There is a big difference between remorse and repentance. Remorse is being sorry for the consequences of what you have done, while repentance is being sorry enough to stop doing what you have been doing. The Bible says that “godly sorrow produces repentance. …”
It is like getting pulled over after breaking the speed limit. We are sorry because we got caught. We are sorry because our insurance rates will go up. We are sorry we will have to go to traffic school or pay a fine. But if we say, “I’m going to be so careful next time and really watch out for the police,” that is not repentance. Repentance is saying, “I am sorry that I got caught, and I don’t ever want to do that again.” Repentance is driving the speed limit the next time we are behind the wheel.
That was the problem with Cain. After he killed Abel, he never really repented of his sin. He was just sorry for the consequences of it. It is interesting that the Bible warns us about “the way of Cain”: “Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.”
What is “the way of Cain”? First, it is to worship with impure motives. It doesn’t matter how sacrificial your gift may be or what you do. If your heart is in the wrong place, it will go nowhere. We see this from the account of Cain and Abel, when God accepted Abel’s offering, but rejected Cain’s. That is because there is a right way and a wrong way to approach God. Both Cain and Abel presumably were taught to believe in the true God. But one was a true worshiper, offering an acceptable act of worship, and the other was a false worshiper, offering an unacceptable act of worship. The Bible gives us the answer as to why one offering was received over the other: “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” Abel exercised faith in his worship, while Cain did not.
Scripture reminds us that without faith, it is impossible to please God. It comes down to motive. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. God is looking at our hearts, and as far as he is concerned, motive is everything – in worship, in giving and in service.
Also, “the way of Cain” is to have a heart and life that is filled with jealousy, envy and hatred. Cain was jealous of his brother and the fact that God had accepted his offering. And it ultimately led to murder. So here is what we need to know: There always will be people who will be better-looking, smarter, more successful, or more talented than you. That is why it is better not to worry about that and simply be thankful for God’s faithfulness in your own life. Jealously, envy and hatred destroyed Cain. Don’t let it destroy you.
Lastly, “the way of Cain” is to lie to God about what you have done and to excuse your actions. When God asked Cain where Abel was, he shot back, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Nothing escapes the knowledge of our all-knowing Heavenly Father. And he calls on us to come clean. He convicts us of our wrongdoing and even warns us to be on guard against sin.
There might be different ways he does this. It might be through our own personal reading of Scripture. It might be through a friend who speaks to us about something, such as a relationship we shouldn’t be in or people we shouldn’t be spending time with. God is warning us because he loves us.
David, who was a shepherd before he was a giant-killer, made this statement: “The Lord is my shepherd. … Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Being a shepherd, David was aware of the two primary tools that shepherds use: the rod and the staff. The staff was that long, crooked instrument a shepherd would use to pull back a sheep that was walking along and going a bit astray. If a sheep continued to disobey, after a while, the shepherd would move from the staff to the rod. He would use the rod to strike the sheep, sometimes even breaking its leg. That may sound cruel, but it was better for the sheep to have a broken leg than to become leg of lamb for a hungry predator. The shepherd knew that if the sheep continued to go astray, it could lead to its death. And worse yet, it could take other sheep along as well. So the shepherd would take drastic measures to get that sheep’s attention.
In the same way, God warns us to correct our course. That is what happened to Cain. God warned him, “If you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” Sin mastered Cain and ultimately ruined his life, not to mention what happened to his brother.
Maybe you have been going astray, and God has been using his staff in the form of people or circumstances to get your attention. Maybe something has happened recently to wake you up. Maybe it has been the death of a loved one. Maybe it is a loss of job. Maybe a relationship broke up or a marriage ended. Maybe it is some kind of illness or something unexpected.
Sometimes God allows tragedy or hardship to get our attention so we will come to our spiritual senses. If you think you can run your own life the way that you want to run it, you will find out the hard way that is the worst thing you could have possibly done. God loves you and wants you to walk in his plan for your life. He doesn’t want you to follow the way of Cain.