The Choice is Yours

In Genesis chapter four, we are told that Cain and Abel both brought a sacrifice to God. But apparently, Cain did not bring God the best that he had to offer:

“The Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.”

No one likes to fail, especially when we know we have disappointed God. But God gives Cain an opportunity to make things right. Instead of getting mad about the situation, he can decide to do well in the future rather than continuing to be selfish.

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’”

One thing that really stands out from God’s words to Cain is the emphasis on the fact that Cain has a choice. He can do well and be accepted, or he can be overtaken by sin, but he has a choice in this matter. He has no reason to be angry precisely because he is the one who has chosen to sin in the first place, and he is the one who can choose to pursue a different course in the future.

Many in our day would not have written Genesis this way. Instead, they might have written, “If I cause you to do well, will not you countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, and it will destroy you unless I arbitrarily choose to cause you to beat it.”

This is because many in our world deny the concept that human beings have any say in their own actions. On one hand, they teach, we are forced to do wrong by an inherently wicked human nature. On the other hand, God may override this nature and force us to do well, but we have no choice in this matter, either.

Ironically, this teaching is in many ways very similar to the doctrine of contemporary atheistic materialists. These men teach that human beings are simply a product of our genetics and our physical environments. If we do right, we had no choice in the matter. If we do wrong, we had no choice in the matter. Free will is an illusion and we are all just “dancing to our DNA.”

But Genesis paints a different picture. “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Notice, God does not say “you must master sin with no help from me.” He does not even say “you must muster some strength of your own and I will help you with the rest.” God does not tell Cain that he has to beat sin by a power that originates in his own human self. But He does suggest that Cain has a choice in the matter. That choice is the choice to turn it all over to God. To put Him in the highest place. To count any cost as worth it in order to be His.

Will you make the decision to submit yourself to God? If you know what He asks of you, will you do it? The choice is yours. Which means the responsibility is yours. If you do not choose well, you will not have a good excuse to become angry.

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Why Do the Right Thing?

It is no secret that God asks us to give up our sins, some of which may be very dear to our hearts. He asks us to change our lives in ways that can be difficult or painful. He asks us to give up our pride. He asks us to step out in faith and do things that get us out of our comfort zone. He asks for a lot.

So why should we do what He asks? Why do the right thing? Here are some possible answers:

So that life will be better for us here and now. After all, God’s commands are designed to protect us from harm. There can be no question that following where He leads is beneficial. In Mark 19:30, Jesus says of anyone who gives something up for Him, “he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age.”

So that we can go to heaven. In Matthew 6:20, Jesus encourages us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Romans 2:6-7 tells us that God “WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.” Some day we want to hear Him say “well done.”

So that we won’t go to hell. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 says plainly, “the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” For those who really believe all that the Bible says about hell (and the Bible says a LOT about it) this is a real motivation to do the right thing.

There are many other possible reasons to do the right thing. To be a good example to those younger than us. To avoid hurting family and friends. To keep a clear conscience. To maintain personal credibility.

But there is one primary reason to do the right thing that we must not forget.

We do the right thing because, as Christians, we don’t have a choice. God owns us. We gave up our rights when we died with Him through baptism (Romans 6). We signed up to be slaves of righteousness (also Romans 6). It is not we who live but Christ who lives in us (Galatians 2:20). Our lives are living sacrifices (Romans 12:1).

We live in a society that esteems personal freedom over duty. Others may give us advice, but they are not to control us. No one can tell us what to do, we get to weigh the pros and cons and decide for ourselves. But the relationship between the Christian and his God is not this way.

God can and does tell us what to do. If you want to follow Him, you only have one choice: submit. We don’t get to pull out a list of pros and cons every time we want to sin, assess the situation, and decide whether discipleship seems personally advantageous. God either owns you or you do not belong to Him at all.

“Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:33)

“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)