Identity as Worshipers
Identity is a huge topic today, and there is a lot of confusion on identity. We as a church want to instill a biblical identity in people so that our lives are marked and defined by the things God calls us to.
These seven key marks are also taken from our Discovery Group journeys. We began piloting new groups a few years ago. We needed to find a way to cut through the cultural callousness and help people find their identity in Christ. Part of that was a new format for groups. Part of these is a new curriculum that focuses on these key aspects. Discovery Groups take people through Scripture to help ingrain certain things. Culture is pushing hard against belief in God and followers of Christ, and we are going to have to work hard and work together to push back this darkness and make disciples of Jesus. I hope we continue to gain momentum in these important ways.
The first journey in our Discovery Groups is worshipers
It starts with creation and seeing that all that exists came from the hand of God. People are created in the image of God, and they are to reflect him in all they do. Imaging or imitating someone is in fact to worship. Purpose and meaning can be found in the world because it was created by God. It is not the result of random purposeless adaptations.
The second lesson in the journey is on the fall in Genesis 3. People turned from God and wanted to be worshiped rather than to worship. People turn from God and instead want to be the one worshiped. Judgment comes into the world but God’s greatness is seen as he takes a giant problem that could be game over and causes it to be another reason to see his greatness and worship him. He covers the shame of his people and makes a promise to restore all things. He continues in relationship with his people. They continue under a curse, but also with hope that he will change things. That is Genesis 3.
That brings us to Genesis 4 where we learn about the priority of God in the life of a worshiper. One thing that becomes even clearer here is that worshiping God is a matter of the heart and not simply outward conformity or going through the motions, and worshiping God is to be wholehearted and not just in actions.
Adam and Eve failed to honor God, but were granted a promise of hope, so they lived under the promise of God that a son of the woman would one day strike the serpent and destroy what he had done. They name their first son Cain. His name signifies possession. Abel’s name means vanity, transient, a nothingness. They no doubt had hope their first son would be a difference maker in the world. They would be devastated.
Both Cain and Abel offer sacrifices. Both of them worship. But only one of their sacrifices is accepted. The Lord had regard for the sacrifice of Abel, but not of Cain’s.
In Gen 4:4-5, it means "to look at with approval," "to approve of." We all like approval. We would certainly want to be approved by God. But only one is.
What is the difference in Cain and Abel’s offering?
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts (Heb 11:4 ESV).
Some have said it is because Abel offered his by faith. That is certainly true, but it is not illuminating. What was wrong or unacceptable with Cain? It doesn’t shed light on the text. What does this passage say? What are the differences in Cain and Abel?
Abel is a shepherd of sheep and so he makes offerings of meat. Cain is a worker of the land and so he makes offerings of the land. Some of you may key in on the issue. Abel offered steak and Cain offered vegetables. This is compelling! Rice cakes or kabobs. However, this probably is not right.
In the Old Testament the tribute offering that is mentioned here is a bloodless sacrifice. Such sacrifices were acceptable to God so grain offerings were acceptable.
The key distinction between them is one of priority. Abel offered the firstborn of his flocks. He offered the first and very best. Cain offers “some of the fruits.” Cain did not give God his best. He gave what was available. He gave the leftovers.
Abel gave God the first portion. He gave his best. His first. Cain gave some. Gave nothing of priority. Gave what was available, the leftovers.
We have a fig tree in our backyard, and the figs came in a couple weeks ago. When it first comes in you have your pick of which is best. Wait for them to be perfectly ripe. Soft, juicy, tasty. We are a couple weeks into that now. You go outside and those that are there are beginning to dry and rot. Not very good.
Think about your leftovers in the refrigerator. Would you serve those to an important guest? No way. You want to make something good. You wouldn’t think to give a guest the week old chicken and rice. It’s no longer chicken and rice. All the kids ate the chicken five days ago. It is rice with meat sauce.
