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Genesis 4:1-17

From Failure to Life

  • Jean Marais
  • Weekend Messages
  • September 11, 2022

In Genesis 4, after Cain, Abel was born. In this first generation, we see the horrific effect that sin had on humanity. Those made in the image of God became distorted by envy and hate, resulting in the first murder.

Even before that, we see that Cain made mistakes in his life. When looking at his life and what he did, we can see a blueprint of how to deal with failure, and how not to deal with failure. In fact, God brings hope into the story numerous times by giving Cain guidelines on how to deal with failure, if he would only listen.

We will see that failure is not the end, but how you react after failure is significant to your future.

  • Sermon Notes
  • Scripture

From Failure to Life
Genesis 4:1-17
Sep 11, 2022

In Genesis 4 we read of the well-known account of Cain and Abel. The back story is that Adam and Eve had sinned and was banished from the garden of Eden. They were also now living under the curse of sin which made their lives much more difficult. Can you imagine having lived in perfect connection with God, with Him supplying all that you need, in a state where there was no hate, pain, fear, hunger, stress, or any of the negative experiences we have now. And then, because of a rebellious choice, you now live in a totally different world impacted by sin, knowing that it will never be the same again.

Still, God was gracious. While cursing the serpent, he gave a promise and prophecy that there would be enmity between the serpent, which is a type of Satan, and the Seed of the woman, who will bruise his head. This gave hope that the power of the enemy would one day be broken.

When we get to Genesis 4, we see that Eve conceived her first child and they called him Cain, meaning ‘possession’ or ‘virtue’. The thought must’ve crossed their minds that this could be the child of prophecy who would defeat the enemy and maybe restore that which was lost. On the other hand, the enemy must have been gunning for him, also thinking he was the child of prophecy. But as he grew, as seen by his actions, it was apparent that he was not the child of prophecy. What a disappointment!

          After Cain, Abel was born. In this first generation, we see the horrific effect that sin had on humanity. Those made in the image of God, became distorted by envy and hate, resulting in the first murder.

Even before that, we see that Cain made mistakes in his life. When looking at his life and what he did, we can see a blueprint of how to deal with failure, and how not to deal with failure. In fact, God brings hope into the story numerous times by giving Cain guidelines on how to deal with failure, if he would only listen.

We will see that failure is not the end, but how you react after failure is significant to your future.

I. Fail Rightly

This might seem like a strange phrase. How can failure be right? There is a right way and a wrong way to respond to failure. It is like a fork in the road, one positive, one negative. If one responds right, God can redeem it and one can grow towards a beautiful life. It can then keep one from a second failure. If one responds wrong, it leads to another failure. Every time there is a failure, it creates another fork in the road, or another choice. 

We read that Abel was a keeper of the flocks, and Cain a tiller of the ground. When the time came, they both brought something as an offering to God. We see that Abel offering was accepted, while Cain’s was not.

There are many commentaries and views on why this happened. One is that Abel’s offering was a type of Christ because it was an animal sacrifice, while Cain’s were not. Although this is significant, it cannot be the only reason, because God later told Israel to bring grain offerings as well.

Another view is that Cain’s offering signified toiling and laboring in the ground and thus bringing an offering of works. This might be closer to the truth, as we read in Hebrews that through faith Abel brought a better offering than Cain. Thus, Cain’s offering was focused on him being accepted judged on his works instead of faith in the promises and grace of God.

Whatever the reason, we see that Cain’s offering was not accepted, in other words, he failed. He didn’t bring the offering that God required.

A. Failure is not the end

  • We read that Cain got very angry when God did not receive his offering. He became annoyed and hostile. The fact of the matter was that he did something wrong and instead of humbly repenting and asking for guidance, he became angry.
  • Verse 6 – God’s response is amazing. Immediately God asks Him, ‘Why are you so angry?’ Why are you so sullen, annoyed, hostile?
  • God is actually asking him, why are you so angry after failure? You did not do it the right way, you did not please me, but why are you angry?
  • Many people get stuck in anger. Instead of humbling themselves and asking, ‘Where did I go wrong?’ They get self-righteous and say, ‘I am not wrong.’

Illus. Many years ago there was a very famous tennis player called John McEnroe. He was very skilled and even won many grand slams. His one big character flaw was anger and defiance. Many times, a ball would be called out by the umpire. He would then throw an anger fit, shouting at the linesman and even throwing his racquets around. What is interesting, is that the umpire never gave in to his threats and tantrums. Out was out. Rules were rules. No matter what his personal opinion was, the rules stayed fast. His perception of the truth could not change it.

