By Dr. Harold Phillips
In the world today, the question of different religions can be very complicated. Even among those who claim to follow Jesus, confusion is often prominent. Our enemy has a way of confusing us and giving people a false truth, so they miss heaven. All of their lives, they expect that they will go to heaven, but as Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23:
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (KJV).
What was Jesus talking about here? What is the answer? Genesis 4 presents the story of the first two sons of the first couple (Adam and Eve). This story contains the first murder, and the dispute was over religious beliefs. We know that Cain killed his brother Abel after a worship service. We often focus on the murder. But the real mystery was the reason for the murder, not the murder itself. Cain and Abel were trying to get themselves right with God. I can imagine the stories told to them by their parents of how wonderful it was when they were right before God and how He once walked with them in sweet fellowship. Therefore, these two boys decided to try to establish that relationship with God. Cain went into the fields and gathered the crops he had labored to grow and built an altar to present them to God, but God said, “No.” Abel went into the field and chose a lamb and built an altar to give God a sacrifice of the life of the lamb, and God said, “Yes.” The question is, why did God reject Cain’s worship, but accept Abel’s?
The explanation here also clarifies the issue in Matthew 7, as Jesus said that there would be many who will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Just because we come to the Lord with some form of worship does not mean that the Lord will accept it.
Cain’s offering to God was his labor. Cain plowed and planted the field. He gathered a quantity of his effort. Our efforts will not bring us into harmony with God and will not be accepted. No matter how many crops Cain accumulated, it would not purchase God’s favor. But Abel put his trust in the work of the Lamb. He believed that God would be pleased with him if he trusted in the sacrifice of the Lamb. And God said, “YES!”
This story tells us that the only trust that we have is in the death of the Lamb by bringing us into favor with God. Therefore, Jesus said that many would say, “Lord, Lord!” but would not enter the kingdom. He went on to say that they would answer, “I prophesied, cast out devils, and did many wonderful works in your name.” Yet, He would call their efforts works of iniquity. Why? Because it was in the way of Cain! There are only two ways to try to become just before God. Either we are trusting in the work of the Lamb of God sent into the world to die in our place, or we are trusting in the works that we can accumulate. God made it clear that our works will not bring us into an eternal relationship with God.
I conclude that there are only two religions in the world: the way of Cain (our efforts) and the way of Abel (the works of Jesus).
Dr. Harold Phillips serves as the president of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.