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Working Your Way Into Heaven

Genesis 4:1-8

You’ll need warm hands and nimble fingers for today’s study, for we are traveling quickly, dipping into 8 books, studying a truth interwoven in all 66 books of the Bible. As we “dig deeper,” we’ll explore all the ways you might possibly work your way into heaven.

In the life of Cain, early in the Bible, we see man’s first attempt at this.

1. Turn in your Bible to Genesis 4, the story of the first two sons of Adam and Eve—Cain and Abel.  One son was a shepherd, the other a farmer. Read verses 1-8. In verses 3-7, fill in some key words.

3 And in process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the ________of the ___________ an offering unto the Lord. 4 And Abel, he also brought of the _____________ of his _________and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had ______________unto Abel and to his offering: 5 But unto Cain and to his offering He [the Lord] had ____ _______. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. 6 And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? And why is thy countenance fallen?  7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, _______lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. [A better translation of verse 7 reads: “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.”--NASB]

Cain and Abel have come to worship. Genesis 4 tells us right off the bat (v. 3) that God is to be worshiped. But Cain decided he would do it his way. Surely Jehovah would accept any well-intentioned, beautiful offering!

Scripture also tells us there’s a right way and a wrong way to worship. The Lord Jesus Himself said this in John 4.

2. Turn to John 4:23-24:

23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the _______ worshippers shall worship the Father in _______ and in _______: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him.

24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

If the Father is seeking such people to worship Him, what does that tell you? ____________________________________

Some people worship God, but they’re not in the spirit. And for some, their worship is not according to the truth of God's Word. That kind of worship is not worth half a hallelujah.


There is biblical worship and biblical salvation as opposed to false worship and false salvation.  We find it here in the story of these two sons.

One decided he would “work” his way into God’s good graces. Cain, a farmer, worshiped the LORD by bringing vegetables and fruit of the ground to offer the LORD.  

Abel, a shepherd, took a little animal—possibly a spotless lamb—and with shed blood he worshiped the LORD.

Tucked away here in the fourth chapter of Genesis, their story is a shadow—a visual representation of what will become reality later, an Old Testament “shadow” of the Lord Jesus Christ and His coming death upon the cross.

Magnifying glass


What is a “shadow” in Scripture? Have you ever noticed in the morning when you go out to pick up the newspaper or walk in the yard, and the sun is just coming up, it casts the shadow of your body? If it's a bright day, your shadow is somewhat distorted and elongated.  It may run across the lawn and up the side of the house if the sun is just coming up. But then as the sun continues to rise a little more, your shadow takes a more definite shape. In the forenoon when the sun is at about a 45-degree angle, the shadow becomes sharp and precise. Finally when the sun in the summertime comes directly overhead, the shadow disappears altogether and all that is visible is you, but you're standing in the brightest light possible.

In a way, that is a parable of what happens in the Bible as God reveals to us the truth of the blood atonement for man’s sin. The Bible tells us in the book of Hebrews and in Colossians 2:17 that some events that happen in the Old Testament are shadows of things to come. 

In order for there to be a shadow, there must first be a light, then some object upon which the light is shining.  The light is the revelation of God given through His Holy Scriptures. The object upon which that light is shining is the Lord Jesus Christ. But in the dawn of civilization, in the dawn of revelation, those shadows are not very clear, not very distinct, not very plain. But as the Son of God's revelation continues to rise, the shadows become sharper and sharper and clearer and clearer until we get to the high noon of the New Testament and the Gospels.  There, in the dazzling light of God's revelation, we see no longer the shadow; we see Jesus Christ Himself in all His purity.


Cain and Abel’s ways of approaching God are a contrast as far removed as the east is from the west.

3. Look again in verses 3 and 4. Notice Cain’s worship in verse 3. What did Cain do?

"In the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the _____________ an offering unto the LORD."

4. Turn back one chapter to Genesis 3:17.

Who is speaking here? _______________

Who is being spoken to? _______________

What is happening to the ground? ________________________________________

To paraphrase, God is saying:

“In order to get anything out of the ground, Adam, you're going to have to work the ground. It's not going to be like it used to be in the Garden of Eden. You're not just going to be able to tickle the soil and it will bloom with vegetables. Oh no. You're going to have to work, to struggle. In the sweat of your brow you're going to earn your food. You're going to earn your bread that way.” 

