How to Not Sin When You Don’t Like God’s Plan

I’m thinking of starting a series called, “Stuff Jesus Did that We Label Sin but Shouldn’t Because Jesus Did that Stuff”.

(It’s a working title.)

As I read through the gospels, I see a lot of things that fall into this category. I am often scratching my head (not literally though; my dandruff is under control. But if yours isn’t, no judgment here. Scratch away).

Many of the things Jesus says seem harsh and unloving at times. I wrestle with how to reconcile those statements with His sinlessness when if I said the same words today, everyone would think I’m a big fat impatient jerk.

This morning I was reading in Mark about Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, and, again, I found myself wondering, “Is He sinning?”

Now, of course, He isn’t sinning anywhere ever in the Bible (or out of the Bible, for that matter), but you get my point: as I read I had to open up my mind a little bit and try to figure out why what appeared to be sin wasn’t actually sin and what that means for us.

At this point, details would be helpful.

Jesus is in the Garden, full of sorrow, presumably regarding His impending arrest, mauling, and crucifixion. So Jesus did the best thing He could think of when He was “full of sorrow to the point of death”: He got alone and prayed (Mark 14:34-36).

(That’s a whole different post, but it’s a pretty short one, so let me sum it up: when we feel that way, we should do what Jesus did, too.)

On we go.

This post wants to focus on the content of the prayer (I asked it; it told me).

“[Jesus] fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘AbbaFather,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’”

What is Jesus really saying here?

Jesus is telling/asking God to change the plan.

To me, that communicates Jesus doesn’t trust or agree with the plan. And not trusting God seems like a sin. Disagreeing with God is unwise, at best. It smells of rebellion.

Maybe I am reading my own life into this situation: when I ask God to change the plan, I know it comes from a place of not trusting Him.

But that can’t be so with Jesus because He is sinless. He is not distrusting or disagreeable with the Father or unwise or rebellious in any cell of His body.

So what’s the difference? How can Jesus tell God to change the plan and not sin, but when I tell God to change the plan, it’s usually rooted in sin? 

I think the answer is two-fold.

First, Jesus had the correct understanding of what asking God to do things differently is: not a sin. Asking God to change the plan is simply not a sin in and of itself. We may have been brought up to think it is, but, apparently, it’s not because of the sheer fact that Jesus did it. It is perfectly acceptable to God for us to suggest alternate ways of doing things when His ways scare the crap out of us. But I think most of us wrongly assume it is always a sin to “help” God brainstorm options that are more palatable to us.

(For more on this, go read all the times Moses petitioned God to change His mind/plan. It happened a lot, and God didn’t ever call it sin or dole out a punishment to Moses for objecting to God’s plan. This, logically, does not guarantee God didn’t consider Moses’ objecting sinful, but it makes a pretty good case.)

The second difference is how Jesus couched His request that God do things differently.

Before He told God to change it up, Jesus said, “Everything is possible for you.” Jesus acknowledged God’s omnipotence. Jesus was saying, “I know, Father, that You have the ability to change the way this thing is going to go down. I wouldn’t bother to ask if I didn’t believe that with My whole heart.”

In my estimation, Jesus’ prefacing His request with this admission is an expression of trust. It’s also an acknowledgement that Jesus can’t change things Himself; He is under the Father’s sovereignty and is letting God know He accepts that.

After Jesus told God to take His cup, He ended His prayer with, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “I realize the fact that whatever You decide to do – go ahead with Your original plan or adapt things at my request – it will be the best choice.”

Again, Jesus is showing complete trust in God and deferral to the Father’s ultimate authority. Jesus is expressing that while His mind might believe a different plan would be better, His heart’s true desire is to do what the Father wants done.

And I think Jesus’ framing His request this way is what determines He is not sinning for desiring a different course of action.

Where the rest of us get tripped up is we either don’t believe God can truly change things or our hearts don’t truly want what He wants. Or, worse, both are true of us. 

