Does the Voice Call You to Trust God?


We humans have an unfortunate tendency to only trust in that which we can see right before our eyes. Those are things that are safe, things without as much risk and uncertainty. Maybe trusting in these things seems wise; after all, as the saying goes, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” But consider… these are also paths that don’t require much faith. If we can do it all on our own, what need have we for God? On the other hand, sometimes taking the road that seems to have an infinite number of unknowns – the road blocked by thorny hedges and landmines (as it were) – is not exercising godly faith in choosing a path that requires us to lean on God, but is instead exercising foolishness in picking a path that is obviously the wrong one. Yet… knowing the one from the other requires spiritual growth. See a pattern in these lessons? Spiritual growth – as accomplished by consistently reading our Bibles and listening to our Bible teachers – is basically the answer to all problems, if we would just deign to do it as we ought.

In this week’s teaching, we went over how God’s voice will challenge us to trust Him. There is no growth without stretching those faith muscles, and that usually means that we will somehow have to trust God and put it all in His hands rather than relying on our own abilities. This life for us Christians is in truth all about faith and how far we are willing to push it, and we would do well to remember that truth when the road forks before us. The world will insist that the path of career success, material prosperity, financial stability, “keeping up with the Jones’s,” and so on is certainly the one that we ought to take – even earning it with our own hands, according to the great American dream. But if we are only willing to trust in our own hands, then how can God work great things through us according to His power? He can only work fully through those who submit themselves to Him and trust in Him, not themselves.

So voices that don’t demand faith of us probably aren’t from God, because it is only through exercising faith – that is, through leaning on God’s power not our own – that Christians can really do most of what we are actually called to do.

This week’s lesson starts on page 79 of the workbook, and was what we went through on 02/05/2023.

Faith Is Not Irrational


In this week of our study, the Workbook used Hebrews 11:1-6 and Hebrews 11:13-16 in its discussion of how another variable in determining if a voice is of God is if it calls us to trust God, to exercise faith.

Hebrews 11 starts off with a definition of faith: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This page will examine this statement, especially as it relates to the idea that having faith is not somehow illogical, despite not having “proof” in the sense that science-focused skeptics want.


Technical discussion

The translation of Hebrews 11:1

This sentence is not that complex grammatically. The core sentence is “ἔστιν πίστις ὑπόστασις… [ἔστιν πίστις] ἔλεγχος”. This is a normal “{subject} {linking verb} {complement}” construction, with the only twist being that there are two complements, but without a coordinating conjunction between them (that is, there is no καί between ὑπόστασις and ἔλεγχος). The subject and linking verb are thus implicitly understood to go with both complements: “faith is assurance… [faith is] conviction.”

Ichthys’ translation of this verse – “It is faith [in the Living and written Word], moreover, that substantiates what we hope for. [Faith] provides proof of things unseen” – doesn’t mirror the exact grammatical structure as much, using indirect statement in the first bit (i.e., “it is faith… that”).

Arguably, Ichthys’ translation that translates with verbal phrases (that is, “faith substantiates… faith provides proof”) adds clarity, but on the other hand translating more literally (that is, “faith is assurance… faith is conviction”) works fine too. The meaning is clear either way.

Analysis of Hebrews 11:1

“Things hoped for” have not yet happened. How can you prove that they even will happen?

“Things not seen” are not before us. How can you prove that they even exist?

For us as Christians, our confidence in things that haven’t happened yet comes from faith, as does our confidence in things that we cannot see (the spiritual realm). This is what Hebrews 11:1 says, in essence.

We cannot prove that prophecy will play out how God says it will with science, or verify the promises He makes us about eternity with science. We also cannot prove the existence of the spiritual realm with science, as it cannot be observed or measured like the material world.

This is because science (at least the epistemologically-sound variety, rather than the wild scholarly speculation that is rampant within some fields like evolutionary biology and the branch of theoretical astrophysics concerned with the creation of the universe) by its very nature only deals with the material world that can be subject to observation and experimentation. Metaphysics is simply outside its purview, or at least it ought to be.

