Robert Jeffress - Avoiding The Way Of Cain
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". When we ask people if they consider themselves to be a good person, most people likely would say yes, but comparing ourselves to others doesn't tell the whole story. Once we compare ourselves to a holy God, we quickly see our massive flaws. Today, I'm going to explain why none of us can measure up to the glory and holiness of God. My message is titled "Avoiding the way of Cain" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
Nothing will cause a more vitriolic reaction from people than insisting there is only one way to escape hell and experience heaven. By the way, I'm not speaking theoretically. I'm speaking from personal experience. Not long ago, I received an email from somebody who had listened to a message in which I was claiming there is only one way to be saved. This man identified himself as a Christian and as a member of a conservative Christian denomination. He wrote, "I thought Christians were tolerant of other religions, that they believe the United States was established so that all people could worship according to their desires. Shame, shame on you for talking about things you have no knowledge of. You are a son of the devil if you are not tolerant of all religions".
How's that for being tolerant? Apparently this man had a misunderstanding of tolerance, like many people do. He thought being tolerant means that we believe that all ideas and beliefs are equally valid. No, that's not what tolerance is. My simple definition of tolerance is respecting other people's right to be wrong. That's what tolerance is, respecting other people's right to be wrong. You know, many people embrace the idea of pluralism. All ideas are equally valid. Nobody can claim to have the truth. That's pluralism, but that is not what tolerance is. Tolerance is saying there is an absolute truth. You don't have to accept it or not. I respect your right to be wrong. But all truths are not equally valid, and not all roads lead to heaven.
That certainly was the teaching of Jesus himself. In Matthew 7, he said, "Enter by the," what? "the narrow gate, for broad is the way that leads to destruction". And that is the basis for our series, "Not all roads lead to heaven: sharing an exclusive Jesus in an inclusive world". Last time, we began looking at the truth that this idea of one way of salvation didn't start in the New Testament. The Genesis of this idea is, well, in the book of Genesis. It begins on the opening pages of the Old Testament. And specifically, last time, we looked at five themes in the Old Testament that point to the exclusivity of salvation. We only had time last time to look at the first two.
Let me review them for you briefly. First of all, we talked about the oneness of God. That is the most basic truth found in the Old Testament. The oneness of God. Remember Deuteronomy 6, verse four. "Here o Israel! The Lord your God is one God". There are not many Gods. There is one God, and who is the real God? He is the one who identified himself to Moses, saying, "I am who I am," not, "I am whoever you think I am". That's the oneness of God. The second theme we looked at last time was the holiness of God. The most transcendent description of God found anywhere in the Bible is the ones that the angels proclaimed in Isaiah's vision of God when he heard the angels proclaim, "Holy, holy, holy"! You remember that word holy means literally to cut or to separate.
When we say God is holy, we are saying God is separate. He is a cut above everything and everyone in heaven, and in earth. And of course, the holiness of God means that he is distinct from us, and he has a separation from sin. God has a zero tolerance level for sin. He is separate from evil. In Habakkuk 1, verse 13, God says, "Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, and thou cast not look on wickedness with favor". Of course, the fact that God is wholly separate from sin presents a problem for us, because of a third truth you find in the Old Testament, and that is the sinfulness of man. There is a moral gulf because of God's holiness between a holy God and a sinful man. It is a gulf that began in the Garden of Eden and continues today.
One writer has vividly illustrated how the everyday choices you and I make show that gulf, that separation between God and us. He writes, "A businessman on the road checks into a motel room late at night. He knows the kind of movies that are available to him in the room. No one will know, but first, he has to say a little prayer. 'Don't look at me, God'. A mom with anger issues decides to berate her kids because she's so frustrated, and because she will get a twisted rush of pleasure from inflicting pain. But first she has to say a little prayer. 'Don't look at me, God'. An executive who's going to pad an expense account, an employee who's going to deliberately make a coworker look bad, a student who looks at somebody else's paper during an exam, a church member who looks forward to the chance to gossip. But first we have to say a little prayer. 'God, don't look at me'".
The very first time that prayer was ever uttered is found in Genesis chapter three. Take your Bibles and turn there, if you will. You remember the story. God had planted the first couple, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden, and God had said to Adam and Eve, "You can eat of any tree you want to eat of, except one". But Satan utilized a strategy that he still uses today to deceive people. Instead of focusing on all of the provisions God had made for them, Satan caused that first couple to focus in on that one prohibition, the one thing they couldn't do, and suddenly they became obsessed with that one thing God said you couldn't do. And so Satan said to the first couple, "Has God really said don't eat of that tree"? He caused them to doubt the Word of God. And then when he didn't have any success there, he attacked the character of God.
