This weekend I listened to Tim Conway teach from Hebrews 11:6 which reads as follows:
“And 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 seek Him.”
While my wife and I listened to the sermon, I commented that the very first sermon I ever preached over 30 years ago was from this passage. I look back on that now and cannot believe how badly I mangled the text. Isn’t God gracious?
I’ve heard it said over the years that the 3 laws of real estate are “Location, Location, Location.” If you get the right location, you end up with a valuable piece of real estate. Similar, but much more important, are what I call the 3 laws of the Bible, “Context, Context, Context!” My mangling of the text 30 years ago was mainly due to the fact that I took the text out of the context it is in. Now, my sermon didn’t go down the road of what is called the “Prosperity Gospel” that was so prevalent in the early 1980’s, because even then, I knew something was wrong with that, but it was not what it should have been.
Look back in verse 4 and you will read that:
“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.”
Men have been giving offerings since the fall in the garden. Some have been accepted of God, most have not and the question is why. Let’s go back to Genesis 4 where we read:
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; 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. 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.
According to this narrative, Cain and Able brought their offerings “at the appointed time: Abel brought ‘fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock’, for he was a shepherd, and Cain, who was an agriculturist, brought ‘some of the fruits of the soil’. While each offering was appropriate to their respective vocations, the biblical text states that ‘The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor’”. John Calvin, in his commentary on Genesis 4 says: “God is said to have respect unto the man to whom he vouchsafes his favor. We must, however, notice the order here observed by Moses; for he does not simply state that the worship which Abel had paid was pleasing to God, but he begins with the person of the offerer; by which he signifies, that God will regard no works with favor except those the doer of which is already previously accepted and approved by him. And no wonder; for man sees things which are apparent, but God looks into the heart, (1 Samuel 16:7) therefore, he estimates works no otherwise than as they proceed from the fountain of the heart. Whence also it happens, that he not only rejects but abhors the sacrifices of the wicked, however splendid they may appear in the eyes of men. For if he, who is polluted in his soul, by his mere touch contaminates, with his own impurities, things otherwise pure and clean, how can that but be impure which proceeds from himself?” So what was it that caused God to look on in favor of Able and disfavor of Cain? While I have heard time and again that the reason was because Cain didn’t bring an animal sacrifice, scripture does not explicitly state that. If we turn back to Hebrews 11 and look at the context, I think we could come to a different conclusion.
Hebrews 11:6b states: “for he who comes to God must believe that He is.” According to F. F. Bruce, “Belief in the invisible spiritual order involves, first and foremost, belief in him who is ‘King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God’ (1 Tim 1:17); and belief in God carries with it necessarily belief in his word. It is not belief in the existence of a God that is meant, but belief in the existence of the God who once declared his will to the fathers through the prophets and in these last days has spoken in his Son.” Basically, we have to have a correct view of God. This is where Cain failed. He, just like many today, invented God in his own image, which is why his offering was rejected.
What is amazing is that Cain had a discourse with God. He actually talked with God. But Cain did not believe what God had revealed Himself to be. Paul makes this same indictment in Romans 1:18-31. God’s wrath is revealed to man because men suppress the truth of God’s righteousness. God’s righteousness is evident because God made it evident! But because man refuses to see God as He is, Paul says 3 times that “God gave them over.”
In Hebrews 11:8, we start reading about Abraham and his faith. Think about it for a moment; God told Abraham to take his son, his only son, the son who was to be the heir of Abraham that would be a blessing to the nations, and sacrifice him. The next day, according to Genesis 22:3, Abraham set off to obey the command of the Lord. As Abraham and Isaac walked alone up Mount Moriah, Isaac asked where the offering was and Abraham said, by faith, “God will provide for Himself the lamb.” Abraham, even with all his faults and sins, had a proper perspective of who God is and that God is faithful to what He had revealed about himself. Even to the point of believing that God would resurrect Isaac if need be to fulfill His promise to Abraham.
I say all of this to say that our perspective of God needs to be faithful and true to what God has revealed about Himself in His Word. If we major on just one attribute to the detriment of all that are revealed in Scripture, we will have a flawed view of God. There are those that say God is a God of love, and He is. But love requires justice. There are those who say that God is a God of blessings, and again, He is. But He is also a God who is ruthless in His desire to be glorified and honored and He will strip everything away if that is what needs to be done so that one might acknowledge Him properly. Nebuchadnezzar, learned this by spending 7 years living like a beast of the field only to finally acknowledge and bless the “Most High” (Dan 4:34-35).
God is sovereign and He will share his glory with no other. We who call upon his name must realize this and the implications that come along with it. We must study the attributes of God! We must acknowledge that at times the attributes of God are not easy to accept and cause us to chafe. But, to ignore them is to our peril. So many times we think ignorance is bliss and sometimes that is true. But when it comes to eternity, ignorance will lead you straight into hell. God has revealed himself to man and for man to remain willfully ignorant is insanity, which, by definition, is what most people in this world are.
 O’Brien, P. T. The Letter To The Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010. 403. Print.
A special thanks goes out to Pastor Kent Harding of Sovereign Grace Reformed Church for graciously proofing this for me!