All of this is a natural conversation to have when talking about Hebrews 11:1, because while Hebrews 11:1 doesn’t say in so many words that there is no other way (that is, aside from faith) to have assurance of things hoped for or conviction of things unseen, it is very much an inference we are supposed to make.

Why is this important? Well, because it tells us that…

Faith is necessary, not illogical

It may seem incredibly obvious, but faith is actually 100% necessary for us to believe what we must as Christians. Let me repeat that: faith is necessary. Christianity without faith is no Christianity at all.

The fundamentals of Christianity largely center around who Jesus was (fully God yet fully man), what He did for us upon the cross, and how He was resurrected from the dead. Respectively:

  • How could one “prove” that Jesus is God according to observation strictly of the material? You might make the argument that Jesus’ miracles proved his divinity, but Pharaoh’s magicians in Exodus 7-8 did miracles too (presumably somehow through the power of demons, whether that was full demon possession or not), and the false prophet in Revelation is also said to have miraculous power (compare Revelation 13:11-18 – the false prophet is distinct from the beast per Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10, and is somewhat like a cheerleader for the beast, albeit one having great power of his own).
  • What’s more, how could any human actually “prove” that Jesus paid the price for all human sin upon the cross, facing the fiery judgement of God in our place? That’s definitely what the Bible teaches, but how do you prove that with science? You just can’t; the very idea is nonsensical. Because the judgement happened spiritually when Jesus was physically hanging upon the cross.
  • And finally, in the modern day, it is simply impossible for us to test or verify observationally whether Jesus was truly resurrected from the dead. We cannot have video evidence or what have you. It’s just impossible.

The points being brought up here are sorely lacking in many discussions about faith and science. Christians are made to feel like they are uneducated and ignorant for having faith, that faith is somehow illogical. But science can say exactly nothing about whether Jesus paid for human sin when upon the cross, for example. Literally the only way to take a position on that proposition is through faith. Even if you wanted to do things “the science way,” it is simply not a possibility.

The thing is, God never demands that we believe things that contravene reason and logic. That most people in the world have deceived themselves into thinking that Christianity actually does contravene logic (e.g., they’ll say that evolution contradicts Genesis) is neither here nor there. It matters not what other people think or how many of them think it (see the logical fallacy of argumentum ad populum). It only matters what is in fact true.

Where I am going with all this is that we cannot even “prove” (in the scientific sense, according to observation of and experimentation with the material world) that Jesus was God and that He fully paid for human sin upon the cross and that he was subsequently resurrected from the dead – the very most fundamental points of Christianity. If we have confidence in these things, that confidence comes 100% from faith and 0% from material evidence. It is thus no surprise that everything else in Christianity largely follows suit – the “things hoped for” (such as future promises of our eternal home) and the “things not seen” (such as the spiritual battle being waged all around us) all rest upon faith. And the vast majority of them are scientifically untestable propositions.

Define “illogical”

Certain materialists take the epistemological position that any claims that are made absent supporting scientific evidence ought not to be believed. I will readily grant that under the presupposition that this material world is all there is, this is logical. The issue is, that’s a presupposition, not a logically necessary fact. If you presuppose instead that the spiritual does exist, then suddenly talking about about spiritual matters is far from illogical.

The subtle thing that happens in arguments is that people sneak in their presuppositions as fact. How can you scientifically prove that God doesn’t exist? You can’t, if God is spiritual rather than material, and we humans can only measure the material. In terms of formal logic, this is purely “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” In like manner, you also cannot scientifically prove that Goes does exist. Because again, God is spiritual rather than material, and we humans can only measure the material. We can infer his existence (cf. the so-called “God of the gaps” argument), but that is not scientific proof.

