There Are Only Two Ways Of Salvation

Text:  Genesis 4:1-15

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

It has been said before that there are only two ways of salvation. Either salvation comes from God or salvation comes from ourselves.  The former is accomplished by God and is given as gift, the latter is supposedly accomplished by mankind and is accomplished through mankind’s supposed power. 

We see these two ways in our Old Testament reading from this morning. In our Old Testament reading, we hear about Cain and Abel. Cain goes the way of mankind – trying to accomplish salvation by his works and accomplishments. Cain does not see salvation as a gift to be received by faith, but something that he must do to earn brownie points before God. Abel, though, is all about faith and trust. He sees salvation as something God must accomplish – something that God must do for him. 

And so right from the get-go, we see the children of Adam and Eve breaking two different ways regarding salvation. Cain goes the way of pulling up his bootstraps, and Abel goes the way of faith.

Now, these two ways of salvation, are not something limited to the past alone. But rather, these two ways permeate all of human history. For example, after Cain and Abel, we see the Tower of Babel and Abraham. The people of Babel attempted to make their own name great by building a tower themselves. Abraham, though, had his name made great through the promise and work of the Lord God. Indeed, the people of Babel went the way of Cain and Abraham followed in the footsteps of Abel.  Again, these two ways of salvation are not something of the past, but people either go the way of Cain or the way of Abel. 

To simplify things, let’s call these two ways of salvation, Team Cain and Team Abel.

As already mentioned, Team Cain focuses on the power of mankind – what mankind can do before God.  Team Cain puff up mankind and says, “Just Do It!” 

Team Abel, is quite the opposite, though. Team Abel is all about mankind’s weakness and sinfulness before God – how mankind has sinned before God.  Team Abel confronts sin and says, “Receive the good gifts of the Lord for the forgiveness of sins!”

And so, Team Cain says, “Mankind do it,” whereas Team Abel says, “Christ has done it.”  Team Cain does good works to become a Christian, whereas Team Abel does good works because they already are a Christian.  Team Cain looks to ‘self’; Team Abel looks away from ‘self’ to Christ. 

So who else is a part of Team Cain and Team Abel? Well, as already stated, team Cain consists of Cain himself, the people at Babel trying to build a tower to the heavens to make a name for themselves. Team Cain also consists of people such as the Judaizes from Galatian Churches, as well as the Pharisees.  Speaking of the Pharisees, we hear from a member of Team Cain in our Gospel reading today.  The Pharisee in our Gospel reading stands tall, points out all the things that he has done, and then believes that he is pretty special. 

However, in our Gospel reading, we hear from another member of Team Abel, a tax collector.  The tax collector is indeed a part of Team Abel for he beats his chest knowing that he cannot acquire salvation by his owner strength and power. The tax collector knows he is a sinner in thought, word, and deed. And therefore this tax collector knows he must receive the goodness of God as a gift. He has nothing to give to God but needs to receive everything.

And so my friends, in today’s Old Testament lesson as well as our Gospel reading, we are seeing two very different ways of salvation. Either we go the way of Team Cain, which is a man-centered view of religion, or we go the way of Abel, which is of faith centered on the Lord.  But keep in mind that these two teams not only have different ways of salvation but have very different outcomes. You see, the way of Abel leads to forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Team Cain, though, does not lead to forgiveness, life, and salvation, but leads to sin, death, and the devil.  Team Cain is living in an illusion that they can acquire salvation by their works when, in reality, Team Cain is meriting death and destruction. You see, Team Cain is puffed up, not realizing the seriousness of their sin, and the need for a salvation outside of themselves.

And so, dear friends, beware of any church, theology, or friend that teaches, shares, or preaches the way of Cain!  Beware of those who put the focus on you, instead of Christ.  The way of Cain will always attempt to center you, me, and others on a human-centered-gospel of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. 

And get this, the more that we human beings see ourselves as the ones responsible for our salvation, the more it is evident that we are drinking the Kool-Aid of Team Cain.  And the more that a human-centered-gospel is present in the church, the more corrupt, dangerous, toxic, and pathetic the church becomes.  Mark this: every dark-age in the church was due to the creeping influence of Team Cain into the pulpits and sanctuaries of the church. [1] 

But how do we know when Team Cain invades the church?  How do we know when the theology of Cain creeps into the sanctuary and into the pulpits of the church? 