  • We need to recognize that we are not the ones deciding what is wrong or right. God is. Yet, He doesn’t write us off, discard, and throw us away when we make mistakes. He doesn’t want us to get angry but wants us to be teachable on how to do it right and to grow from it. Anger though, keeps people from this.
  • Many people do not want to be wrong, because they think it determines their worth.

Illus. – Sometimes people see life as a math equation. 100% is the score you are aiming at. So, you start at 50%. Every time you make a mistake, it is a negative experience, so it subtracts from your perception of your worth. Every time you do something good, or do a task well, it adds to your worth. The problem with this is that you will never reach 100%. Even one mistake disqualifies you. You might come up to 99.99999998%, which is also near impossible, but never to 100%.

  • People tend to grade themselves. When they fail, they give themselves an F – Failure – and attaches that to their worth.
  • This is a typical response many people have when they do something wrong. This might be born of the fact that many still determine their worth based on their actions. In other words, what they do is an extension of who they are. So, if they fail at something, their internal message is that they are not good enough. They are failures.
  • This might be the reason why people sometimes struggle to acknowledge wrong and repent. The warped idea is that if they acknowledge wrong, they are not good enough and less of a person.
  • This can stir a deep anger and frustration, because you feel that you will NEVER be good enough.
  • The problem is what we base our definition of worth on. Your worth is not in what you do, it is in whose image you are made in. God determines your worth. Our actions, failures and successes contribute to our growth, or lack thereof, not our worth.
  • God can use failures as teaching moments. We don’t learn only from doing things right all the time, we learn from our mistakes as well.

Illus. – A self-guided missile doesn’t fly straight to its target. It might look like it, but the reality is that it makes many tiny course corrections on its way to the target. In other words, it goes off course all the time even if only for a few degrees and needs to correct itself. It is the same when driving a car. One is constantly correcting to stay on course.

  • If we fail and don’t learn from it, we are bound to repeat the mistake.
  • We stay on course by correcting our faults. That is our growth process as Christians. None of us are perfect, although we strive to maturity and growing into the image of Christ. The reality is that we will never reach perfection this side of the grave.
  • This is why God has grace towards us. His grace and love determine our worth and is our foundation. IT DOES NOT FLUCTUATE. He looks at the heart, and when we fail, He encourages us to try again.

1 John 1:9, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

  • Failure is not the end.

B. Failure can be turned around

  • Verse 6 – If you do well will you not be accepted? God is telling him that this is not the end. Your mistakes don’t define you. If you at first failed at something, you can try again.
  • Failure in many areas can be turned around. Maybe you feel like you’re a failure in marriage. It can be turned around.
  • Maybe you feel like a failure as a parent, or as a child, or struggling at your work, or a failure as a Christian. You can learn from it, so you won’t repeat the cycle.

John 8:10 -11, Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”

1 John 2:1-2, My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous

  • It is not God’s heart that we should sin. But if we sin, it is definitely not His heart that we give up, throw in the towel and not try again.
  • Cain brought his offering the wrong way. It would be pointless to try and do it the same way again. He needed God’s guidance and correction.
  • We also cannot turn our failure around on our own. We need wisdom and guidance from God.
  • In the end, self-effort will drain you, because you cannot sustain yourself. You need the strength of the Holy Spirit strengthening your inner man which then manifests into successfully navigating this life.
  • God created us and as such He knows the best way for us to do everything. When we submit to his guidance and counsel, He can turn our failures around and make us effective.

II. Sin Crouches at the Door

  • Verse 7if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.
  • From the text we can deduce that God was not angry with Cain. God did not tell him, “You stupid fool. You did wrong. You are damned forever!” No, God asked the introspective question. Then God gave him a choice and consequences with each choice.
  • It is the same with us. We have free will. In every situation, whatever it may be, we have a choice on how to respond.
  • This is a theme all through the Bible. Every time God reminds the people of the choices available to them and the consequences.

1 Kings 18:21, Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.

Deuteronomy 30:15, See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; …

  • God’s heart is always the heart of a good Father wanting for his children to make the right choices and to lead them in it. Still, the warning is that sin crouches at the door and wants to destroy us.

A. Sin has consequences.

  • The first original sin was shunning God, His love, His way, and His counsel. Man following his own will opposing the will of God in rebellion and defiance.
  • Cain knew the story. He knew what sin meant. Sin for him was following the fallen carnal nature of man and doing what he saw as right.
  • Maybe he even had the distorted view that if there was no one else to compete with, he would by default be the winner.
  • God saw this brewing inside of him and warned him.
  • We have the same warning. Sin carries its own penalty and consequence. God is life. So, by defying God and running away from his will, we are by default running to death.
  • Many people are angry at God. Why is God so harsh and why is the penalty for sin so high? How can a loving God condemn people to hell?