Abel gave the best. Cain gave of the surplus. The sin of Cain is tokenism. HE is going through the motions of worship but his heart is not in it. Tokenism is the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to be inclusive to members of minority groups. “Others say that in some instances the fashion companies' push for diversity is reduced to tokenism.” not really interested, but you toss some worthless things that direction to give the appearance of interest.
*Tokenism. The most popular denomination of Christianity there is.
God doesn’t want tokens. He wants the hearts of his people. God wants exclusive worship.
Cain and Abel. It may seem superficial to see that Cain would be judged so harshly, even though he sacrificed to God. Wrong of God to not regard his offering. He is coming to him, sacrificing to him.
There was a husband and wife. Married for a few years. The husband had a very good job and would do a lot of things for his family. He would buy his wife flowers and chocolates, come home from work trips with presents for his kids. Plan some fun family days to be together. In so many ways he did all the right things. Then one day the wife found out he had been having an affair. And then she realized the very day flowers were sent to her, he was in fact spending the day with another woman. He did some great things for her. But it turned out those great things were actually the very thing he hid behind. His heart was never in the things that he did. So how is it to be second in someone’s heart? Still think it's not a big deal?
God wants the first portion of our lives. That is the only acceptable worship.
The Overflow of Worship
“Cain first fails at the altar, and because he fails at the altar, he fails in the field. Because he fails in his theology, he will fail in his ethics” (Waltke, 97).
You cannot hide your sin. It always comes out. You can’t hide who you are.
What is the difference in appearance of Cain and Abel at the altar? None. Think about this. Cain wasn’t some “other person” or outsider. They were from the same family. Not another race. Not from the other side of the tracks. Not of the other political party. Not even of another father. Cain was not an outsider to the church. He was inside the church.
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 (1 John 3:12 ESV).
Cain is angry because of his own failure. Blames others. Unrepentant. He rejects his role as a brother. You can only hide who you are for so long. It eventually comes out. You will be seen for what you are.
Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper" (Gen 4:9 ESV).
“Complains not of his sin, but of his punishment. It shows great hardness of heart to be more concerned about our sufferings than our sins” (Matthew Henry).
This teaches us something of human nature.
“Follow your heart and do whatever makes you happy” do not jive with the Christian faith. We have an enemy within and we have to fight against it. Our young people are so confused on life because they are told to do whatever makes them happy in the moment. It is a lie. I bought into that at one point in life. It almost ruined me. We need people today speaking truth. Your friends need someone speaking truth: Don't do that!
Horizontal failures are a result of vertical failures. Failures with other people are the result of failure with God. Sin is the result of rejecting God.
Horizontal confusion is a result of a break in a vertical connection. People have lost their grounding.
What do we make of people who profess faith in Christ and then lie, cheat, and steal? What do we make of professing believers who bought and traded slaves? What do we make of churches who sit in indifference to suffering around them? What do you make of Christians who don’t read their Bible, aren’t in a church community, and aren’t telling anyone of Jesus?
*Cain’s failure to worship overflows into judgment.
Cain was alienated from the ground, from his brother because he was first alienated from God. Very similar to what we see happening today. People are alienated from God and so begin pursuing horizontal failure. And then are mad at others because their own actions are evil. They want affirmation in their wickedness. And you are going to have to be strong enough in your walk with the Lord to do what is right.
Restless wanderer. A back and forth. Being tossed around. Tottering and lamenting. Being disturbed.
Cain settles in the land of Nod, which means wanderings. He is alienated from God, and that alienation leads to alienation from other people and from the world he has created. You can’t properly enjoy things in life if you do not enjoy them in the proper place. Computer is great. It makes a terrible wife. A fictosexual married a hologram, and is now unable to communicate with her because the technology is no longer supported.
God calls Cain to account. God sees what he did in secret. He knows Cain’s every action. Abel's blood called out to God from the ground. God is fully aware. God also sees what is going on in the heart. You can fool people, but you can't fool God.
God will judge every person. This is sobering and comforting.
