OT Examples of Faith
(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
In verse 4, the writer begins his consideration of various individuals from the Old Testament who have been outstanding examples of faith. The writer is illustrating the point made in Hebrews 10:38; "But My righteous one shall live by faith..." (See also Habakkuk 2:4, Rom 1:16-17, 3:23-30, 4:2-16). Salvation is not a result of baptism, church membership, monetary contributions, or good works. It is a result of faith alone, for everyone who will believe.
The writer begins by looking at the example of Abel in Hebrews 4:4; "By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks." Had Abel been baptized? No. Had Abel been circumcised? No. Had Abel become a church member, or contributed great amounts of money? No. Abel was saved by faith alone.
The three key expressions in verse 4 are "By faith...through which...though he is dead, he still speaks.'' It was faith that allowed Abel to function obediently to God, and offer a "better sacrifice." This principle was established in Romans l0 when Paul said, "How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" One must first be exposed to the person and work of Jesus Christ through the Word of God before they can have faith. Romans 10:17 says, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." By examining these references, we know that Abel then, had come to believe the revelation of God, and by so doing he offered a "better sacrifice'' than Cain (Genesis 4:2-5).
In Genesis 3, God had provided the first sacrifice (vs 21) of an animal to provide for man. The point is that man can not provide what he needs by himself. God had to provide a covering for Adam and Eve, and in order to do that, blood had to be shed. This passage is in the context of sin, and in order for our sin to be forgiven, a sacrifice is necessary. That is why we are told that God made garments of animal skin. This is the reason that Cain's offering was not acceptable to God. He made an offering of fruit and vegetables which required no shedding of blood. He had disobeyed God's instructions. Abel, meanwhile, believed and obeyed God and offered the best lamb in his flock for a sacrifice. It was his obedience, through faith that made Abel's sacrifice acceptable before God. How Cain and Abel were told that their offerings were acceptable we do not know. We do know that later in Scripture (Leviticus, Kings, Chronicles, and Judges) God sent fire from heaven to show His acceptance, but the means of His acceptance is not made known in Genesis 3. As a result of his rejection, Cain kills his brother in anger. Does that make his sacrifice any more acceptable? Of course not.
The point is, things have not changed. The same division that existed between Cain and Abel exists between every person who has lived since then. There are only two kinds of worshippers: those who have believed in God's revelation, and worship God according to His instruction, and those who have not believed the revelation of God, and worship God in their own way.
Jude encourages us to "contend earnestly for the faith" (vs 3) and avoid false teachers (vs 4). The truth is clear: The only worship that is acceptable to God is the instruction that He Himself has given. Cain's problem was not a lack of "religion". The problem was that Cain did not believe and obey God concerning the type of sacrifice that He would accept. It made no difference that Cain offered the very best that he had, because in God's eyes, Cain's very best was still an act of an unbelieving and disobedient heart. (See also 1 John 3:11-12, Genesis 4:9-13)
The result of Abel's faith is that he "still speaks.'' Even though Abel died centuries ago, he continues to speak. What does he say? Very simply, "Man can approach God, but only according to the revelation that God has given.' The message has been the same for thousands of years, yet people today still refuse to accept it. We must come to God according to His parameters, not our own.
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