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Invisible Chains

Words by Aimee Walker | Illustrations by Marie Warner Preston

Have you ever read the story of Cain and Abel and wondered why a man would kill his brother over a rejected offering? As we dig into Genesis 4, we discover a man bound by pride and are confronted with the reality that this same chain often keeps us captive. But just as God extended grace to Cain, He extends grace to us today, offering us freedom through Jesus.

It’s a familiar story: Two brothers bring their offerings before the Lord—one is accepted, one isn’t. Consequently, the brothers have a fall-out of epic proportions and history has its first murderer. And a defiant one at that! When God asks Cain where his brother is, despite knowing full-well where Abel lies, he replies, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).

What would make a man spiral from jealousy into a rage so deep he would take his brother’s life?

In a word: Pride.

The original language of Genesis 4 conveys that there is a fixed time and way in which offerings are to be made. In other words, Cain knows what is required of him. He knows that acceptable offerings must come from the 'firstfruits' and involve the shedding of blood—anything less is powerless to cover sin. And yet, he ignores all of this, choosing instead to approach God on his own terms and bring an offering of leftovers grown from the cursed soil. When it is rejected, his anger blooms.

It seems the height of arrogance to ignore the instructions of God Himself and rely on your own efforts. But if I’m honest, I’ve been Cain many a time. I’ve been him every time I’ve tried to earn God’s favour, every time I’ve fallen into striving and rule-keeping and list-ticking, every time I’ve relied on my own goodness or gone my own way. Pride is the invisible chain that for many years kept me from truly experiencing grace.

And it’s this same chain that enslaves Cain. But he doesn’t have to stay stuck in his pride.

God graciously offers Cain a way to master the sin seeking to control him by drawing near and inviting him to do what is right and offer a proper sacrifice. But again, Cain chooses his own path. It’s not until he has to carry the full weight of his sin against his brother that he realises what he has lost: He will be hidden from God’s presence, and it is more than he can bear.

Doomed to be a restless wanderer, Cain is afraid that outside of God’s protection, whoever finds him will kill him (vv.13-14). And God is merciful. Despite Cain’s unrepentant heart and unwillingness to offer the necessary sacrifice to atone for his sin, God offers him grace. Cain must bear the consequences of his actions, but God assuages his fear of death by extending to him a seal of protection.

Once again, I realise how like Cain I can be. Fear often lies at the root of my own pride and anger—the fear of failing, of not being good enough, of being rejected and alone. This fear is why the Cross has often been a stumbling block to me: It forces me to confront my deepest fears and failings and demands that I accept I have fallen short.

I, too, need God’s grace. And thankfully, God has generously given it.

Abel, a simple shepherd, by faith offered God an acceptable sacrifice, and though not by choice, his blood was shed, foreshadowing the ultimate Shepherd, Jesus, whose blood speaks a better word than Abel’s (Hebrews 12:24). The firstborn of all Creation (Colossians 1:15), He is the unblemished offering that, when humbly accepted, washes us clean and enables us to once again draw near to God (Hebrews 9:14, 10:21-22).

We need not fear death or wander alone any longer. When we exercise faith in the finished work of the Cross, the mark that we bear—the mark that enables us to live free from fear—is that of the Holy Spirit. He is the seal upon our lives (Ephesians 1) and the One that enables us to daily master sin and walk in the fullness of all that Jesus, our Good Shepherd, laid His life down for us to possess.

Where in your life do you see pride enslaving you? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what fear is at the root of this pride and to minister to you the perfect love that casts out fear.

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