Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the Lord.” 2 Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. 4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6 So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? 7 And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Gen 4:1-7) NKJV
One often gets that question from atheists and agnostics, yes, and even by professing Christians. The fact that there are many religions is often a stumbling block for not believing. One reasons, how is one to know what is correct. In other words, the plurality of religions in the world is often an excuse to not believe. The most common way to get around this problem is to say that basically, one worships the same God, if He actually exists at all. Another solution is that if one takes a little bit from every religion, the “best morsels”, and one makes a nice potpourri of it all then one has made the situation its best. One might believe that he or she has come up with something that, hopefully, will last, both in this life and in eternity.
As usual, it is Scripture that we turn to. There are so many wonderful basic truths in Genesis 1-11, the portion of the Bible which, unfortunately, so many Christians want to quickly dismiss as mythological. Here in Genesis 4 we see that from the fall of man to our present day, really only two religions or beliefs have existed.
As soon as man fell from his Creator, God offered salvation and restoration through faith in the promise of a coming Messiah, the “seed of the woman” (Gen 3:15). God showed the way by covering their nakedness with clothes (Gen 3:21). This required that an animal be killed. Most likely this was the first time that Adam and Eve saw death (we can imagine their terrified faces). A life was taken in place of them to remove their nakedness and shame.
Everything indicates that it was just that animal (a lamb) that served as a sin offering for the first infringement of man. When they, in faith, accepted that which God prepared for them, then could they be restored, God declared them righteous through grace, exactly like Abraham, our father of faith, got to experience later on (Gen 15: 6).
With this historical background, we do not need to speculate, except to note that the knowledge of salvation existed with the first humans. God Himself had taught them. It is logical to believe that the two sons, Cain and Abel, had received some of this knowledge from their parents. They acted, however, very differently, despite having the same knowledge and opportunities.
Cain, on the one hand, brought forth what he had produced through his skill as a farmer. It may seem that he only offered that which naturally was available. He did, but everything suggests that a sacrificial lamb was also available to him. Verse 7 indicates this clearly. We can say that the premise and equipment for his salvation was there, but it was rejected. Precisely like in our time, when the gospel goes out to all of the earth’s inhabitants (Matthew 28:19-20), the message is often rejected in favor of self-produced works. Abel, on the other hand, acted in faith and did not rely on his own ability. He followed in his parents’ footsteps and believed that righteousness does not come by something that we ourselves can produce or accomplish (Rom 3:21-25).
The Bible could not be clearer than it is when it says that righteousness is a gift, not a reward for hard work or good behavior (Rom 3:24). Here we see the two religions or beliefs. One is based on deeds, the other on faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). One has room for boasting, the other not (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). One is costly for the recipient, the other for the giver (Romans 8:32; 1 Peter 1:18-20). This principle, only two ways to go, we see as a red thread throughout the entire Bible. It is either or, not both. One is wrong and the other is right. One leads to eternal salvation, the other to eternal punishment.
In 1 Kings, Elijah represented Abel’s way, through his faith in the God of Israel, when he challenged the false religion on Mount Carmel. Prophets of Baal represented Cain’s way, through his trust in the satanic religion that challenged God’s revelation of Himself and the way to reconciliation with Him.
Paul writes that behind all idolatry there exists a demonic reality, and Christians shall have no fellowship with the fallen angels (1 Corinthians 10:20-21). Salvation is only through Jesus Christ. The evil spirits teach a worthless Savior (1 John 4:1-4), salvation by works (1 Timothy 4:1-3) and “freedom” to sin (Rev 2:20-24). All this and more is represented in Cain’s religion. Abel’s acts of faith testify to the contrary. Cain’s religion says DO, Abel’s faith says DONE.
The Bible says that there is a rest for us (Heb 4: 9). The Sabbath rest is not a day (Saturday or Sunday), but a person, Jesus Christ. John the Baptist cried out the famous words “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The little lamb that Abel sacrificed was a forerunner, which temporarily covered man’s sin, in anticipation for the Lamb who once and for all offered Himself for our sins. Which of these two views of life (religions) affirms you? Your choice brings with itself eternal consequences, it is not about what you prefer, but about what the Living God has said – believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).