He said, "You know why God doesn't want you to eat that tree? God is a cosmic killjoy who doesn't want you to have any fun at all. God is trying to rob you of that one experience in life that will bring true fulfillment to you. God is paranoid. He's afraid you'll discover that you can live life just fine without him". Somebody well said, "All sin is rooted in a basic contempt for God". You can't trust God. God can't be trusted. He's trying to keep something good from you. How did eve respond? Well, unfortunately, she literally took the bait by taking a bite of that forbidden fruit. Verse six. "When the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate, and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate".
You say, what's the big deal? One little mistake, one little bite to the forbidden fruit. What's the big deal? Here's the big deal. Paul explained it in Romans 5:12, what that one act of disobedience means to you and to me today. Romans 5:12 says, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned". At the moment moment of their disobedience, sin spread like a virus through the entire human race, and with that sin came death.
G.K. Chesterton once said, "The only part of theology that can actually be proved is original sin," because we prove it every day of our life, don't we? Every day, every hour of every day, we prove that we have inherited the sin virus. You might say, "Well, okay, I'm not perfect. I make a few mistakes, but I'm not that bad". Here's the problem with coming to that conclusion. You and I aren't qualified to diagnose our spiritual condition.
A few weeks ago, I went for my annual checkup at the dermatologist, and they were going over my leg and they found this little raised place, and they said, "We better section that, just do a biopsy on it". And I could have said, "Oh no, don't do that. I feel just fine. I'm fine". I could have said that, but that doesn't mean I was fine. I'm not qualified to make that diagnosis, so I let them section a part of my leg and send it off for a test. The test results came back and the doctor said, "You're just fine. That'll be $2.000, please," or whatever it was, you know, "But you're fine". But I didn't know that at the time. I really wasn't qualified to make that diagnosis.
It's the same thing about our spiritual condition. It doesn't matter what we say about ourselves. We're not the ones to make the diagnosis. You know what God says about our spiritual condition? He says we have a malignancy on our soul that is going to end in eternal death. If you want to know how God really looks at you, just read what he's written on your chart. Do you want me to read it to you? What he's written about you and me, what our real condition is? Genesis 6:5. "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually". That's how God looks on man. He looks at us as completely evil. Every thought we have is evil continually.
Or listen to Psalm 14, verses one and three. "The fool has said in his heart, 'there is no God'. They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds: there is no one who does good. They have all turned aside: together they have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, no, not even one". If those words sound familiar, those are the words Paul quotes in Romans chapter three, and he concludes with, "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". But notice what he's saying. There's not one person, God says, who does good in the world, not even one. Or Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick: who can understand it"?
It's this diagnosis of the human condition that have led theologians to adopt a doctrine they call the total depravity of man. What is man's spiritual state? Man is totally depraved. And we kind of wince at that, because first of all, it hurts our pride, our humanity to say we're totally depraved. We don't like that, but we also really don't think it's true because we look around even at non-Christians, and say, well, there are non-Christians that do good things. There are non-Christians that, you know, go hammer things for habitat for humanity or give to the American cancer society. There are nonbelievers that do good things. How can we say that man is totally depraved?
Now, listen to this. The total depravity of man doesn't deal with the depth of our sin, but the breadth of our sin. When we say man is totally depraved, we're not saying any of us is bad as we could be. I mean, sin could always pull every one of us down a little bit further, couldn't it? No, the total depravity doesn't have to do with the depth of our sin. It has to do with the breadth of our sin. That is that sin virus. That cancer cell of sin that is in our body has spread to every part of our life. Every part of our life has been infected and polluted by sin. And that's why the Bible says we are totally deprived. Our sin has pulled us away from God.
Again, we have a hard time understanding the great distance between us who are sinners and God who is holy, and you know why we don't really believe there's that great chasm? Why we believe that we're all one with God? It's because when we're looking at ourselves, we're using the wrong standard by which to judge ourselves. If we're trying to judge our human condition, it's just human nature to compare ourselves to somebody who we believe is worse than we are. You know, next to the drug dealer, to the rapist, to the murderer, to Adolf Hitler, to Osama Bin Laden, well, I'm a pretty good guy. Not perfect, but I'm pretty good. The only problem is that's the wrong standard. And when God evaluates us, he doesn't compare us to other people. He compares us to himself. And by that standard, we are totally depraved.
