There is a rule of thumb for how we ought to live. It’s pretty simple, straight-forward. And I found it in Genesis 4 the other day.

God is speaking with Cain after he offers a sacrifice to God Cain knew would be inadequate.

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it. (Genesis 4:7)

Cain is pouting. He is very angry, and his face is downcast, the Bible says twice (Genesis 4:5-6). Cain is mad God didn’t accept his paltry offering.

God comes to Cain and essentially says, “Why are you upset? Do what is right – follow the rules of offering I have established – and you will be blessed.”  

If I were God, I would’ve been less merciful and responded like this, “Look, buddy! You may not like the system I have set up, but it is what it is. You don’t have power to change it. You don’t have perspective to see why it is best for you. And you don’t have a choice – you ARE in it. My system says obey and be accepted; disobey and be destroyed by sin.”

Cain chooses anger. He chooses disillusionment. He chooses joylessness. He chooses rebelliousness. He chooses to not do what is right, and sin masters him instead of the other way around. He chooses to be enslaved by his sinful desire to NOT offer God the sacrifices He orders (and of which He is worthy, by the way).

Instead of responding to God’s second chance and offering the appropriate sacrifice (what grace that our Lord offers us second chances!), Cain chooses to act out his anger and kill his God-obeying brother.

By choosing rebellion, Cain didn’t get out of the system. He didn’t improve his quality of life – he was kicked out of the protection of community and had to start his family in desolation. His offspring were the first in scripture to practice polygamy (Genesis 4:19) and followed in Cain’s footsteps of murdering (Genesis 4:23). In summary, no good came of Cain’s submission to sin. In fact, a lot of bad came of it.

You and I are in the same system. Even if we don’t believe it. Even if we don’t want it to be true. The fact is, if we do what is right, we will be accepted. And if we do not do what is right, sin will try to master us, enslave us to our desires instead of God’s Word.

Make no mistake – we will be slaves to one thing or another, to sin or to the Lord. Sin is the worst kind of master, abusing people, destroying people, ruining relationships and families. God, on the other hand, blesses those who serve Him. God so handsomely rewards His slaves that they never want to leave His plantation. In fact, He sets them free, and they stay. They know there is no better place.

I think of my children. We have rules in our home. If they do what is right and obey those rules, it goes well with them. If they choose to not to what is right and disobey those rules, they receive undesirable consequences. It’s a simple system. It doesn’t really matter how they feel about our system or if they even think our system is real. All that matters is how they respond to the rules. That’s all they can control.

And it’s all we can control in our lives. Choose well.