After a brief consultation with His disciples, Jesus prayed one more time. He determined His job was to get on with things, and if God wanted to answer His prayer and change the plan along the way, that was up to the Father.

So that’s just what Jesus did. “Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:42). He embraced the path God had set before Him head on and trusted God to make it lead exactly where the Father wanted it to.

All this to say desiring things to go differently than how God appears to be making them go is not the sin. Doing things differently than how you know God wants them to be done is the sin. It’s in the doing things our own way that we express disregard for His omnipotence and sovereignty. It’s in the doing things against His orders that we show Him we really don’t care about His will at all; we want our will to be done no matter what.

As usual, it’s about the heart. If our hearts are right, like Jesus’ heart was – yielded to God’s wisdom, love, and ultimate authority – we can ask Him to change anything without sinning in the process.

 

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The One Thing We Can’t Lose

My heart fell as I watched this pastor whom I’ve never heard preach, whom I’ve never met personally, whose books I’ve never read, and whose church I’ve never set foot in tearfully apologize to his congregation for, in his own words, choices he has made that were “wrong”.

Yes, his humility struck me. In this day and age, our ministry leaders are quick to offer excuses and self defenses, but not public apologies, and certainly not recorded public apologies for the entire world to watch.

But his humility is not what spoke to me most.

I found myself tearing up when Mark Driscoll teared up during his statement, not because I in any way have an affection for or a connection to him, but because I can identify with the truth represented in his statements about both his failures and the immeasurable grace and forgiveness of Christ.

The truth is we are ALL one choice away from losing our families and our ministries (no matter how small or large), but we can NEVER make a choice that will cost us our Jesus.

I think Mark’s tears were indicative that he gets this at the most personal level possible. I get it, too, and it a) scares me to death that I am FULLY capable of making one choice that could cost me my family and ministry, and b) humbly thankful that I can never make a choice that would ever cost me EVERYTHING – nothing I do will ever make me lose Jesus.

So I am wondering, how do I – how do we – balance this fear that comes from an acute awareness of our own propensity to sin with the promise that Jesus will not leave us (Matthew 28:20)? 

We don’t want to be paralyzed by the fear. Yes, our ability to sin and to sin in extremely destructive ways faster than we can blink should be a reality that is always in the forefronts of our minds. Foolish is the person who believes he would never do ______. We must have a healthy respect for the fallen nature that still roars its ugly head in each one of us every day of our lives.

But we must guard against the temptation to condemn ourselves for having this nature and operating out of it from time to time. I’m NOT saying sin is okay. I’m saying self-condemnation – punishing ourselves mentally or otherwise – over our sin is not okay.

God is the only one in position to condemn us for our sin, and if you’ve accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, God has decided NOT to condemn you. That’s His choice, as laid out in the well-known verse “…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1). And if God isn’t condemning you, then you shouldn’t be either. (Confess and repent, yes, but condemn, no.)

And why must we not condemn ourselves? Because when we sit around thinking about how much we suck on account of our sinful choices/nature, we are effectively paralyzed. Our focus is no longer on going and making disciples (ya know, our main job on this planet) nor on loving and worshiping the Lord (ya know, the very thing our hearts were created for). The focus is on ourselves.

No, instead of living in the paralysis that can come along with our understanding of our abilities to sin, we must balance ourselves out with the second truth: we can never sin to such a degree nor too many times to cause Jesus to give up on us. That’s grace, folks. We can’t out sin God’s grace. Once we’ve accepted Christ, He’ll never reject us. He is the one thing we can’t lose.

When we’re feeling the weight of our bent to sin and are tempted to kick ourselves, maybe we ought to pray something like this:

“Lord, I know at any given moment I am capable of great sin. Protect me from making choices that dishonor you and hurt me and the people I love. Empower me to never make choices that could cost me my family or the ministry you’ve entrusted to me. And thank You, Lord, that, although there are choices I could make that might cost me everything tangible in this life, there is no choice I could make that could cost me You. Thank you that you will never leave me but are with me always, even until the end of the age. Help me walk in that confidence instead of sit in the self condemnation that comes so easily. Nothing can take me from Your hand – not even my own sinful choices.”