Not trying to have you add church to your already busy life, throw some tokens to God and feel better about your indifference to God. I tithed. Not going to church. I got a little “praise God” on, now let’s go party. Duplicitous. Way of Cain.
Application: What is first in your life?
What are you offering to God? Your best, or your leftovers? Your first portion or the stuff that doesn't matter. Who do you never say no to? Can’t make church, but I haven’t missed a Falcons game in 32 years. Getting my bucket list of vacation done, but not progressing much on spiritual goals. Went to church today, going to live it up tonight.
Reordering your heart. Realigning your life. What is first in your life? What do you love most? We look at people and see there are problems.
When they neglect their children to spend more time in the office they have lost their priorities. When they care more about hobbies than spending time with their wife.
We see there are problems with that. There is an appropriate way to build a house. You get the foundation on the bottom, then you build the walls and then the roof. If you put the roof and then the foundation, the foundation will crush the roof. The roof is not meant to support everything else. Having the wrong priorities has devastating effects.
In the same way we are meant to have priorities in life, and God is to be first. When we miss that, then everything else gets out of whack.
Sex is good and important, but it is not to be the main thing.
Marriage is good. It cannot be first.
Work and money are good. They will never fulfill you or give you meaning.
David Foster Wallace. “In the day to day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as… not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual thing to worship… is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. Worship power and you will end up feeling weak and afraid and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart– you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.. (Keller, Making Sense of God, 111)
These are all meant to be used in service to something else, something more important, some more enduring. The one you were made to worship. Much of your unhappiness is a result of trying to find primary meaning in secondary things.
This is what it means to be a follower of Christ. Your heart has been reordered to serve him. It’s not a superficial “fill out an application and check the box that says Christian.” It means you have
“Attachment to God amplifies and deepens enjoyment of the world.” Miroslave Volf. Love God more and you will learn to love others things with far more satisfaction. You won’t overprotect them, you won’t overexpect things from them. You won’t be constantly furious with them for not being what you hoped. (Keller, 9)
What is first in life? Time and Money. What are you sacrificing? Don’t just give some of it. Give the best of it.
How do you spend your 168?
What goes first? What gets the leftovers? Church, time in the Word, fellowship with believers. Well-spent time. What are you doing with your other 112 hrs? 50 at work. 72 hrs left.
Money. Tithing–first or last? I’m not looking to get you to give money to the church, I’m looking for you to give your heart to God.
What does it mean to put God first in your time, money, sexuality, dating relationships, work. It means he defines all those. He is not just an addendum added at the very end of what you do. It means he is first. Everything else serves him. When you do that, you begin to live for what really matters. You pass from living for emptiness to something that is enduring and everlasting.
Abel’s life means breath or vapor. It is ephemeral and transient. But because he worships God. He still lives. His righteous acts continue to speak.
“And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Heb 11:4 ESV).
It is not enough to show up to church, to sing a little, give a little, pray a little, and keep the rest of your life from God. We are to follow him with our whole heart.
“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder” (Jam 2:19 ESV)!
Where is God in your life? Want to be bold in your faith? Ask your wife, kids, or a friend: What appears to be first in my life?
There is a reordering and coming to life in all we do. It means we work our fields to the glory of God. It makes us the brothers and sisters God calls us to be where we care about those around us. We begin to enjoy life because we enjoy it as it was designed.
Lastly, we are able to reorder our life because of what Jesus has done for us. A descendant of Eve will come and offer himself perfectly to God. His people, his own family, will not receive him and will crucify him. Their actions were evil, and he is righteous. But his offering will be accepted and it will speak a better word than the blood of Abel. His blood will cleanse his people of their sin. Rather than facing judgment they will be able to receive mercy and forgiveness. They don't mourn for their punishment, but for their sin. And they turn to God in humility, and submission. And after doing that they offer him what he deserves of their lives. The first portion. This is the true church. If you have not surrendered to him, then you have no part in his blessings.