11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another;
12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.
13 Do not marvel, brethren, if the world hates you.
(1 John 3:11-13, NASB).
Cain and Abel both offered sacrifices to God. They were both religious – they were making offerings. They both had a relationship with God – they talked with Him and did things for Him. Cain had a great relationship with God – He talked with him and offered him advice and was very patient about the wrong sacrifice issue. They both had those kinds of deeds.
Notice that according to this scripture, it isn’t that Cain slew his brother that made his deeds evil. His evil deeds led to the slaying, and so preceded the murder.
The real difference is that one offered a blood propitiation sacrifice, and the other offered a fruits-of-his-efforts sacrifice.
Works based justification leads to envy and anger and unholiness and murder, pure and simple. Are you trying hard? You think God or people should notice that more? Your deeds are evil. Cease striving and know that He is God (Ps 46:10).
You think this is crazy, that I am skewering things and making too much of an obscure way of looking at Cain and Abel. Well, what else could this mean? The evil deeds were the preceding cause of Cain’s murder, not the actual evil deed John points at. The only other deed we can notice from Genesis 4:3,4 is their offering. However, the real clue is that this is the genuine contextual message of 1 John on the whole. We find the idea of the propitiation mixed in with talk of loving the brethren and good deeds as if they are all a unity:
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.
10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
12 No one has beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.
(1 John 4:7-13, NASB).
7 but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
1 My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;
2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
3 And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.
4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;
5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:
6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
(1 John 1:7-2:6, NASB).
Wherever you see verbiage about keeping His commandments, abiding in Him, practicing righteousness, cleansing yourself, loving one another, you have to see it and breathe it and pray it and live it from the center of Christ’s propitiation. Either you and your efforts are at the center, or Christ and His propitiation are at the center.
If you find yourself looking, for example, at 1 John 4, and you think it is awesome that God is Love and that we ought to love each other, but that it is just a little weird and uncomfortable that he throws in Jesus and propitiation and implies crosses and dying and blood with that mix, then it proves you don’t catch this. The propitiation is the very central beating heart of the entire thing; belief in the propitiation of Christ’s blood is the deed. We keep His commandments by confessing that we break them and present a blood sacrifice. We love the brethren because the vengeance that used to be between because of our sin has been taken out in full in Christ.
And so, if your chief offering, your confession under pressure, is Christ and Him crucified, and only Christ, you are Abel the righteous. But if your chief offering, your honest understanding of things, is your efforts and fruits, you are Cain the murderer who hates the ones whom God approves.
Like Abel, our righteous deed is to offer a blood sacrifice – the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. Like Cain, the offering of the fruit-of-works unbelievers amounts to evil deeds, and because their works are so rejected and because our offering is so accepted, their unbelief produces hatred and scandal and envy in them.