 

 

You and I in Psalm 106

Israel.

Throughout the Old Testament, the nation of Israel is reamed for failing to worship God the way they were supposed to. Sometimes they forgot. Sometimes they remembered but refused.

You and I are just the latest models of Israel. We may wear better clothes and have superior technology – more bells and whistles, if you will – but underneath we’re the same old thing – prone to wander, prone to run.

So when we read about Israel’s shenanigans in the Old Testament, we can sub our names in the text for some pretty powerful Bible reading.

Take Psalm 106, for example.

It starts out innocently enough:

1 Praise the Lord.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

2 Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord
or fully declare his praise?
3 Blessed are those who act justly,
who always do what is right.

4 Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people,
come to my aid when you save them,
5 that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may share in the joy of your nation
and join your inheritance in giving praise.

But then it takes a turn for the worse:

6 We have sinned, even as our ancestors did;
we have done wrong and acted wickedly.

We who? We Israel. We you and me. WE have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly. We can all probably rattle off at least 5 ways today we have sinned.

7 When our ancestors were in Egypt,
they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

This is our story, too. We faintly remember God doing something cool in our pasts… years ago… what was it? We can’t recall… Instead, we rehearse the ways we think He could be doing better by us these days. We feel the indignation stirring up distrust in our hearts.

8 Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
to make his mighty power known.
9 He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up;
he led them through the depths as through a desert.
10 He saved them from the hand of the foe;
from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.
11 The waters covered their adversaries;
not one of them survived.
12 Then they believed his promises
and sang his praise.

There was a time He saved us. All of us followers of Christ can point to a time or a season in which our initial salvation occurred. He saved us for His name’s sake, and His mighty power was made known. And we believed His promises. We sang His praise… at least for a little while…

13 But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his plan to unfold.

My lungs choke on this verse. My spirit surges with adrenaline. I know only disaster will come of this for the Israelites… for me. I want to scream, “NO! Don’t forget! Wait for Him!” as if I could spare them – me – from the disaster that necessarily follows such carelessness.

14 In the desert they gave in to their craving;
in the wilderness they put God to the test.
15 So he gave them what they asked for,
but sent a wasting disease among them.

Their flesh won. My flesh wins. When we choose to sin, we’re daring God to discipline us. We call His mercy-bluff time after time, becoming increasingly brazen, “How far will You let me go? Surely I can get away with this ‘little’ sin…” He may let us have whatever we’re craving… but not without consequence. Visible or invisible, the wasting disease always follows on the heels of our choosing sin.

16 In the camp they grew envious of Moses
and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the Lord.
17 The earth opened up and swallowed Dathan;
it buried the company of Abiram.
18 Fire blazed among their followers;
a flame consumed the wicked.
19 At Horeb they made a calf
and worshiped an idol cast from metal.
20 They exchanged their glorious God
for an image of a bull, which eats grass.
21 They forgot the God who saved them,
who had done great things in Egypt,
22 miracles in the land of Ham
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23 So he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him
to keep his wrath from destroying them.

Envy. Destruction. Consumption. Idolatry. Spiritual amnesia. The Lord’s ire. Nothing good follows our giving into our cravings. God said He would destroy us – you and me – had not Jesus, His chosen One, stood in the breach to keep God’s wrath from destroying us…

I still can’t understand that kind of love. I believe in it… but I don’t comprehend it. And despite having been ransomed in the grandest of fashions through Christ’s death and resurrection, on this side of that incalculable forgiveness, my reaction is often no better than the Israelite’s reaction to Moses’ saving them:

24 Then they despised the pleasant land;
they did not believe his promise.
25 They grumbled in their tents
and did not obey the Lord.

