It is not mainly because of external temptations that we sin – it is because of the evil in our hearts. Frightening but true. Rather than go through the painful and shameful process of repentance, our hearts travel a road that ends in them being hardened. We wallow in self-pity, lash out with misdirected rage, dabble in false repentance or ‘un-repentance’. But none of this really addresses the root of our sin.
You cannot adequately talk about sin if you are not talking about the issue of the heart.
The cure for a hardened heart is not to strive to improve on it, it is to undergo a spiritual heart transplant. But how do we get one? And can we do it ourselves?
How Sin Affects the Heart
“When the Bible speaks about the heart, almost always, it’s speaking about the headquarters of our worship. The headquarters of exactly what we are. It is the driver of our thoughts, the driver of our emotions and the driver of our will. I will say it again. It is the headquarters of our existence which drives our thoughts, our emotions and our will. As somebody has once said, “whatever the heart worships, the mind finds rational, the emotions find desirable, and the will finds doable.”
when the Bible speaks about the heart, almost always, it’s speaking about the headquarters of our worship
Which brings me back to our series. You cannot adequately talk about sin if you are not talking about the issue of the heart. How sin affects the heart. And so today we are going to be talking about the predatory nature of sin. How it destroys us from within, but how we can combat it with the Gospel and we will do so from the perspective of the heart.”
The Ongoing Battle Against Sin
Are you tired of constantly being defeated by sin? Are you surprised that it somehow always keeps getting victory over you? This is because we never fully understand sin and therefore underestimate it. Combating sin is crucial for Christian growth and we will only begin to be victorious when we understand the essence of sin and fight it from its roots.
This is the third in a five-part sermon series where we consider the biblical description of sin and learn how to be victorious over it. Pick up the other sermons here: 1. The Anatomy of Sin – The Essence; 2. Sin is Systemic; 3. Sin Hardens Your Heart; 4. Sin Blinds You
Text: Genesis 4:1-14
Preached: 2 February 2020
Location: City Church, Lagos, Nigeria
Reading of Genesis 4:1-14 “Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”…
Reading of Genesis 4:17: Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his sone Enoch.”
This is the word of the Lord. Praise be to God.
The Anatomy of Sin
“We’ve been going through a series – I think this is the third. It’s a 5 part series this is the third part. And it’s looking at something that the Bible sees as very important. I would say the world – people who don’t believe as Christians – will see it as important, they just won’t give it the same name. It’s a very important issue. As Christians we call it sin. Others would call it evil. But, you know, a way of saying what is wrong with the world.
Now I want to go into the third part of this but before we do that can we just pray.
Heavenly father, we ask now that you visit us – show us your son and glorify your name through us in this word. I pray, Holy Spirit, that you will manifest your presence with us this morning. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
The Function of the Heart
Right. Let me ask. This is a relatively young congregation, so I am not expecting us to answer this question with a yes. But how many of us have recently… when last did you carry out a heart check? A check on your heart? You can tell the senior citizens! Now, I did mine about 3 months ago, because my heart was feeling a bit funny! You know the thing we know is this: after a while you start to know that our hearts are really important.
Our hearts are really important. Why? Because if the heart is not functioning properly you don’t get enough oxygen. If you don’t get enough oxygen it affects your breathing. Your breathing is affected, you get weak, all those different things. The reason why people do heart checks is really because of the central place it plays in our physical well-being. So to have a badly functioning heart is to have a low quality of life.
How Can a Heart Be Broken?
Here is another question. Have you ever been heart-broken before? Have you been heart broken? You will hear somebody say “heart-broken – can a heart really break?” But you know what I am talking about. Because here the heart is being used in another way. A few of us – myself included – were heart-broken exactly one week ago when we heard the terrible news of Kobe Bryant’s death.
Some people will say “ah but you never knew the person!” Just… if you don’t want to mourn, don’t mourn. Leave the people that are mourning. There is a reason. And I say that in particular because I remember last week’s sermon if I am very honest, last week’s sermon, one of the driving forces was actually what I have seen about Kobe Bryant and his doctors. And in fact I was thinking of brining an illustration from that – but I couldn’t because of time. And so I remember when I got the news I was with Moses and someone else and I totally just lost it. I remember listening to interviews – at least two or three interviews this year – that Kobe Bryant gave.
the heart plays a central role in our lives
Now that’s just a figure that inspired someone. For some of us the heart break has come as a result of romance. Or it has come as a result of friendships that we’ve had. And we know what that feels like. So, when we are talking about heart break in this regard – of course we are not talking about physical well-being. But we know that heart break is something that is really important. Maybe some of you are thinking about the person who dumped you way back in secondary school or university. Because you know in secondary school you shouldn’t have been dating anybody! Or university you still don’t want to let them go. Let it go.
No, but when we talk about the heart in this regard we are talking about the central place it plays in our emotional well-being. You see in both cases we understand that we are using the word heart – even though we are using it in different ways – we are saying the same thing. That the heart plays a central role in our lives whatever it’s particular usage.
