Here is a topic which every Christian needs to understand, as part of their progress into maturity. And I don’t say that because it is a personal pet topic, but because the Bible itemizes this topic in a very important list of basic truths.
The Bible identifies certain Christians as “babes” who need milk and can’t take solid food. That description is found in Hebrews 5:12-14.
“This is the time when you ought to be teachers, but instead you need someone to teach you all over again the first principles of God’s messages. You are as those who need milk, and not strong meat. Everyone who relies on milk lacks ability with the word of righteousness and is a baby. But strong meat is for those who have grown up to full age, and whose senses have been developed to discern both good and evil.”
Immediately following that description of babies and grown-ups, a list is given of the simple subjects which a person will come to terms with on their way to maturity. Until we understand these we are babes.
In Hebrews 6:1,2 we are given the list. Repentance from dead works, faith toward God, doctrine of baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.
Since ‘repentance from dead works’ is something you need to understand, let’s take a look at the concept.
Repentance means to ‘turn around’ and it is a theme of both old and new testaments. Look at these verses which speak about the importance of repenting.
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah 55:7
“But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.” Ezekiel 18:21
“Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby you have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies, says the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live.” Ezekiel 18:31,32
“Therefore also now, says the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn to the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repents him of the evil.” Joel 2:12,13
New Testament Preaching
John the Baptist preached ‘Repent!’ (Matthew 3:2) and so did Jesus (Matthew 4:17). At Pentecost Peter demanded it Acts 2:38) and Paul said that God commands it (Acts 17:30).
“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, And saying, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 3:1,2
“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17
“Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38
“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men everywhere to repent” Acts 17:30
It’s Up To Us
Notice that we are not to ask God to make us change. The onus is on us to do the turning, we are the ones told to act, to Repent! Christianity is not a matter of adding Christ to our lives. It is a matter of turning away from sin and to Christ.
I can’t repent for you. I can’t turn away from wrong on your behalf. You must choose to turn away from “dead works”, sin and all things that are offensive to God. This is a personal act. It is something you must do, and you will only do it if you are under conviction by the Holy Spirit and willing to submit to God.
Hebrews 6:1 tells us of the need to understand Repentance from Dead Works. So, what are dead works?
Several things could be included in the heading ‘dead works’, so let me outline some of them here.
Works of Darkness are dead works. Until you are fully on God’s side you are working darkness. In Matthew 12:30 Jesus said that if we are not for Him we are actively working against Him. That may sound unfair but that’s how God sees it. You worked darkness until you were born again of God.
John 3:16-19 tells us that men love darkness. So we must repent of our dead works of darkness in order to be saved. We must purposely shun and turn away from every deed of darkness.
Sin and Self
A dead work is something which we engage in but which does not produce good fruit. Sin is a dead work, because it only produces death and slavery. There is no positive fruit from your sin, no matter how many times you work at it.
There is also no good fruit from anything you do to indulge yourself. Self does not produce good fruit. There is nothing good that can or will come from spending your energy to make yourself happy, have your own way, indulge your passions, gratify your inner demands or otherwise serve your ‘self’.
Turning to Righteousness
Since repentance involves ‘turning’ you not only turn away from dead works, but you turn toward righteousness. You don’t just keep turning in circles, but you turn in a specific direction. You turn to righteousness and do the works of God.
Works that Don’t Work
Another thing that makes dead works ‘dead’ is that they cannot save us. Works cannot and never will be able to save us. Jesus even told of people who had been quite busy doing works for Him, who He would reject.
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:22,23
“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:20
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Galatians 2:16
“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
“But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit” Titus 3:4,5
Works, the deeds of the law and works of righteousness will not save us. Jesus said that He will say to some good workers… “Depart from Me, I never knew you” (Matt 7:23). So our works are not as important as having a relationship with Jesus.
Killing Good Works
While there are many good things which we can do, we must be very careful not to rely on our ‘works’ to save us. Good works become Dead Works when we think they will save us.
We must repent of every idea that we can rely on our works to win us points with God. This is repentance from Dead Works. To repent from something means we must be turning to something else. We repent from Dead Works, both works of darkness and works of righteousness, in order to turn to Jesus who, by His
blood, washes us clean of our sins and freely gives salvation we could never earn with any amount of good deeds.
Slaves to Good Works
Many years ago I preached at a church where several people were sure their dead works would give them life. They had been taught as children about the need to do good deeds. They somehow came to the belief that they could amass enough good deeds to pay for their bad deeds.
When I tried to explain that salvation is a gift and that works don’t work, they rejected the Bible’s clear message, preferring to trust in their own good deeds.
Now, having spent many years in pursuit of doing good things, and believing that those deeds would save them, these people had become very ‘good’ people. They did the nice things, and did nice things with a willing and diligent commitment which put me and others to shame.
Tragically, however, they put their trust in those works. They were babies in their understanding, not having learned ‘repentance from dead works’. Even more tragic, they may not have even been saved, because they could not rely on God’s grace, but were relying on their own deeds to save them.
If you are a good deeds person, willing to do whatever you must do in order to please God, then you need to repent of those dead works. Your actions of worship to God must spring from a heart of gratitude for His free and abundant salvation.
You are under absolutely no obligation to do works for God. Turn away from any such notion. If you do works to get God’s attention or favour, you immediately turn your actions into ‘dead’ works.
Do good things, but only because your new heart prompts you to do what your Heavenly Father does.
May you have a spirit of repentance before the Father, and live free from works. May you bless Him with everything you do, without any slavery to works, but total reliance on His grace, through Christ.