The Birth of Religion
How did all the religions of the world get started? A famous military conqueror from the past was able to state a truth, without realizing that he had charged right past the real Truth. Napoleon Bonaparte stated, “I would believe in a religion if it existed ever since the beginning of time, but when I consider Socrates, Plato, Muhammad, I no longer believe. All religions have been made by man.”
John Bunyan once said, “Religion is the best armor that a man can have, but it’s the worst cloak.”
When did man invent this maze of religion? It began with a couple of fellows who are rather well known. When Adam and Eve had their sons, we might have thought they would have been able to instill in both of them the importance of a right relationship with God. However, Cain wanted to do it his own way. He approached the first altar with his offering of “the fruit of the ground,” trying to regain “paradise” without accepting God’s plan of redemption. Cain brought what he had grown, the distinctive elements of his own culture. Today we would call Cain’s gift his attempt at salvation by works. But God never said we could work our way to Heaven.
His brother, Abel, obeyed God and humbly offered the first of his flock in a sacrifice of blood. Abel agreed with God that sin deserved death and could be covered before God only through the substitutionary death of a guiltless sacrifice. Cain deliberately rejected this plan. God demanded a blood sacrifice.
The Bible writers knew that blood was absolutely essential for life. A person or an animal might get along without a leg or an eye. But no animal or man could live without blood. That is why the Old Testament said,
For the life of the flesh is in the blood. — Leviticus 17:11
Thus, the Bible teaches that atonement for sin comes only through the shedding of blood.
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. — Hebrews 9:22, NIV
When we speak of the blood of Christ, therefore, we are saying that He died for us. Blood sacrifice underlined the seriousness of sin. Sin was a life-and-death matter. Only the shedding of blood could atone for sin. The death of Christ also underlined the principle of substitution. In the Old Testament a sacrificed animal was seen as a substitute; the innocent animal took the place of the guilty person. In the same way, Christ died in our place. He was innocent, but He freely shed His blood for us and took our place. We deserved to die for our sins, but He died in our place.
Because of Christ’s death for us, we can know His life — now and eternally.
Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things… but with precious blood… of Christ. — 1 Peter 1:18-19
When Cain chose to go his way, not God’s way of blood, something bitter happened to his heart.
He began to hate his brother, Abel. Just as the true Christian believer will often not be accepted by those who have their man-made religion, Abel was not accepted by Cain, and this hatred festered until Cain killed his brother.
Pride, jealousy, and hatred have been in the human heart in all cultures and all ages. Many years ago when I was a student in Florida, a young man killed his older brother in a fit of jealousy. His father and mother had both been killed in an automobile crash, and when the will was read it indicated that the older brother had received two-thirds of an orange grove, leaving only a third to the younger brother. He became moody and depressed, angry at his deceased parents, and intensely jealous of his brother. Then the older brother disappeared, and about six weeks later his body was found tied with wire to the trunk of a cypress tree in a river.
Times haven’t changed. Millions want salvation, but on their own terms; they want to chart their own courses and devise all kinds of routes to lead to God.
If Christianity is true, it is not a religion. Religion is man’s effort to reach God.
The dictionary describes religion as a “belief in God or gods… or worship of God or gods.” Religion can be anything! But true Christianity is God coming to man in a personal relationship.
The modern interest in the occult and in Eastern religions is indicative of man’s eternal search for God. We cannot escape the fact that man is instinctively religious, but God has chosen to reveal Himself to us through nature, conscience, the Scriptures, and through Jesus Christ. The Scripture says there is no excuse for a person not to know God!
An Old Cliché
Nothing could be more grossly wrong than the old cliché that “any religion will do, as long as you’re sincere.” What if the same line of reasoning were used with a baby? The mother would say, “I don’t have any milk, but I truly want my baby to be fed, so I’ll just put some coke or a little wine in the bottle. After all, they’re all liquids.” Ridiculous as that may sound, it is no more so than the old “sincerity” answer.
Who invented religion? Let’s go back to the brothers again. The two altar fires outside Eden illustrate the difference between true and false religion. One belonged to Abel, who made an offering to the Lord God from the firstborn of his flock. Abel acted in love, adoration, humility, reverence, and obedience. And the Bible says that the Lord held Abel and his offering in high regard.
His older brother, Cain, brought a bloodless, cheap offering to the altar, and the Bible says of God that “for Cain and for his offering He had no regard” (Gen. 4:5).
Was God being unfair? After all, didn’t Cain attempt to please God? Wasn’t he sincere?
This story was put in the Bible to teach us that there is a right way and a wrong way to make contact with God. Abel brought a sacrifice of blood as God had instructed: Cain made his vegetable sacrifice selfishly and superficially, disobeying God by coming without faith. When God didn’t bless his sacrifice, Cain killed his brother. Cain’s worship was empty religiosity, hollow as his whole life became. He left his family and walked the earth as a bitter man, crying out to the Lord,
My punishment is too great to bear! — Genesis 4:13
Cain was sincere — but wrong.
Humanistic religion emerges under the very noses of great men of God. While Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the tablets of stone “written with the finger of God,” false religion was erupting in the camp of Israel. The people said to Aaron, “Come, make us a god who will go before us.” Aaron was carried along with the idea of a new religion and said, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” Out of this gold he made a molten calf and the people said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:1–4).
Throughout time other idolatrous beliefs have eroded the foundations of truth. Whether ancient or modern, all have posed alternatives to the biblical way of approaching God.
Men and women may devise plans to satisfy their inner longings, but in the midst of all the “religions” of the world, God’s way is available in the Bible for all who will come to Him on His terms.
For the person who searches, the answers are available.
Excerpted with permission from How to Be Born Again by Billy Graham, copyright Billy Graham.
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God looks at the heart and at our actions of obedience or lack of obedience. Join the conversation on our blog. We’d love to hear your thoughts on Cain’s and Abel’s choices and how we are to approach God. ~ Devotionals Daily