A Word for Today | Hebrews 11:4
Hebrews 11 describes faith through a series of Old Testament examples. Hebrews 11:1 says that faith makes present and real things that are future and unseen. Hebrews 11:4 now adds, “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did,” the point of which is that faith justifies those who believe the gospel. Genesis 4:3-4 says that “Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of the flock and of their fat portions,” adding that the Lord accepted Abel’s sacrifice but rejected Cain’s offering.
Hebrews 11:4 says that faith made Abel’s sacrifice acceptable to God. One way to see this is to note that Abel was accepted as a man of faith, while Cain was rejected for his unbelief. But we should also note the great difference in how they came to the Lord. It was not that the two men came with the same offering, one with and another without faith. Rather, the faith of Abel was seen in the offering he brought to God. The offerings were different, and in that difference we see the faith of one and the unbelief of the other.
God had previously cursed Adam: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” So what Cain brought to God came by hard labor; it was likely impressive and pleasing to the eye. But he approached the Lord on the basis of his own works and for this, as a sinner, he was rejected. Abel, on the other hand, came to the Lord with the sacrificial death of a lamb, in keeping with the gospel God had proclaimed to his parents (Gen. 3:21). It was a picture of Christ’s work dying for our sins on the cross. By faith Abel’s sacrifice was better than Cain’s, not just because Abel’s faith made it better, but because by faith he offered the sacrifice God had established as the means by which He accepts sinners.
We are reminded that when we speak of Christians exercising faith, this faith is focused on the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus on the cross. We certainly should offer to God the best of our lives, including our worship and works that are done in faith. But faith first confesses sin and looks only to Jesus for justification. There really are only two kinds of offerings, two ways to come to God: either by our own works or by faith in the work, merits, and righteousness of Jesus, crucified in our place to pay for sins. Hebrews 11:4 says that through faith, Abel “was commended as righteous.” What a blessing for us, for all our failings and trials, to know that we are justified before God and accepted into His love. Paul extols the marvelous blessing every Christian receives through faith alone: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
In Christ’s Love,