How hard Cain must have worked. I'm sure he was a good farmer. But here he is, out there working hard in the noonday sun, plowing and planting and cultivating and weeding and hoeing.  Now he takes all that represents the very best he can do and spreads it before the LORD saying, “Here, LORD, here is my offering to You.” 

It must have looked like a county fair. How gorgeous it was. But the Bible says God would not accept it. He turned His back on that offering. Why? Because Cain did not understand the biblical principle he should have understood.

The principle is this: we can only come to God and approach God on the basis of the blood atonement.

5. Turn to Hebrews 9:22. “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood, and [write the remainder of the verse]

Absolutely, emphatically, beyond any doubt, the Bible teaches that. Cain’s offering was beautiful, but it represents the salvation of works…the way people try to save themselves by doing good. Working their way into heaven. Cain was going to do it his way.

Have you ever watched on a Christian television program one of those “man on the street” interviews? When the Christian interviewer asks a passerby if he or she thinks they are going to heaven, almost without exception they answer “yes.” When asked why God will let them into heaven, what do they most often say?

  • “Well, I hope I’ve done enough….”
  • “I’ve done more good things than bad….”
  • “My good deeds will outweigh my bad deeds…”

Isn’t that always the answer (unless the interviewer is talking to a genuine follower of Christ)?

6. Turn to Titus 3:5. What does this say? “Not by ______ ___ _______________ which ____ ________ ______;”

7. What do we know for sure is not sufficient to save us? ____________________

8. Turn to Ephesians 2:8-9:

“For by ___________ are ye saved through faith; and that not ____ ______________: it is the gift of God: ______ ____ _________....”

If salvation came by the labor of our own hands, what would we do once we’d earned it? (Verse 9): We would ____________________.


Our fallen human nature thinks that if we bring the fruit of our labor, toiling away, and offer it to God, He is going to accept it…surely He will!

Cain represents salvation by works. He tries to be right with God by what he does. Many people try to justify themselves by the works of their hands. Are you harboring thoughts that somehow, someway, you can do the same?

9. Turn to Romans 4 and look at verses 13-16.  Paul is contrasting the faith of Abraham, “the father of the faithful,” against “workers of the law”—those who think they can be justified by their works.

13 For the promise, that he [Abraham] should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the _____, but through the righteousness of ____________.
14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:
15 Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.
16 Therefore it is of _________, that it might be by __________; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all…”

Magnifying glass WAS CALVARY A BLUNDER?

If righteousness comes by the law, if you could be saved by “being good,” if you could offer the fruit of your hands to God and be right with God, then Calvary was a blunder. 

The Bible says “Christ is become of none effect to you, whosoever you are, that are justified by the works of the law.” (Rom. 4:14)

The difference between “religion” and real salvation is: religion is rooted in what man tries to do for God, but salvation is rooted in what God does do for man. One is spelled do, the other is spelled done!

Here was Cain who said, “I just believe I'll do it my way—the way that’s most comfortable for me.”  His idea did not come from the revealed Word of God. It came out of his own head, “This is the way I think I'll do it!”

Some people say, “Well, you know, I'm looking for a religion that suits me.”  You better find one that suits God.  

There's the thrice-holy God of the universe, the One who made you. And it is God who has revealed how He is to be worshiped. And so here is Cain with his own man-made religion, with his idea of works and rituals. Oh, it was beautiful. It was cultured.  It was gorgeous. It was sacrificial, but it was not accepted. That was the religion of Cain.

10. Turn to the book of Jude, verse 11:

"_____ unto them, for they have gone in the way of _______.”

The way of Cain is the way of woe. The book of Jude is the next to the last book in the Bible.  Almost as far away from Genesis as one can go, the Bible is still talking about Cain and the terrible mistake he made.

What is “the way of Cain”? Self-righteousness.  Trying to put your hands under your feet and lift yourself off the ground. It cannot be done.

11. Turn to Romans 4:5-6:

“But to him that _____________ _____, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.”

a. Who justifies the ungodly?____________________

b. What is the thing that gets “counted for” as righteousness? _________

“Therefore, being justified by _________, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Romans 5:1

c. What justifies us? ______________

d. Who provides the end of the struggle, the peace with God?_________

“Not of works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” Titus 3:5

e. What saved us?________ Works?_____ Who did the saving? ___________

“For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

f. There is ONE and only ONE action on the part of man that you see repeated in these verses. What is it? ________________

Are you offering to God the fruit of your hands today? Are you saying to God, “Oh, what a good boy am I. I go to Works-Aplenty Church. I go to Sunday school. I give my tithe. I read my Bible. I pray.” 