Atheists base all their reasoning on the proposition that God does not exist… despite us just saying it is impossible for them to prove such scientifically! They will readily point out that we do the same thing in presupposing that God does exist. And yeah, we do. But we acknowledge the presupposition and call it faith. We don’t pretend our positions are scientifically provable, but instead readily acknowledge that they are not. The difference is that their position is not one whit more scientifically provable, yet they do not similarly acknowledge the fact that their belief that God does not exist actually has no scientific basis. Even though they won’t admit it, theirs too is a faith-based position, a presupposition.

Let me put it this way: what is illogical is asserting that scientifically untestable propositions must (by logical necessity) be true or false “because science”, whichever direction you make the black and white claim. This is illogical because treating things that are not decidable by science as decidable by science is illogical.

Christians do not do this because, while we view our belief as true and correct, we don’t base our confidence in spiritual things on scientific premises, but instead freely acknowledge that our belief rests upon presuppositions that we hold by faith. That our faith picks up where science leaves off, rather than contradicting it.

Final comments

Faith is not just a hunch or something. When we believe things the Bible speaks to, it needs to be absolute, as sure to us as the fact that we draw breath into our lungs. God’s truth, as contained in His Word, is more sure than everything else in the world.

Even if science can’t prove God created the universe from nothing, well, science can’t prove that God didn’t create the universe from nothing either, can it? People can’t run experiments with a controlled randomized trial that has a great enough sample size of universes to ascertain whether there is enough evidence to reject the null hypothesis (e.g.). At best, the astrophysicists can hypothesize based upon the limited evidence available to them. Sometimes their current hypothesis might actually contradict what the Bible says. Well, what of it? The thing about most of the things that trouble materialists (e.g., ex nihilo creation, the ark and worldwide flood in Genesis 6, the virgin birth, etc.) is that there is no way for them to formally disprove these things. They weren’t there. And there are many possible explanations for how things could perhaps end up looking XYZ way to us in the future, yet somehow be misleading at the same time.

The point of all this is that the skepticism of others regarding the Bible’s claims needn’t make us feel ashamed of our faith. For we don’t believe what the Bible says because of empirical scientific evidence; that is going about faith all wrong. We believe it because the Bible says it. That’s all there is to it.

The point I have been trying to make here is that, practically speaking, all those things that atheists have issues believing are no problem whatsoever; their smear campaign against faith is completely toothless, if one takes the time to consider things rationally. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a violation of natural law, to be sure. But what is that to the God who created and sustains the universe, the architect of said natural law?

That’s just one example, someone might say. Well then, what of Jonah and the fish (how does a man survive underwater for days when humans cannot breathe underwater)? What of God protecting Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the flames of the fiery furnace (how can human beings stand in a furnace and yet not at all be burned or harmed)? If an Omnipotent God external to spacetime exists, these things are perfectly plausible and not at all illogical to believe – such a God would be more than able to accomplish them. It’s just that without having faith in even that most basic proposition, the truth of all other spiritual matters will be veiled from people’s eyes, and seem like so much nonsense (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18). In this way, faith is everything, everything, in this life. And we ought never forget that.

Drawing Inspiration from the Faith of Others


The passage that our workbook quoted from this week, Hebrews 11, describes some of the “heroes of the faith”—believers of the past who are specially commended for their actions of faith.

Although there is much to say concerning these people specifically, on this page we will be examining the general concept of drawing inspiration from the faith of others, and how we might do that in our personal lives, alongside drawing inspiration from exemplary believers mentioned in scripture.



What about so-called saints, famous martyrs, church fathers, the reformers, and so on?

Some traditions tend to make a practice out of looking to other categories of people for inspiration too: so-called saints, famous martyrs, church fathers, the reformers, and so on.

