Genesis 4:6-7 ESV
The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
Can one rule over sin? According to this verse, the answer is yes. It is often taught in churches that because of humanity’s sin nature, we cannot avoid committing sin. I think it would be more accurate to say we will not avoid committing sin. Allow me to explain.
First of all, let me state clearly that in saying this I am not claiming that the heresy of Pelagianism is true. Pelagianism is the idea that humans can choose to be good or evil apart from God. We cannot choose to be good or evil, but we can choose whether we perform good acts or evil acts. We have an evil nature, and there is nothing we can do ourselves to become good. However, when we do a good thing we choose to do it, and when we do a bad thing we choose to do it.
Doing good and being good are two separate things. Just because a guitar player can play a “C” chord does not make him a good guitar player. He must know a wide variety of chords, be able to play melodies, and improvise solos. We are all born bad guitar players, and we are all born sinners. Of course, the analogy breaks down because we can learn to be good guitar players, but we cannot learn how to be good people. Our human nature is corrupt and bent toward evil. Nevertheless, we can choose to commit good or evil acts.
Second of all, let me also state clearly that I am not promoting any sort of justification through good works. Even before Christ came, the Bible clearly stated in the Old Testament …the righteous shall live by his faith (Habakkuk 2:4b, ESV). The reason that Cain’s offering had been rejected was a lack of faith, and that By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous… (Hebrews 11:4a, ESV).
Faith is more than believing that God exists, it is placing our trust in Him. If Cain had trusted God in the first place, his offering would have been accepted. We need to trust in God’s good nature, rather than our evil nature.
Although salvation through faith was not available to Cain, Jesus Christ defeated sin and Satan on our behalf 2,000 years ago. When we put our faith in Jesus–not just believing that He died for our sins and rose again, but trusting in Him and trusting that His work saved us once and for all–we receive the free gift of salvation by faith. He is good by nature, and when we trust His goodness His nature is imputed to us.
Now, faith may be the important thing, but God still wants us to be morally upright. Even though we cannot learn how not to be evil, we can still choose to do good things and evil things. We cannot just ditch morality because we are justified by faith!
If we were incapable of choosing not to commit evil acts, God could not justly hold us accountable for them. He tells Cain to rule over sin. He would not have commanded Cain to do something he was incapable of.
God told the Israelites, For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ (Deuteronomy 30:11-13 ESV).
We are capable of choosing to do the right thing. The commandments are not too hard for us. It is no use trying to excuse ourselves by saying, “I’m only human.” We have no excuse. Our good works won’t save us, but justification through faith is not a license to freely sin.