This week began the first Torah portion of the year (it began after the Feast of Tabernacles, which ended last Sat. evening), which covered Genesis 1:1 - 6:8.
Chapter 4 of Genesis is the story (teaching) of Cain and Abel. If you are at all familiar with the story (who isn't?), then you are aware that Abel's offering was accepted by the LORD, but Cain's was not. There have been two primary reasons (interpretations) given for why this was so:
1) Abel offered "...of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof" (vs. 4) but Cain offered of "... the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD." (vs. 3) It is proposed that Abel's offering was accepted because it was of his flock, ie., it was an animal sacrifice, while Cain's was not.
2) Abel's offering was accepted because it was "of faith" while Cain's was not.
Of the two, I have to say that I disagree with the first interpretation for several reasons. First, the text never says that they were offering sacrifices for sin (which would require the blood of an animal). Second, They were simply making (what appears to be freewill) offerings, of which, both offerings from your flock or field were acceptable (cf. Lev. 2:1 for an example of a grain offering). Third, God basically told Cain that if he did "well" he would be accepted (cf. vs.7). He didn't tell Cain that his offering was not accepted because he offered the wrong thing! It appears that something was amiss in Cain's attitude, life...something. God offers Cain the opportunity to change something in his life that would make his offering "accepted" (again, cf. vs. 7). In addition, Hebrews 11:4 tells us that "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain...."
Most people consider "faith" to be synonymous with "belief." If someone says that they believe in God, they are thought of as someone who has "faith." It is apparent from the story of Cain and Abel that they both believed in God. They both made an offering unto Him... they both must have believed in Him. If mere belief were synonymous with faith (at least, true, biblical faith), then surely Cain's offering would have been accepted, right?
It is true that in the NT, we read passage after passage that speaks of "believing" in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is also true however, by Jesus' (Yeshua) own words, and the book of James (Jacob), and even Paul's writings that (actually, the whole NT for that matter!) that "belief", or "believing" in the biblical sense IS faith, but mere belief is not.
You may be wondering what the difference is. Really, the Bible tells us over and over again - unfortunately, I think the gospel message (and correspondingly, the biblical message) has been made into a simple "belief" system. What I mean is, Christianity today has largely taught (whether intentionally or unintentionally) that if you simply "believe" in Jesus, and say a prayer, and get baptized, you are "saved." They make it a one time event, and as long as the person doesn't transgress a short list of sins, they are a "Christian."
I wonder if Cain's family thought everything was o.k. with Cain? I wonder if they thought "how nice. He must really love the LORD. Look, he's bringing an offering to present before Him." Some commentators even teach that Eve (Chavah) believed that Cain was/would be the promised "seed" of Genesis 3:15.
James tells us in ch.2, vs. 19 that the "devils (demons) believe, and tremble." Would anyone argue that the Demons are "saved?" If we were to read James ch. 2, we would see that true "belief" (true, biblical faith) is to believe God, and obey His word. We don't obey His commandments in order to become saved (the point Paul was often trying to make). We believe God, and then live by faith. And biblical faith is faithfulness - faithfulness to walk with God and obey Him.
Yeshua said that if we "...continue in [His] word, then are [we His] disciples indeed..." (John 8:31). He also said that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (cf. Jn. 14:15,21;15:10 et al).
Both Cain and Abel brought an offering (both offerings were acceptable by biblical standards) to the LORD. Yet one was accepted, the other rejected. We get further insight into this in 1 John 3:11,12 - "For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous."
What "works" of Cain's were evil? Was it the offering he presented? Certainly not. His lifestyle was one marked by "evil works" yet he feigned faith in the LORD by bringing an offering to present before Him along with his brother Abel.
True faith, in the biblical sense, is faithfulness, a continuance not only in ones belief in God (and more explicitly, faith in His Son Yeshua), but also a continuance in His word through obedience to it. To profess faith in God, and to even make "offerings" to Him (our money, time, etc.) while living a life seperate, and out of sync with His written word, is to fool oneself, and others.
Yeshua said that there would come the day when many would say to Him "Lord, Lord..." and yet He would reply to them "depart from me, you worker of lawlessness, I never knew you" (cf. Matt. 7:23; Luke 13:27).
Are you a Cain, or Abel?