While we don’t want to fall into legalism by banning something scripture does not, it is also true that unverifiable third-party reports may or may not be true. We may glorify God inasmuch as things we hear about these people seem to put Him first and bring Him glory. Perhaps we shouldn’t go so far as to say that it is a uniformly terrible idea for us to try to find inspiration in historical Christians who show up only in history rather than inspired scripture. But it is also true that we must be careful in doing such, that’s all. Appearances can be deceiving.

This is why this page will mostly be discussing people whom we can have direct relationships with in our own lives, and therefore can have less doubt about. It’s hard (perhaps functionally impossible) for someone to fake serious interest in the Bible and actual spiritual growth for a long period of time, and yet not mean it. People who are not genuinely interested will be driven away, because the truth gives no quarter, and it unfailingly divides and convicts (Hebrews 4:12). Any place where the truth is actually being taught in a substantive way (rather than just given lip service to, as is unfortunately common in many modern churches, which barely even teach anything at all, much less anything that could be said to be offensive to and truly demanding of their attendees… since that would drive away said attendees, and therefore money and prestige) – such places actually teaching the truth in a substantive way will be extremely uncomfortable for anyone who doesn’t sincerely want the truth.

All that is a long way of saying that it is relatively safer for us to admire people whose spiritual maturity we can observe ourselves. We can do such with a good bit less wariness than that we probably ought to exercise in admiring the supposed spiritual maturity of historical believers whom others have put up on pedestals… even and perhaps especially if by “others” we mean “well, many Christians in our present lukewarm day.” Even though it sounds really harsh, since in current times many Christians are not truly all that zealous about the hard work of spiritual growth and production (despite what they say with their lips; their lack of care towards the truth in how they organize their lives clearly and irrefutably puts the lie to their words), how likely is it that the people they think are excellent and praiseworthy are really the ones deserving of the most honor in God’s eyes?

See Matthew 19:30; Mark 10:31; Luke 13:30. In my estimation, the believers in eternity who will be most highly rewarded will not be the ones most people would guess, but the faithful few who work out God’s Will tirelessly, seeking His glory rather than attention for themselves. Compare also Matthew 6:1-2. This idea of “being careful not to perform righteous acts before men to be seen by them” is precisely why you don’t hear about them, and why they don’t grace the pages of history books as much as the sort that lukewarm believers idolize. Because showing up on magazine covers or the historical equivalent—gaining recognition so that people know of you and say nice things about you—matters not one whit. Only doing the Will of God matters, doing the things He actually demands of us. And God’s judgement on that Great Day of Days will make that incontrovertibly clear to all.

I should close by stating that not all well-known believers of the past were necessarily trying to draw attention to themselves in a Pharisaical manner. Some people who seem great really were great, it is true. The point is that it is difficult to know for certain in a great many cases, and for that reason there are many people held up glowingly as examples that ought to instead be held at arms length more than is commonly the case. Our skepticism should only be stoked all the more by the fact that the truth is usually quite unpopular (since it demands so much from us), such that people whose teaching is beloved are commonly not teaching much truth, as a rule of thumb. And we ought not forget that.

The dangers in comparison; looking to others for inspiration is not really comparison

In 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, Paul talks about judging nothing before the time. We are not even supposed to judge ourselves, much less others (whose thoughts and motivations and so on we can never truly know).

Nonetheless, it is oftentimes very tempting to compare ourselves to others. This is true regarding such material things as wealth, status, career prestige, and so on, but it can also be true spiritually. To soothe our own egos, we might engage in the practice of trying to see how our choices and our spiritual progress stack up against the choices and spiritual progress of others.

This practice is dangerous for several reasons. First of all, our minds are entirely self-serving, and comparing ourselves to others tends to lead to legalism very quickly. It is easy to make the sins of others seem so much worse than one’s own, to redraw the lines in a way that makes one seem relatively better and others relatively worse than what is accurate to reality.