Think of it this way. The difference between the north pole and south pole is considerable. Everybody agree with that? There's a considerable geographical difference between the north and south poles. But that difference is negligible compared to the distance between the north pole and the farthest star in the universe. Understand that? Distance between the north pole and the south pole is considerable, but it's also negligible, when you compare the distance between the north pole and the farthest star in the universe. So it is in our relationship with God. You think, we think there's this great difference between human beings in the world. No, the difference between humans in the world, the most holy unbeliever you can think of and the worst sinner. The difference between people is about this much compared to the distance between all of us and a holy God.
And that leads to another truth that we see throughout the Old Testament, the fourth truth, and that is the need for sacrifice. Because of our sinfulness and the holiness of God, we need a sacrifice for our sin, and we see that for the first time in Genesis 3, verse seven. Look what happened after Adam and Eve rebelled against God. "Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they knew that they were naked: and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings". Remember this. Sin always produces guilt, and guilt always produces a desire for a covering. All of us innately feel guilty when we sin, and that guilt always produces a desire to cover over our guilt. And that's what Adam and Eve did.
The first thing they did was, after they were aware of their sin, they tried to sew together their own cover to hide their nakedness. But notice what happened in Genesis 3:8. "When God came looking for them in the cool of the day". It was the coolest part of the day. A wind was blowing, probably, and suddenly, Adam and Eve became aware that that fig covering wasn't doing the trick. They started to feel a little drafty in the garden. They were aware of how inadequate their covering was, and that is the moment that God confronted them, and when God confronted them, only then were they in a position to receive the covering he had made. Look at verse 21. "Then the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them".
Did you know this is a record of the very first death in the Bible. Nothing had died before this time. This is the very first death, and it was the death of an animal that God killed to provide a covering for Adam and Eve. God was teaching Adam and Eve and all of mankind the most important lesson we can ever learn, and that is, something innocent has to die for something guilty, and God must provide the sacrifice. And we see that theme over and over again throughout the Old Testament. For example, under the mosaic law, remember there were all kinds of sacrifices required, but the highest day on the Jewish calendar was what? Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. We talked about that before.
Remember what happened on that day? In the holy of holies, where nobody but the high priest could enter once a year, was the Ark of the Covenant, and in that ark was a copy of the 10 commandments, and on top of that ark was a golden lid called the mercy seat, and on each end of the mercy seat were replicas of two angels, the cherubs. The cherubim guarded the holiness of God. And God was thought to dwell between those two cherubim, and the picture was very clear. God was looking down on the law, the 10 commandments that had been broken by his people, and because the people had broken the law, judgment was necessary.
But listen to this. According to Leviticus 16, once a year, the high priest would, first of all, kill a bull as a sacrifice for his own sins. The high priest was a sinner who needed forgiveness himself, and only after he had offered this bull as the sacrifice for his own sins, did he then take a goat and kill the goat, take its blood, enter into the holy of holies, and he took that blood and he placed it on the top of that ark, the mercy seat. He covered the mercy seat. That word cover means he atoned the mercy seat. And the picture was, when God now looked down on the law that had been broken, he no longer saw the broken law. He saw the blood that covered the transgressions of the people. And that was the lesson God was teaching. Something innocent had die for that which was guilty.
And by the way, who is it that created the sacrifice? Who was at the created that goat? Did the Israelites create it? No, God was the one who created it. In Leviticus 17:11, he says, "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make an atonement for your souls". I'm the one who gave this goat to you as a sacrifice for your sins.
One more example in the Old Testament. Genesis 22. Remember God said to Abraham, "I want you to take your son, the son whom you love, your son Isaac, and I want you to take him to mount Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice". Abraham didn't understand that, but he knew God had spoken, and he obeyed God. He took Isaac with him, who was probably about 19 years old when this happened, and they got on top of mount Moriah and he put Isaac, who willingly submitted himself to be offered as an offering on the altar. As Abraham raised his knife, remember at the very last moment, God shouted out, "Abraham, Abraham! Stop, stop! For now I know that you love me".
And remember, Abraham looked over and he saw a ram caught in the thicket. God said, "This is the sacrifice," and he offered that ram that God had provided as an atonement for sin. It is no accident, ladies and gentlemen, that in that very same mountain range called Moriah, literally God will provide, in that very same mountain region, 2000 years later, another sacrifice was offered. On that old rugged cross, the Lord Jesus Christ himself hung, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. God was teaching all of us the lessons. Someone innocent must die for those of us who are guilty, and God is the one who provides the sacrifice.