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).
Since Abel offered a blood sacrifice, and Cain offered a fruits sacrifice, Cain’s frustration over his inadequate works led him to murder. Our love for one another is contrasted with Cain. Cain’s deeds were well-meaning, but it was his well-meaning deeds which were evil. In fact it was precisely because he was well-meaning and sacrificial that he was upset that his sacrifice didn’t serve to manipulate God’s favor. Strangely (although none of us are really strangers to this), this lack of success in garnering God’s acceptance did not lead to inquiry and change, but rather led to irritation and envy and murder.
Cain did not want to hear which sacrifice God wanted, he wanted to define his own sacrifice, and he expected God to conform to his own standard of holiness.
This is exactly how “legalism” or “moralism” works. We want to define a doable level of respectability and expect that God will accept that. We don’t want to hear about God’s standards of holiness – we want God to conform to our standards. We want Him to have regard for the fact that we don’t smoke, and that we don’t commit adultery, and that we work hard at our job. We don’t want Him to have regard for the fact that we ogle women on TV, that we drink, or that we are actually pretty lazy at our job on the whole. We don’t want to be bothered with “theology” which involves an absolute perfection of heart and deed and which requires a propitiation. We don’t want to learn what propitiation means – we are too busy being lazy at our job and being selfish and inattentive with our family.
God loves each one of us, and He loves those near us. He has wrath because He wants the best for us, and He therefore hates the sin which harms ourselves and others. He has great plans for us and we squander our lives away, falling short of glory (Romans 3:23), and He will never in all of eternity approve that. Nothing but Christ’s blood is sufficient for His wrath.
It is the right offering that leads to love. The wrong offering leads to murder. Contrary to the ridiculous idea that excessive grace leads to license, in fact an anemic legalistic view of God’s expectations leads to false notions of what God will accept, which causes envy and hatred. Overwhelming grace through Christ’s blood is the true basis for holiness. We are able to walk in the light (1 John 1:7) because of the blood of Jesus which cleanses us from all sin. It is the confession of sin/blood that is the sacrifice which God has indicated. Christ’s blood allows us to walk transparently, and this attitude of confession in light of Christ’s propitiation is what opens the door to real connection and fellowship with those around us. Because the good wrath of God is justly condemned in Christ, and because our conscience knows it, we can stand unenvious and without judgment, imperfect and saying so, loving other imperfect people, yet with the understanding that our deeds are accepted to God together.