Secondly, we humans are very poor at judging anything deeper than the surface level. The issue is, what God really cares about most of the time is the heart. It is true that the actions of spiritually mature people—their “spiritual fruit”—will shine forth their faith, but it ought to take only the tiniest bit of honest reflection to realize that it is simply impossible for human beings to really know the hearts of others in the way that would be necessary for us to make completely accurate assessments about “how well they are doing spiritually.”

Finally, comparing the skeletons in our closets tends to put the emphasis on the past, rather than focusing on the present. We can’t change the past and we can’t control the future, so the only day we should care about as Christians is the present. No matter if yesterday holds a long chain of spiritual victories or an unfortunate chain of spiritual defeats, either way, what we ought to be doing today does not actually change one bit. Think about that for a second. Our orders from our Commanding Officer will not wait on excuses of past failure. And if we let focus on the past get in the way, then we are failing as soldiers in the present!

For all these reasons, and others besides, comparing ourselves to other Christians is not something that we ought to do as general practice. The natural question to ask then is if it is possible for us to look to the example of other Christians to find inspiration in our own walk without at the same time engaging in this sort of harmful comparison? While one might be able to make a longer argument, we shall here content ourselves with simply asserting that the two things are not identical—that is, that it is entirely possible for us to draw inspiration from our brothers and sisters in Christ without at the same time necessarily slipping into comparison of the problematic variety.

Given that presupposition, well, who is it exactly we are looking to for spiritual inspiration? We can certainly look to those who came long before—like the folks mentioned in Hebrews 11—but we can also actually look to those around us in our own individual circumstances. We can marvel at the work God is doing through them, appreciate the glory their faith brings to God. We can try to make similar choices in our own lives to similarly reflect God’s glory, try to also act in such a way that God is not ashamed to call us His people. And we can do all of this without slipping into comparison. It mostly just requires us to firmly keep in mind that we are all of us but tools in the hands of the Master Craftsman, and all glory thus belongs to Him, not ourselves.

Examples of Christians in our own lives who we might look to for inspiration

Our Bible teachers

If we are going about the process of spiritual growth correctly, each of us should have a Bible teacher that we submit to, the person we look to as our primary point of contact for answering spiritual questions we may have, the person who provides the primary form of spiritual nourishment that we take in.

Put simply, if we have done well in selecting our Bible teachers, they ought to be very natural people for us to be inspired by. Since trusting their character and spiritual knowledge is something that is all but mandatory anyway for us to be able to submit to them and trust what they say, then it ought to be no surprise that lay Christians commonly end up looking up to their Bible teachers. This is completely right and proper.

Older mentor figures

In my own personal experience, I have found it very helpful to cultivate relationships with Christians older than me, treating them as people with experience and perspective that I lack, people I can learn from. Given that sometimes our Bible teachers end up older than us (although sometimes not too, as there is nothing wrong with younger pastor-teachers—cf. 1 Timothy 4:12), then this sort of “looking up to older believers” idea may overlap with what we discussed above with respect to looking up to our Bible teachers. But it can also be true of other lay Christians in the body of Christ—those who perhaps have a similar role to play as the one you may have identified for yourself, for example.

While age is no guarantee of maturity, with greater age comes greater potential. In this way, while it is perhaps accurate to say that age is commonly overrated in terms of what it means for one’s spiritual maturity, it is also improper to pretend like older folks have had no more time than younger folks to grow in the truth. It is simply not true.

The trick then is finding the older folks who have actually lived lives worthy of emulation, who have made good use of their lives by putting God first and growing spiritually. Not so you can put them up on a pedestal and treat them as some sort of unattainable ideal, but so that you can learn from them—so that the body of Christ might properly build itself up in love.

The high outliers

We might also draw inspiration from people who are in our own generational cohort, or even people who are younger than us. If we look towards people’s spiritual growth and zeal for God, then there will be times when we ought to marvel at all that someone has done given their relative youth, their relative economic or social disadvantage, or whatever else might tend to set certain expectations that these exceptional folks then shatter.