I am redeemed. Blessed in every sense of the word. And I still find a way to despise the pleasant land. I treat the cross with contempt when I take matters into my own hands and disobey God. I’m not thankful enough for His blessings. I don’t trust His words. And I choose to go my own way.

26 So he swore to them with uplifted hand
that he would make them fall in the wilderness,
27 make their descendants fall among the nations
and scatter them throughout the lands.

28 They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor
and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods;
29 they aroused the Lord’s anger by their wicked deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.

Israel yoked themselves to their idols… no one forced them into idolatry. They chose to attach themselves like dumb animals to other gods. I chain myself to God-substitutes too. They may not be carved idols, but I give them my heart before I give my heart to the Lord all the same…

30 But Phinehas stood up and intervened,
and the plague was checked.
31 This was credited to him as righteousness
for endless generations to come.

And Jesus intercedes for me once again, reminding the Lord that the plagues I earn have already been endured by Jesus Himself on my behalf.

32 By the waters of Meribah they angered the Lord,
and trouble came to Moses because of them;
33 for they rebelled against the Spirit of God,
and rash words came from Moses’ lips.

34 They did not destroy the peoples
as the Lord had commanded them,
35 but they mingled with the nations
and adopted their customs.
36 They worshiped their idols,
which became a snare to them.
37 They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to false gods.
38 They shed innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was desecrated by their blood.
39 They defiled themselves by what they did;
by their deeds they prostituted themselves.

Round and round the sin pattern goes with Israel. On and on the cycle whirls with me. Sin, salvation, sin, salvation. When will it stop?

40 Therefore the Lord was angry with his people
and abhorred his inheritance.
41 He gave them into the hands of the nations,
and their foes ruled over them.
42 Their enemies oppressed them
and subjected them to their power.
43 Many times he delivered them,
but they were bent on rebellion
and they wasted away in their sin.

God allows consequences for our wrong choices. We experience pain as a natural result of not worshiping the One we were created to worship. You’d think pain would teach us… but we can’t seem to keep our eyes fixed on Him. We’re bent on rebellion, drawn to it like a moth to a flame. And we waste away in our sin.

44 Yet he took note of their distress
when he heard their cry;
45 for their sake he remembered his covenant
and out of his great love he relented.
46 He caused all who held them captive
to show them mercy.

Grace. That God would even listen to our cries after all we’ve put Him through. And why? For our sakes. He relents and shows love and has mercy on us not to make Him feel better but to benefit us. Oh, what love!

47 Save us, Lord our God,
and gather us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise.

He saves. He saves us from ourselves, from the Enemy of our souls, from every threat. And our response must be to give thanks and to glory in His praise – to relish in who He is. Worship.

48 Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,

from everlasting to everlasting.

Let all the people say, “Amen!”

Praise the Lord.

Is Anxiety a Sin?

My pastor said something I didn’t like today.

He read Philippians 4:6 – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God,” – and then he offered this interpretation: being anxious is a sin.

To be honest, I stopped listening. I wasn’t angry so much as I was searching my mental database for a theological reason to support my desire for his interpretation of the verse to be wrong, or at least one possible interpretation of many.

Maybe the original Greek wasn’t really a command. Maybe a softer, suggestive tone was lost in translation.

I got home and read the verse in a different translation, “Be anxious for nothing…” Crap. That sounds like a command, too.

I pulled out a commentary, and it said, “This is a command, not an option. Undue care is an intrusion into God’s arena. It makes us the father of the household instead of being a child,” (Guzik). I never liked that commentary anyway.

I pulled out a dictionary and looked up the word anxious, hoping for a semantic reprieve. Google said this:

anx·ious  /ˈaNG(k)SHəs/

Adjective
  1. Experiencing worry, unease, or nervousness, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
  2. (of a period of time or situation) Causing or characterized by worry or nervousness.
Synonyms
uneasy – worried – solicitous – concerned – restless

Really, Internet? The one time I need you to be on my side, and you’re not?