Well, it is quite simple.  Just look at the most fundamental doctrines and practices of the church and you will clearly see if Team Cain has taken over your church. 

For example, let us consider Baptism. Team Cain views baptism not as a divine gift, but as something that mankind must do to show their dedication to God. Going the way of Cain, many well-intentioned (but very na├»ve and foolish Christians) declare that their baptism is a visible sign of ‘their’ commitment to the Lord God.  That is to say; baptism according to the Team of Cain is a mark of the Christian’s dedication, love, and commitment to Jesus.  However, Team Abel sees and knows the foolishness of this way of thinking, for baptism not about what we do, but about what the Lord does for us. Baptism is where the Lord snatches us from the kingdom of darkness and places us into the kingdom of light, marking us as one of the redeemed. In other words, baptism is not a sign of ‘our’ dedication as is believed by Team Cain, but instead, is God’s work of rescuing us.

We also see the creeping influence of Team Cain when it comes to the pulpit and sermons.  Many well-intentioned pastors being deceived by the theology of Cain, stand in the pulpit every single Sunday not giving the good gifts of the Word to their congregations, but issue marching orders to their parishioners.  That is to say; many pastors – going the way of Cain – do not preach the promises of God into the ears of their parishioners, but treat the pulpit as nothing more than an instructional tool where he barks out orders of how the people in the pew ought to get busier to accomplish their salvation.  These pastors of Cain preach the Christian and not the Christ – who is for the Christian.  The pulpit becomes mere suggestions that the congregation should act upon, rather than the pulpit being the Word of God that acts on the hearers.  A pastor of Team Cain preaches good advice; a pastor of Team Abel preaches good news. 

And there is one other very obvious place where you can see if Team Cain has taken over your church – your church’s Sunday Services. 

Frankly stated, the reason why we cherish and love our liturgical divine services here at St. Paul’s is not because we are traditional or old school, but because the liturgy that we have in this church prevents Team Cain from taking over our church. It prevents the theology of Cain from invading our church services and making the services about mankind rather than the Lord Himself.

You see, it is quite simple, in our Divine Liturgical Services, God is the speaker, and the parishioners are the audience.  And so every church service that we have from our hymnals show us that the arrow is from God to us.  That is why we call it the “Divine Service” – the Divine (God) serves us!  But Team Cain wants church services to be the other way around.  Team Cain wants to be in control and wants church services to be about mankind being the speaker and God being the audience.  The theology of Cain wants to reverse everything.  And so, Team Cain will not only reject the services that we have in our hymnal but will place the focus on the Christian in the pew attempting – encouraging them to summon God’s presence through worship and speaking to God, rather than God speaking to them.  Indeed, once church services become more about mankind speaking to God than God speaking to mankind, one can be assured that the theology of Cain has invaded the church. 

So, dear friends, it is quite simple.  Whose team are you a part of?  If you find yourself resonating with Team Cain and the theology of Cain, repent! Yes, repent of the theology of Cain. Repent of trying to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Repent of being a part of Team Cain, for this is not only an error but it will lead to you to destruction. Furthermore, you should not only repent but call out Team Cain when this theology encroaches upon you, for Team Cain is not of Christ but is centered on a human gospel, which is no gospel at all. 

Baptized Saints, know this today, you are a part of Team Abel. Team Abel consists of Christ, who is for you. Team Abel is about receiving Jesus and His Gifts.  Team Abel is about faith and trust in that which is outside of us – Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Team Abel is about being receptive.  Team Abel is about confessing sins and hearing about an even greater Savior. 

Team Abel that is who you are a part of.  You do not belong to Team Cain, for Christ is your Savior.  He is the one who forgives sin, not you. He is the one who rose from the grave for you. He is the one who intercedes for you!  It is all about Jesus and what He does for you and me.  We belong to Team Abel because you and I belong to Christ.  

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.  

[1] Michael Horton, Pelagianism (unpublished essay). 

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