Put simply, the hottest of the red-hot, no matter their age or relation to us, are always worth looking to for inspiration. It may be human nature to struggle to respect young people or poor people or people without lots of education (and so on), but we ought to fight against that, for if we do not, we will find ourselves incapable of drawing encouragement from God’s masterful use of such people, and the example in faith that they set us, if their faith actually is something special.

And that really is all there is to it. Once we recognize, as we ought, that faith is honestly the only thing of importance—and exactly how hard it is to hold tightly onto faith in this world of ours—then in fact it ought to be easy for us to be inspired, even awed, by all those who run an exceptional spiritual race, regardless of everything else about them (like their age or social status or level of education and so on). These other things simply aren’t relevant when it comes to appreciating the witness of their commitment to the Lord.


Alongside the accounts of particularly faithful historical believers we have in scripture, like those mentioned in Hebrews 11, we can also look to Christians in our personal lives for inspiration. The example of these others can serve as a witness to us that the exercising of godly faith was not only something possible for believers of old, but is also something possible for us for us here in the present.

What We Believe Will Always Become a Reality… If and Only If We Target Our Faith Properly


This week, our Workbook made several points:


Our faith gives us assurance that what we believe will become a reality. When we know the character and power of God, and we believe what God has promised, then we can be assured that God will do what He has said He will do.

In the Bible, faith is always God-centered. The writer of Hebrews does not encourage us to have faith in ourselves or in our own desires, but in God. We cannot always make our own dreams successful, regardless of how hard we work to that end. But faith in God is always rewarded. It is not the power of positive thinking, for we are limited in how much we can make our thoughts become a reality. God, however, can bring every one of His purposes to reality in our lives. When we place our faith in Him, we can be absolutely confident that He will do what He has said.

On this page, we will be examining the idea that our faith leads to certain outcomes if and only if said outcomes are in the Will of God. In other words, we do not get to twist God’s promises into whatever we might want them to be.


Not everything we ask for is a guarantee

Consider John 14:13 as an example. When the Bible tells us that Jesus will do whatever we ask in His name, it is a mistake to get greedy, so to speak, about the “whatever.”

God will always do what is best for us spiritually (compare Romans 8:28-30), even unto giving us life eternal. That does not always mean it is what we ourselves might wish for, because very often our perspective is not as complete as God’s is. For example, oftentimes we would wish to avoid suffering in life. However, the Bible is clear that suffering provides the testing that refines our faith, meaning that it is an important part of spiritual growth (compare James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5). So is praying that we might avoid all suffering really even a good thing for us, spiritually speaking?

Where I’m going with this is not so much that we ought to pray that we might suffer or not pray that we might be delivered from it, but simply that we must make a point to not get angry at God if we pray to avoid suffering yet find ourselves being tested with it nonetheless. Because God knows so much better than we ever could what is truly best for us.

What we are going to talk about now is basically when certain parties take the “whatever” of John 14:13, and start plugging in things that have no business being there. And then get mad at God because “we ought to have certain faith in God’s promises, and God promised He would give us whatever we asked!”

Many people might here roll their eyes and remark that they would never engage in a pattern of behavior that is so clearly foolish. However, it is very common for us (all of us) to let our own desires or expectations get in the way of our relationship with God on a smaller scale… perhaps even at a level under our conscious attention. We might feel a sense of entitlement, like our prayers deserve an answer, that it is owed to us. Because we prayed earnestly and asked God to do something for us, we might feel put out if it does not happen how we asked.

So, for example, we might become angry at God if a family member is sick and we pray for their healing but they die from their illness instead. Or perhaps we pray for continued employment to provide for our family in the midst of an economic recession, and yet we lose our jobs. We prayed these things in Jesus’ name, did we not? So why did they not happen? Doesn’t John 14:13 say that whatever we pray in the name of Jesus He will do for us? So what gives?

