Cain’s Deeds Were Evil Before Cain Murdered Abel

I John 3:12We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.

What is an evil deed? What is a righteous deed? Is the evil deed here the murder? No, even though murder is an evil deed, Cain murdered Abel because of Cain’s status as a condemned sinner and unbeliever in God’s gospel.

Cain was a bad tree who thereby necessarily brought forth fruit which was all bad, all unacceptable. So it’s not a matter of more and more, but of either/or. There are those who abide in God’s gospel and those who do not.

I John is not comparing morality with immorality. It is not mere morality that the world hates. It was not morality that Cain hated. Cain hated
Abel’s gospel because that gospel said that even Cain’s best efforts to please God (the best of his fruits, with all sincerity) were an abomination to God.

Cain’s works were evil, according to God’s gospel, which Abel believed. For this reason, Cain murdered Abel. For this reason, the world hates those who believe the gospel and who have passed out of death into life(3:13).

But what does I John have to say about gospel imputation? Isn’t I John about one of the “pegs of assurance”?: better morality, without being perfectionist about it? I John 4:16 tells the good news of God’s love for “us”, not for those who “went out from us”.

I John 4:17 explains that God’s election (love) is “perfected with us, so that we have confidence in the day of judgment, because as He is so also are we in the world.”

Even though I John 4:17 does not use the word imputation, that is the only way the elect can be as He is in the world. (Check out your commentaries on this: even those who deny that the righteousness of Matthew 5:20 is imputed, even those who deny that the “fine linen” of the saints are by imputation, even most of these commentators agree that God’s love here results in the elect having legal union with Christ’s obedience even to death).

Now we can make distinctions where we say, yes my ultimate hope is imputed righteousness (not as that which makes up the difference, but as that which is sufficient for the elect), but right now my assurance of that verdict also depends on this new morality with which I have been graced.

But I John 3 is about the difference between a Nicodemus and a prodigal publican, about the difference between a religious Cain and a religious Abel. Think of the context! The religion of Cain is nothing but evil deeds.

You don’t have to be effectually called to become ashamed of murder. But the reason Cain murdered was that He wanted to glory in/ rejoice in (Phil 3:3) the deeds done by his false god in his body. Cain refused to put to death those deeds (Rom 8:13), even though “religious and moral” deeds by a unjustified unbeliever are an abomination to God.

Those deeds were motivated by a mercenary spirit seeking assurance by means of deeds. Cain in the flesh “could not please God” (Rom 8:8), not even with claims of having a better nature on the inside or with his
religious worship.

To pass over from death to life is to be put into the new man, to be given a new legal state, in which one’s confidence is not in what God does in you but rather in what God has done in Christ outside you. Only in this way can we be in the world as Christ was in the world.

Two positions: “those who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the mind to the standard of information to which they are committed” (Rom 6:17) so that there are “things of which you are now ashamed” (Rom 6:21).

You may have been ashamed of immorality before, but not of your false worship and not of your assurance based partly on your works that you thank God that you can do, not like the publican.

The Cains of this world are ready for a self-examination and contrast in terms of their morality. But they will not come to the light, because they love darkness and the light of the gospel will tell them their deeds are evil, all their deeds, even their moral deeds. (John 3:19)

Abel “does what is true”. Abel abides in the gospel.

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6 Comments on “Cain’s Deeds Were Evil Before Cain Murdered Abel”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

    Keeping our eyes on Christ is ‘easy’ compared with the necessary corollary of taking our eyes off ourselves! Keeping one’s eyes on self is the opposite of denying self. Peter looked down at the water to prove that he was looking at Jesus.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    WCF 16: 7. Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands; and of good use both to themselves and others: yet, because they proceed not from an heart purified by faith;nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word;a nor to a right end, the glory of God,b they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God: and yet, their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing unto God.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Calvin, The Bondage and Liberation of the Will (Baker, 1996)–: “The worth of good works depends not on the act itself but on perfect love for God so that a work will not be right and pure unless it proceeds from a perfect love for God” (p. 27

  4. markmcculley Says:

    I agree that sanctification is by grace and not by our performance. I just wish that those who teach it will begin to question the false gospel of those who make the future depend on our performance. I also wish that those who teach sanctification by grace would stop promising that people who agree with them will perform better. It’s like having your cake and eating it also. One, blessing is not based on performance. But two, you will perform better if you have the right motives.

    God does not accept anything we perform if it is motivated by our desire for assurance or blessing. And God does accept sacrifices and works if they not motivated by mercenary motives. Good trees do have good fruit. Bad trees do not have any good fruit. But these truths do not promise that we who know the truth will “perform better than the legalists do”.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    1. In the case of the martyrs under the altar we must turn to the Bible’s account of the first martyr: Abel. When Cain murdered his brother it was Abel’s blood, not Abel himself, that is said to cry out to the Lord for justice (Gen. 4:8-11). Abel’s blood, however, is not literally a part of Abel separable from Abel himself. This is but a very graphic figure of speech. Abel’s blood stands for Abel himself. Just as Abel did not literally cry out from the ground, so too the “souls” of the martyrs (not a part of the martyrs, separable from the martyrs, but the martyrs themselves) do not literally cry out for justice.

    2. The book of Leviticus draws a strong connection between the life of the soul [the person] and the blood (Lev. 17:11). Medically speaking, blood carries oxygen throughout the body. Life is thus literally carried in the blood! The Bible often uses the terms soul and blood in parallel, even interchangeably. Isaiah prophesies of the Messiah that he “poured out his soul unto death” (Isa. 53:12). It was Jesus’ lifeblood that was poured out unto death at the cross.

    3. Indeed, though the priests of old put some of the blood of the sacrifice upon the horns of the altar of incense, they poured most of the blood onto the ground at the foot of the altar of burnt offering (Lev. 4:7). The “souls” of the martyrs are “under the altar”, their blood, as it were, poured out in sacrifice to God. Though the language is figurative the truths expressed are very real: The oppressors of God’s people will not go unpunished; his servants will be rewarded. They may have to wait. They may have to suffer, even unto death, as many have before them, but they are not forgotten. Their blood speaks, as does the blood of Abel

  6. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Father forgive them

    not hold them guilty for killing me
    already condemned

    Acts 17:27 God did this in order that they seek God, and perhaps they would reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us

    Acts 3: 26 God raised up His Servant and sent Him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.”

    Romans 10:2 1 But to Israel he says: All day long I have spread out My hands to a disobedient and defiant people.

    Isaiah 65:
    2 I spread out My hands all day long
    to a rebellious people
    who walk in the wrong path,
    following their own thoughts.

    Gerneis 4: Abel also presented an offering—some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but God did not have regard for Cain and his offering.
    6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? 7 If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

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