Illus. – if I tell my children not to play in a busy street, it is not because I am a restrictive father who is trying to be a spoilsport, but because I am protecting them from possible injury and death. If my kids defy these rules while I am not there and get hurt, it is the consequence of their choices. It is not my heart for them, but it was their choice.

  • The destructive consequence of sin is built into the sin. It is not God’s choice and that is why He keeps on warning us.

B. Master it

  • Sin has the effect that it takes us into the wrong thought pattern. Man’s heart is deceitful and cannot be trusted. When feeling the negative emotion of guilt, most people will try and rationalize it, blame someone else, or blame the one that made the law.
  • It is not the law that hurts you, but the breaking of the law.
  • Verse 7 – ‘… but you must master it’. Cain had a choice. He could either brood over his failure, rationalizing that he himself had actually done nothing wrong and letting it fester into resentment towards his brother and God. Or he could repent, come into agreement with God’s counsel, and grow into a more mature person into a beautiful life.
  • This is also the choice that we have. Instead of trying to rationalize our innocence and putting up defenses of anger, we can lay down our weapon of anger, acknowledge our fault, and grow through it.

Romans 12:21, Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

  • Evil wants to overcome you. Evil wants to pump you up in your defiance. Evil wants to fan the flames of your anger until you come to a place where you’re overcome by evil and has given over to it.
  • This is not God’s heart for us. He wants us to overcome evil with good. We do this by coming into agreement with what is good. Good isn’t always easy. It is not easy to confess your faults and sins. It isn’t always easy to do the right thing. But the moment that you do it, it lifts the heavy burden and brings life.

Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.

  • We have the wonderful privilege that we do not have to do this alone. When we repent, and come in agreement with God, He gives His power of His Spirit dwelling in us to help us overcome and master that which is trying to destroy us.

Philippians 2:13, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

C. Receive grace after failure

  • After all of these warnings, we see that Cain fails again. And this time, he fails big-time.
  • Verse 8 – Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
  • It looked like Cain has gone past the point of no return. He forever severed his relationship with his brother with the finality of death. Sin overcame him and he followed the promptings of his flesh into a heinous crime.
  • God even gave him another chance to come clean when He asked him, ‘Where is your brother?’ God knew the answer, but he wanted Cain to acknowledge and repent.
  • Yet again Cain failed, and arrogantly and defiantly challenged God with, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper??’
  • After all this failure we would’ve thought that there was no hope left for Cain. God would write him off. He had failed to many times.
  • But we serve a God who does not judge as man judges. We serve a God who is gracious even past our understanding. The human response to this might be that he had killed a righteous man. He needs to suffer and he needs to die. God has a different response.

John 8:7, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

  • God is a gracious and loving God whose heart is that He wants life for us and wants to forgive us. God does not kill him. He does, however, declare the penalty for his sin.
  • The moment that Cain comes face-to-face with the result and penalty for his sin, something happens. At last, he realizes that his choices have horrific consequences. Like the prodigal son, he comes to himself.

Verse 13-14, Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

  • We can almost hear the anxiety and fear in these words as, at last, he understands that all the time God was looking out for him and was wanting for him to be healed.
  • Even in his penalty, God was gracious towards him. By all reasoning, he had to die. His banishment was in effect a lesser sentence.
  • Still, it does not stop there. When he cries out to God, God gives him hope and a future. Although he had to live with the consequences of his sin, it was not the end. Cain did not die, but went on to father a son, built a city, and had a heritage.
  • God is able to do far above what we can think of dream. In the New Testament and under the new covenant of the blood of Jesus, we know that God can make all things new.
  • Although we still have to carry the consequences of our decisions on this earth at times, God can redeem it, turn it around and use it for his glory.
  • God wants revival in your soul; a soul that is focused on living according to God’s word.

Psalm 119: 11,Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.

  • Failure is not the end. If we surrender to God and lay down our pride, he can make all things new.


Genesis 4:1-17             NASB

1 Now Adam[a] had sexual relations with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant. When she gave birth to Cain, she said, “With the Lord’s help, I have produced[b] a man!” Later she gave birth to his brother and named him Abel.

When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.”[c] And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.

Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”

“I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”

10 But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! 11 Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. 12 No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”

13 Cain replied to the Lord, “My punishment[d] is too great for me to bear! 14 You have banished me from the land and from your presence; you have made me a homeless wanderer. Anyone who finds me will kill me!”

15 The Lord replied, “No, for I will give a sevenfold punishment to anyone who kills you.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain to warn anyone who might try to kill him. 16 So Cain left the Lord’s presence and settled in the land of Nod,[e] east of Eden.

17 Cain had sexual relations with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Then Cain founded a city, which he named Enoch, after his son. 


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