The heading of this section is the main point of this page, more or less. It might be tempting sometimes to feel like God is perhaps a bit flaky, if we keep praying for all these things and yet they don’t happen how we pray for them to happen. Maybe we are left feeling like we can’t trust God to come through for us.

If ever we find ourselves feeling this way, it usually has something to do with us not lining up our prayers with the Will of God as we ought. All the noises we make about being able to boldly trust in all that God has told us and rely upon His promises, all of that rests upon us actually knowing what His promises are, and also what they are not.

In broad strokes, God’s promises are not individual things in our lives like specific events—a promotion at work, an important medical checkup, or whatever else—but are much broader. For example, He promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us; He promises us that we will have eternal life so long as we believe in Him. These are things that we may have complete and total trust in; this is the certainty that Hebrews 11:1 calls to mind.

Some of the hardest situations we may have to navigate in our lives are when we cannot see the reasons for something—like the death of a loved one, like war and disease and genocide. We might pray for specific outcomes relating to some of the horrors of the world, only to find ourselves still afflicted, not spared in the way we might wish.

When we are tempted to bitterness in such times, it would do us well to remember that God does not in fact promise us blissful lives free from suffering and pain, even though some people falsely claim so. He promises us many things, but actually many of the things that people might think would be promises of God—things that they’ve heard others call promises of God, things that they want to be promises of God—many of these things are not in fact promises of the certain variety. And that can be a hard lesson for us.

Rather than immediately getting angry at God when we feel like our expectations have been violated, we should instead check ourselves and first examine whether the Bible really supports what we feel to be necessary, whether it mandates it in a way that would make God’s actions certain. If we are honest with ourselves, did God not do something that He promised, or is the thing that we wanted Him to do something that He never actually promised?

It is far better for us to err very much on the side of giving God the benefit of the doubt, to acknowledge that we are but small humans with just a very narrow slice of perspective. Even acknowledging this, however, does not always make things easy in practice. But if we trust in the wider promise that God is always working things for our eternal spiritual good, perhaps it will be easier for us to trust Him in all the rest of the things that we may not understand at present, and in fact may not ever understand until we see Him face-to-face in eternity.

Why Was Abel’s Sacrifice Acceptable, Even Praised, but Not Cain’s?


Hebrews 11:4 says that by faith Abel was approved as a righteous man on account of the sacrifice that he gave to God, and that his sacrifice was better than Cain’s.

People have an easy time understanding why Cain was punished after he murdered his brother. But why was Abel’s sacrifice pleasing to God to begin with, but not Cain’s? That is the question that this page will set out to answer.


The passage in Genesis chapter 4

In Genesis 4:2-5, we have the scriptural account that outlines the fact that God found Abel’s sacrifice pleasing, but not Cain’s:

Because we know that God is completely Just, we know that He cannot show favoritism simply because He likes offerings of livestock better than offerings of crops (cf. Deuteronomy 10:17; Job 34:19; Romans 2:11; Acts 10:34-35; etc.). Nor do I personally believe we have ground to stand on to say that this event had much of anything to do with raising livestock being inherently more godly than farming crops. On what basis? That’s nonsense.

The thing that makes the interpretation of this passage somewhat difficult is that the text itself does not explain much; it does not have a clear description of why God favored Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s, at least not directly.

One possibility is that the only difference between the two was heart state

Let me use an analogy. Let us say that two men both make about the same amount of money, and both contribute about the same amount to support their Bible teacher financially, as is appropriate (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1-18).

To an outside observer, their actions might appear quite similar. But let us say that the first man gives willingly and joyfully, thankful to be given the honor of directly supporting the teaching of the Word, while the second man only gives because his wife nags him to do so to keep up appearances, so that their neighbors will not view them as miserly.

Do you think that God would be unjust in having a positive attitude towards the first and a negative attitude towards the second?

Mapping this onto our passage, Abel would be like the first man, and Cain like the second.