The Centre of Our Spiritual Existence
You know how we like to speak of the heart of the matter? So when the Bible speaks about the heart, most times, even though it’s not speaking about the centre of our circulatory system, neither is it speaking about the centre of our emotions. The Bible is also speaking about the heart as the centre of something. What is it? The centre of our spiritual existence. Jesus says that the mouth speaks of what the heart is full of. Out of the abundance of the heart our mouth speaks.
when the Bible speaks about the heart, almost always, it’s speaking about the headquarters of our worship
In other words when the Bible speaks about the heart, almost always, it’s speaking about the headquarters of our worship. The headquarters of exactly what we are. And what that does is that it is the driver of our thoughts, the driver of our emotions and the driver of our will. I will say it again. It is the headquarters of our existence which drives our thoughts, our emotions and our will. As somebody has once said, “whatever the heart worships, the mind finds rational, the emotions find desirable, and the will finds doable.”
How Sin Affects the Heart
Which brings me back to our series. In other words you cannot adequately talk about sin if you are not talking about the issue of the heart. How sin affects the heart. And so today we are going to be talking about the predatory nature of sin. How it destroys us from within, but how we can combat it with the Gospel and we will do so from the perspective of the heart.
So that brings me to three points under the sermon we’ve called ‘Sin is a Predator.’ So the first point: a hardened heart. The second: a new heart. The third: a purchased heart.
So let’s go with the first point, a hardened heart.
A Hardened Heart
Now in our first sermon we looked at Adam and Eve. And we saw how Adam and Eve, though created good eventually fell. They fell into sin; Satan tempted them. Now, going forward they’ve been banned from the garden of Eden so now they have two sons. As we see in verses 1 and 2, Cain and Abel. Cain and Abel have grown well, they have been trained well, so they have jobs. It’s not good to be in your parents’ house and not have a job.
These ones, they are there but they have jobs. Alright? But they have two different kinds of jobs. Now after a while what happens is, as we see in verses 3-4, they bring the offerings from their labour. They bring it to God. However, while Abel’s offering was accepted, what happened to Cain’s? Cain’s was rejected. And so by the time we get to verse 5 we see that Cain is very angry – Cain isn’t happy. Let’s just say he is not happy about it. And so what does happen in verses 6-8, God speaks to Cain. Cain won’t listen and eventually Cain murders his brother.
Why Was Cain’s Offering Rejected?
And so by the time you get into the first four chapters of the Bible you are already reading about 2 tragedies. Can I ask you an age old question? I don’t know if you’ve solved it. Why was Cain’s offering rejected and Abel’s offering not? And try and give it to me from the Bible right? It’s hard. We are not quite sure. But let’s examine this first. Some people say it’s because we know that offerings were going to be by blood. So Abel’s offering was an offering of atonement but Cain’s – just with fruit and the crops of the ground – wasn’t.
But you know I don’t think that is the right answer. Why? Because the Hebrew word for what they brought – offering: Minchah – is really a thanksgiving offering. It is a gift of gratitude. So, it wasn’t a gift sacrificing or paying for someone’s sin. It was a gift of gratitude. In other words even at this time they recognised that without God’s graciousness there would be no productivity in their work. So, the way they are recognizing that God is the one that has enabled them to be productive is to bring something from that and offer it back to God.
God Knows Our Motives
However, how many of us know that it is possible to do something outwardly but not mean it inwardly? Hmm? Have you ever thanked somebody for something but inside thought “you stupid person. Thank you!” You know, but you just have to say it…
Inwardly, they meant something that was different to what they were doing. Outwardly… Now sometimes, we are not able to see it, but God doesn’t only see what we do outwardly but he sees what is going on inwardly. Proverbs 21:2 says this “as a person may think their own ways – that is their own actions – are right but the Lord does, what? “He weighs the heart.”
So, when you look at both of them bringing their offering you think “oh, well that’s good”. But God looked at Cain’s and said in verse 7 “what you did was not right.” Now when you look at it you say “how does he know?” Because God doesn’t just look at what we do outwardly. He looks at the heart.
The Lord Weighs the Heart
So, in our own eyes and in Cain’s eyes it may have been right. But the Lord who weighs the heart says “it is not right.” In other words, Abel’s offering was consistent with what was true and what he believed in his heart about God. That is, Abel actually believed in his heart that God was good, that God was gracious and then from the flow of that belief in the heart came that offering.
Cain on the other hand was “they told me I should be offering. They told me I should be offering. I don’t know why I have to give it to God. Does God even good?” Do you understand? And so he brought that offering. On the outside looks good – but on the inside his heart was not consistent with what was going on, on the outside. His heart had believed something – a lie about God – while his actions and his will were doing something else.
A Heart of Unbelief
Do we understand that? That is why in Hebrews 11:4 we see that at the heart of this thing was one that had faith, the other did not have faith. “By faith Abel brought God” – by faith is not just saying he is believing God – it’s by faith he is believing what is right about God. And his actions display that. “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous when God spoke well of his offerings.”
And so the issue with Cain was an issue of the heart of unbelief. But what we see further with Cain is that, and sadly with many of us, is that over time if you have this unbelieving heart, and the wrong decisions are made, things can get worse after. And they do get worse.