You can do all of that and go to hell!  You are not saved by the works of your hands... as Cain found out.

All religion is not the same. The trend today is to put our arms around everybody and say, “Well, God bless you. You believe one way, and I believe another way, and your way is just as good as my way.”  Friend, that is not true. There is but one way to worship God, and that's God’s way.

Jesus is not just a good way to heaven. Jesus is not even the best way to heaven. Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. 

If He is not the only way, He is none of the ways. That may sound narrow to some people, but Jesus Christ said, "I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life; and no man (underline this in your Bible) cometh unto the Father but by Me." (John 14:6.)

12. Turn to Acts 4:12:

"Neither is there salvation in _____ ___________, for there is _______ _______ name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved."

If Jesus Christ is not the only way to heaven, Jesus is a faker, a fraud, a sham, a charlatan, because He claimed to be something that He was not.

A faker, a fraud, a sham and a charlatan is nobody's Savior.

I want you to see the contrast between these two ways. There are only really two divisions of all religion:

  • Salvation by works
  • Salvation by grace

That's it—only two! 

13. Now let's contrast and see Abel and the offering he brought to the LORD. Back to Genesis 4:4
“And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and the fat thereof, and the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering."”

Abel understood the blood atonement. Some preachers say, “Well now, Abel didn't understand anything about the blood atonement. This doesn't have anything to do about the blood. It was just the attitude of Abel's heart.”  I want to tell you, dear friend, that Abel understood the blood atonement.  That's the reason he brought a lamb.


14. Turn to Hebrews 11:4: 

"By _________, Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice.”
(There’s that quality again!)

Where did he get that faith? Where does anybody get faith? Nobody has faith until God first speaks.  

15. Turn to Romans 10:17:

"Faith cometh by ___________, and ____________ by the Word of God."

You've never had faith, I've never had faith, nobody's ever had faith until God has spoken.

Some people preach “Name it and claim it.”  Friend, you can't claim it until God names it. God has to name it for you can claim it. God has to speak before you can have faith.

Faith is just taking God at his Word. Faith cometh by hearing!

God speaks --> Word of God --> Man hears --> Faith comes --> Salvation is the result


16. Turn to Hebrews 11:3-4:

Verse 4 states:
“By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts:

By what was Abel prepared to offer the right sacrifice? ______________

Abel knew and understood the blood atonement.

17. Turn to Luke 11:49:

Who is speaking? _____________

 “Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them shall they slay and persecute, that the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation; from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias.” 

Jesus declares that Abel was one of the Old Testament prophets, a man who prophesied concerning the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ from the blood of Abel.  Jesus is saying that Abel was a prophet who was killed for his faith.

18. All the prophets had one message. Every prophet had the same message.

Acts 10:43 states what that is:

“To Him (that is, to Jesus) give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive the remission of sins.” 

What was that message? Write it in your own words:

Not just one prophet—ALL the prophets had the same message.


Time for this study is gone. But the contrast of “Working Your Way Into Heaven” versus “The Blood Atonement of Jesus Christ” is one of the richest studies in the Bible.


The blood atonement wasn't something God thought up in the New Testament. It wasn't an afterthought with God. It wasn't some sort of emergency measure. God had the blood atonement in His heart and mind when He swung this planet into space.

The Bible tells us in Revelation 13:8 that Christ was slain from the foundation of the world. All of God’s prophets had been prophesying about the Lord Jesus Christ. If you study the Bible and don't find Jesus where you're studying, go back and restudy it, because you missed the message. It's all about Jesus! 

Somebody asks, “Brother Rogers, have you read the four gospels?” Friend, I've read all 66!  The Old Testament says somebody is coming. The New Testament says somebody has come. The epistles and Revelation say somebody is coming again, and that somebody is Jesus.  Jesus is the hero of the Bible.  “To Him give all the prophets witness,” starting right back here with Abel.


In our next “Digging Deeper” study, we will pick up right here where we left off and learn even more about why it is we cannot work our way into heaven—and how we may be qualified to spend eternity with the One who loves us enough to send His Son.



Posted by dave hare at 12:00 AM