Matthew 23:29-34 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to Gehenna? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you MURDERED between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will COME UPON this generation.
I John 3:12 We 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.
Cain was already violent before Cain murdered his brother. Murder is an evil violent deed. Cain murdered Abel because of Cain’s previous 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.I John is not comparing morality with immorality. It is not simply nonviolence 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 and sacrifices to please God (the best of his fruits, with all sincerity) were an abomination to God. Cain murdered Abel. The world violently persecutes 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 “means 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 4:17-18 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. There is no fear in this love”
Imputation is the first way (before all other ways) that the justified elect can be AS Christ 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 I John 4:17 is about legal solidarity with Christ’s obedience even to death).
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 enough for the elect), but right now my assurance of that verdict also depends on being more non-violent than I used to be (or others still are).
I John 3 is about the difference between a Nicodemus and a prodigal state employee, about the difference between a religious Cain and a religious Abel. Think of the context! Not only the violence but the religion of Cain is evil.
You don’t have to be effectually called to become ashamed of murder. But the reason Cain murdered Abel was that Cain wanted to glory in/ rejoice in (Phil 3:3) his saying yes and in his religion (his idolatry).
Those religious deeds of Cain were motivated by a mercenary spirit seeking assurance by means of saying yes and then acting on that with deeds. But Cain in the flesh “could not please God” (Rom 8:8). To pass over from death to life is to be put into the new creation, 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 your violence before (I was a a pacifist long before I submitted to the gospel) . But have you ever been ashamed of your religious beliefs? Have you ever been ashamed of thinking that God needed your forgiveness, or of thinking that Christ’s death was God’s appeasement and apology to you?
The Cains of this world are ready for a self-examination and contrast in terms of being consistent with their theory of nonviolence (shall I ever call the cops, should I shop at Wall Mart?). But they will not come to the light of the gospel of grace, because they love darkness and the light of gospel grace will tell them their deeds are evil, all their deeds, even their moral deeds. (John 3:19)