John 4:23-24 — But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
From the earliest records we know religion is a part of our history. Most people do and have always believed in god and the supernatural. That’s not to say they have faith in the True God or faithfully follow His Word, because most do not. Sadly, the vast majority invent a god to themselves, either by pagan philosophy or by corrupting Divine revelation. The result is people end with an empty faith and worthless service.
This article will deal with the idea and principles of acceptable worship. By qualifying worship as acceptable there must be occasions where service is not pleasing to or received by God. Consider Genesis 4:4-5 ―”And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering.”
While other places may give more details and clarity, this example sets forth the two main issues of vain worship. You will notice God ―did not respect Cain and his offering.‖ There seems to be two points on which God rejected his sacrifice. Something was amiss about the person and his act of worship.
Let’s talk about the person first. A good and honest heart is the foundation for acceptable service, but Cain clearly lacked this character. After his first sin Cain’s reaction was anything but pure. He became enraged and it showed in his demeanor. A reaction many people have when confronted with their unrighteous deeds. If you doubt the veracity of this statement try talking to homosexuals or abortionists about their sin and see how they respond.
In Divine mercy, God spoke words of instruction and correction that Cain might change. However, instead of taking advantage of God’s opportunity and admonition he murdered his brother. It was an act of malice and revolt against both God and Abel. Cain’s problem began in his heart, but ended with rebellious acts. (1 John 3:12) God will not accept anyone with such a deficiency.
Just as there are two main components of vain worship so it is with acceptable service. God “respected Abel and his offering.” There is a clear comparison and contrast between the two brothers and their respective sacrifices. Obviously the two sacrifices were different in kind; one was a blood offering and the other was from the fruit of the ground. Was there something inherently good about an animal sacrifice and something naturally evil about an offering from the fruit of the ground? The answer is no. There was nothing immoral about either occupation or item offered. In fact, a ―tiller of the ground‖ is the work God gave Adam and its produce sustains life. Surely there is something more to the story than the difference in kind.
We do not have to speculate or guess why God respected one but not the other. As is often the case, God answers our questions somewhere in His Word. Consider Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.” What do we learn about Abel and Cain, and their offerings, from this passage?
Through inspiration, the author tells us that Abel’s sacrifice was “more excellent” than Cain’s, and that is exactly what God testified to in Genesis four. His choice of offering bore record to his righteousness because he acted by faith. So we might rightly and necessarily conclude that Cain acted contrary to faith. But what is faith and where does it come from? The Hebrew writer answers this question in verse six – “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
To have faith one must believe that God is, but surely Cain believed in God existence. Faith is also predicated on seeking God, but Cain sought God in sacrifice. If Cain believed in and worshipped God why was his service not of faith? Faith is more than a mental assent to God’s existence and some religious service paid. According to the context of Hebrews eleven, faith is a matter of believing in God enough to respect His authority in our service. By a good heart we do what He tells us to do.
Genesis four may not say that God told Cain and Abel what to do, but if their condition was decided by faith He had to have told them. Paul says in Romans 10:17 that ―faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.‖ Both men must have known God’s Will, but only one obeyed.
Abel is still speaking to us today about faith. He is telling us to have a pure heart, one that respects God and submits to Divine authority. Abel is the example we should all follow in service and offering. Acceptable worship is not found in paganism, Judaism or denominationalism. As Jesus said in John 14:15 ―If you love me, keep my commandments.‖ Those who emphasize the heart or obedience to the exclusion of the other fail to understand the story of Cain and Abel. We must worship God from an honest heart and according to truth. What kind of worship are you giving to God?