Clearly, Paul is commanding us to not be anxious, and, try as I did, I couldn’t escape that fact. And if we are commanded not to be something, then it stands to follow that when we are that something, we are disobeying the Lord. And what do we call disobeying the Lord? Sin. Geez.

With no wiggle room, I started to wonder why I don’t like the conclusion that anxiety is a sin.

Well, for starters, not being anxious – not worrying or feeling uneasy or feeling nervous – feels impossible. Sure, there are fleeting moments here and there in which I feel peaceful, but, by and large, anxious is my standard emotion. And to say that my baseline feeling is wrong is really saying there is something wrong with me. I don’t hear, “What you’re doing (worrying) is wrong,” I hear, “You are wrong. There is something wrong with you because you worry.”

While that’s a true statement, it hurts to think about. I can’t imagine Jesus having that attacking mentality toward me. Something just still didn’t jive for me about the blanket statement that anxiety is a sin.

After pondering all this, I did what any of us would do when confronted with the ugliness inside of us: I got defensive.

I thought to myself, “It doesn’t feel like I have any control over feeling anxious. I can’t never feel anxious. That is an impossible standard no human could ever uphold.” And in the midst of my rationalizing, I found a loophole that just might be valid.

It’s been said that, because we can’t stop a sinful thought from popping into our minds, we don’t actually sin until we react to that initial thought by choosing to continue to dwell on said thought. This argument is how we explain that Jesus was tempted but did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). Being tempted is not the sin; giving into the temptation is the sin.

So if we apply that to anxiety, we can say the initial anxious feeling about any given situation is not the sin, it’s the temptation to sin. We haven’t actually sinned until we respond to that initial anxious feeling by choosing to stay worried, a la definition 2 above.

I took this idea back to the scripture, and I caught something I didn’t see this morning. The command is, “Do not be anxious…” It doesn’t say, “Do not feel anxious…”

We will all have times we feel an intial jolt of anxiety over something. It’s not until we feed that worry that we move from feeling to being. “Being” anxious has the connotation that we are perpetually worried, not just worried for an instant.

This is a command I find easier to accept. It’s no longer an impossible standard. It allows me to be human and frees me up to experience human emotions without feeling guilty. Then, when I recognize that I am feeling anxious about something, I can choose, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to not stay anxious.

I’d like to believe that’s the heart behind this verse.

What do you think?

MythBusters: Faithful Failures

There is a rumor going around in the hearts and minds of a lot of us that God can’t and won’t use us to positively change the world until we are better.

“Better” is different for all of us. Your “better” is directly related to your areas of weakness.

So, for the person with low self-esteem, she believes she has to be more self-confident before God will choose to use her to communicate His truth to others. She feels her negative self-image limits God’s ability to draw others to His Spirit through anything she might say or do.

The person without the graduate degree thinks she has to become smarter and more qualified before God will be able to change lives through her. This person feels her lack of knowledge limits God’s ability to use her to illuminate the Bible for others.

The person who perpetually struggles in the same old ways, year in and year out, thinks she has to defeat sin herself, once and for all, before the Lord will be able to do work through her. She feels her sinful tendencies limit God’s capabilities to spread the truth through her.

God help the person who feels she has to be “better” in all three of these ways at once. Whomever she might be…

Last week God exploded this “I have to be better before God will use me” myth. He brought 2 Corinthians 12:9 to life for me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It’d been a long week of mentally beating myself up for some choices I regretted, compounded by an unhealthy dose of Satan’s baiting me to believe his infamous mantra, “Trust your feelings.”

Feelings. Hmph.

To be honest, what I was feeling was confused and angry and bitter and depressed and unable to pull it all together. And I was slated to teach Bible study Thursday morning. Perfect.

