and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. Genesis 4:4-5
God’s approval isn’t based on what a person does. Rather, he accepts what a person does because he already approves of the person. The person hasn’t earned God’s approval through the good that he or she does. Because God looked with favor on Able, he also accepted Abel’s offering. God did not look with favor on Cain, so he didn’t accept his offering. So Abel had God’s approval even before he had done anything.
The author of Hebrews writes, “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith hw was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings” (Hebrews 11:4). Cain also brought an offering. In fact, he brought his offering before Able brought his. But he brought his offering with an arrogant and overconfident attitude. He assumed that God would be pleased with his sacrifice for the simple reason that he was the firstborn. Because he lacked faith and didn’t acknowledge his sinfulness, he felt no need to pray and didn’t place his confidence in the mercy of God.
This is exactly how those who rely on their own efforts to be justified still act today. They concentrate on the good that they do, which they hope will please God. They don’t trust in God’s mercy and his grace. They aren’t hoping that God will forgive their sins through Christ. This passage is definite proof that God cannot be influenced by outward appearances or impressed by the good that people do. He looks only at the faith of the individual. Yet God doesn’t reject any acts of human kindness, no matter how insignificant or meaningless they seem to be. Indeed, the only thing God hates and condemns is unbelief.
The Ninety-Five Theses is a text that everyone knows, most refer to, but few actually read, writes Stephen Nichols. Nevertheless, it is such a crucial text that it deserves to be read widely. Toward that end, Nichols has prepared this edition with an illuminating introduction, explanatory notes, and several illustrations. Martin Luther has left a legacy that continues to enrich the church through his writings. . ., writes Nichols. All of this may be traced back to the last day in October 1517 and the nailing of the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door.