The symbolism of blood sacrifice

I think it would be acceptable to leave things even at just that. That is, I do not think it is necessary to spill more ink in order to explain how God’s actions in context could be completely Just. Different heart states, in other words, is a perfectly reasonable explanation for why God might treat Abel and Cain differently, even though their sacrifices might seem similar on the surface.

However, I will make one additional point. From the Protoevangelium in Genesis 3 all the way through the temple sacrifices in the Mosaic Law, blood sacrifice was always highly symbolic, pointing to the eventual sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, shedding His blood1 in order that we might have life, even eternal life.

Hebrews 11:4 emphasizes Abel’s faith. Quite simply, if the matter of sacrifices in Genesis 4 had just been something along the lines of “giving the first fruits of one’s labor to the Lord,” then there is little logical basis for why Abel’s sacrifice would be marked out as a sign of special faith. It would be the right thing to do, sure, but would that alone make him “Hebrews-11-worthy” (so to speak), alongside the other heroes of the faith?

Both the Genesis passage itself and reference to Abel’s faith in Hebrews 11:4 make a great deal more sense if this sacrificing business was really all about acknowledging the fact that it is impossible for us to work our way into God’s favor—if Abel’s blood sacrifice here was acknowledgment on His part of God’s Grace and Mercy. Abel was willing to submit himself to God, looking by faith towards God’s eventual sacrifice for sin once for all, while Cain only focused on bragging to God about what he had done himself on his own effort.

Personally, this is how I take the passage in Genesis 4, although I do acknowledge it is somewhat of an inference. This is also the position that Ichthys takes:

Quote from Ichthys

“Works” are things “we do for God”. That whole mentality is sinful because God doesn’t need anything from us (contrary to what pagan religion assumes: Acts 17:25). God doesn’t need us – we need God. This principle is seen clearly in the example of Cain and Abel. Cain offered God some vegetables: “Look at what I did! And now I’m giving you some!” This whole attitude is abhorrent to the Lord because 1) He needs nothing from us so to assume He’ll reward us for doing something He neither needs nor wants nor asked for is arrogant in the extreme; 2) To think that we can actually “reward God” so that He then “owes us something” (cf. Rom.4:4) is downright blasphemous; and 3) anything we could ever “do” in this life is only possible because God has given us the means to do it (cf. Deut.8:18; 1Chron.29:16).

Faith, on the other hand, is the opposite of work. Faith is being willing to receive a gift. Faith is the completely non-meritorious function of our will. Faith is free-will exercised without effort or sweat. Faith is accepting God’s authority, and, in the case of salvation, accepting God’s free gift. The difference is profound. If we exert effort for salvation, we are earning it (if it could be earned, which it cannot); we deserve it – in that hypothetical, impossible case. But in fact there is nothing we could do in a thousand lifetimes if we devoted all of our waking efforts to the problem to remove the guilt of the smallest sin we have ever committed. Salvation cannot be earned. It cannot be worked for (efficaciously, at any rate). And trying to work for salvation is the most egregious insult to God the Father who judged all of our sins in His beloved Son so that we might not have to face such an impossible situation, and to God the Son who has born the guilt of all of our sins so that we might be saved in the only way it was possible to be saved: through non-meritorious faith, accepting Him as our Substitute. Abel understood and accepted what Cain would not have. His “offering” was a symbolic representation of what Christ would do – die for all sin to open the way for mankind’s salvation. Abel’s offering was not “work”; Abel’s offering was “worship”. When Christians “do” anything in a spiritual vein it is “good” because God has planned it and empowered it. Legitimate Christian “good works” follow salvation rather than preceding it and are done in the power of the Holy Spirit not in the power of the sinful flesh.

Ephesians 2:8-10 | NIV

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

  1. Figurative blood not literal blood is what is important salvifically: it was Christ taking the divine judgment for our sins upon His shoulders in our place that saves us, not His physical blood. See here for more on this frequently used metaphor in scripture. ↩︎