(If you’re new here, please take the time to read sarcasm into my posts so they can be understood appropriately.)

I halfway knew how I was going to approach Thursday’s lesson on Hebrews 1-10. I was prepared enough, and I anticipated a decent morning in the scriptures, but nothing excessively fantastic given my state of mind.

I guess God took that as a subconscious dare because He descended on our group like a God with a purpose. He took control of the situation, tailoring the lesson to include a brief detour to examine the temptation of Jesus, living by faith, persevering, and the importance of scripture in all three of these areas.

In a weird sort of way, He used me to minister to me (and others), despite my being in such a crappy place emotionally and spiritually all week.

Myth busted.

I still don’t understand why or how, but it turns out God is not limited by our weaknesses. Not only can He use us when we’re at our worst, He does! We don’t have to be “better” to be counted worthy of His anointing. We just have to be available.

Lord, we fall so short of Your goal for us – to be made in Christ’s image (Romans 8:29). But You allow us the privilege and the blessing of Your working in us to share the love and truth of Christ with the world when we are open. Help us live wide open today.

 

 

 

Hope in the Struggle

I was all set to write an article about how there’s no such thing as a “good Christian.” It was going to be all about how oxymoronic that phrase is – none of us are good, that’s why we need Christ in the first place.

Except I didn’t actually write the article. I just thought about it a whole lot. I never made the time to sit down and hammer it out. So you know what happened? Someone else beat me to the punch.

A friend who knew nothing of my latest blog idea shared an article called The Myth of the ‘Good Christian Girl’ on Facebook. And aside from the fact that my article wouldn’t have been gender specific, this article said a lot of what I was thinking, and it said it much better than I imagine I would’ve said it.

Good writing, for me, always has to have a fresh phrase that sticks with me days later for it to be worthy of the adjective “good”.

This piece had this little nugget in it: the “real you/me/us” is a “struggling saved sinner.”

I love the phrase because each word depicts a part of me in a unique way.

I struggle. I struggle to discern right from wrong. I struggle to get this rock of a heart to choose right on a consistent basis. I struggle to flee temptation and pursue righteousness. I struggle to make sense of pain and evil. I struggle to understand what I struggle with.

But just because I struggle doesn’t mean the offer of salvation and relationship with God is revoked.

I am saved. I have asked the Lord for grace through Jesus, and He gives me more than I can stand. I am saved from eternal damnation, but I am saved for so much more than “just” Heaven. I am saved for living, breathing relationship with the God of creation. I am saved for interaction with God this side of Heaven. I am saved for the pleasure of the One who says to me, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life,” (Isaiah 43:4). (For us AD folks, substitute Jesus for “men” and “people”.)

Just because I am saved, however, doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is so. Why?

Because of that last word – sinner. I am a sinner. It’s what I do. I was born sinning, and I’ll die sinning. There’s not an hour that goes by where I don’t choose selfishness over service (Matthew 20:26-28), or laziness over the good I ought to do (James 4:17), or think curse words instead of blessings (James 3:10).

Just because I am saved doesn’t mean I don’t sin. But just because I sin doesn’t mean I am not savedThe author of Hebrews tells us, “[Jesus] is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them,” (Hebrews 7:25). Completely!

I am a constantly struggling, completely saved, carnal sinner.

And I hope you are too.

Because the only other option is a constantly struggling, completely lost, carnal sinner.

I was that once.

Do you want to know the difference, besides all that Heaven/Hell business?

Hope.

Being saved allows me to have hope for the now as well as the future (Romans 15:13, Titus 3:4-7).

Being lost left me devoid of any reason to believe this life mattered at all or that it could get any better, and there was no “next life” to bank on (Ephesians 2:12).

I hope it’s clear I’m not promising roses and sunshine to you if you choose Christ today. The world will still be broken and so will you, making for some pretty rough days. But with Jesus, there is hope in the struggle.

 

Instructions for Life

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.