will turn against him and try to kill him. He says that the burden of his punishment is more that he can bear. Baker says, “He is not talking about the burden of being away from the presence of God nor is he thinking about the psychological burden of sin.” Cain’s sin was not eating him up inside. He was worried about being killed while he was wandering the earth as a nomad. In that day, the community especially the family members of the one who was murdered had an obligation to take a life for a life. Cain would always be looking over his shoulder for one of his own family members trying to kill him. Ironically, the one who killed his relative is afraid of being killed by one of his relatives. ​​ 

But God doesn’t abandon Cain. In fact he gives Cain something he doesn’t deserve instead of giving him what he did deserve. ​​ This reminds us of Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Cain complains that his punishment is more than he can bear and God shows mercy and grace to him like he did with Adam and Eve. God gives mercy to the unrepentant Cain by putting a mark or sign on him which would let everyone know that Cain was under God protection. Whoever took vengeance on Cain would suffer God’s wrath seven times over. Killing Cain would be like attacking God himself and God would certainly and severely deal with that person. We don’t know what the “mark” on Cain was but it was not a curse as it provided protection for him. It was more of a pledge like the “rainbow” to come but it would have also served as a constant reminder to Cain of his banishment and isolation from other people.

Cain leaves God’s presence which was his choice and his punishment. He lived in the land of Nod which means “wandering” in Hebrew. It was located east of Eden which meant it was farther away from the Garden and the presence of God. Because he let sin rule over him, Cain is now even farther away from God’s presence than his parents were after their sin.

What started out with hope as Adam and Eve brought new life into the world and as Cain and Abel were drawing near to God through their worship and sacrifice, has ended in horror in Cain’s premeditated murder of his brother. We see sin’s slippery slope as Cain’s sin is virtually uninterrupted from irreverence, to anger, to jealousy, to deception, to murder, to falsehood and being self-serving. The final result is that Cain and humanity now find themselves farther away God’s presence. But it is not all doom and gloom as we see the Heart of God as he has mercy, grace and compassion on Cain. Just like Cain we’ve all experienced God’s grace, mercy and compassion. But our experience may have lacked the poignancy of being caught red-handed, standing face-to-face with God as Cain was. Perhaps we can only come to appreciate such bold grace secondarily. Such poignancy is powerfully captured in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. The following is from Walton’s commentary.

The main character, Jean Valjean is sentenced to a 19 year term of hard labor for the crime of stealing bread and gradually hardens into a tough convict. When he is finally released he finds it difficult to escape his past. Convicts in those days had to carry identity cards and no innkeeper would let a dangerous felon spend the night. For days he wandered the village roads, seeking shelter against the weather, until finally a kindly bishop had mercy on him. Jean is unable to resist temptation and in the middle of the night he rummages through the cupboard for the family silver, and steals away with the cache of silverware. He doesn’t get very far when he is caught by the police. The next morning he is hauled back to the bishop's door to return the stolen valuables. The police are prepared to put Jean in chains for life, but no doubt, both the police and Jean are startled at the bishop’s response.

"So here you are!" the bishop exclaimed, "I'm delighted to see you. Had you forgotten that I gave you the candlesticks as well? They're silver like the rest, and worth a good 200 francs. Did you forget to take them?" Jean Valjean's eyes had widened. He was now staring at the old man with an expression no words can convey. Valjean was no thief, the bishop assured the police. "This silver was my gift to him." When the policemen withdrew, the bishop gave the candlesticks to his guest, now speechless and trembling. "Do not forget, do not ever forget," said the bishop, "that you have promised me to use the money to make yourself an honest man."

Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of ever having promised anything, remained speechless. The bishop went on, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.” That brings us to our last next step which is to allow God’s grace, mercy and compassion to change my heart as I strive to live a daily, holy life for him. ​​ 

As Gene and Roxey come to lead us in a final song let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for your grace, mercy and compassion towards us that led you to send your son to die on a cross for our sins. Mat we always be grateful for that sacrifice. Help us to overcome sin and temptation in our lives by striving for holiness everyday of our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.