Article of Faith

February 5, 2023

Christians must beware of dead works (1)

By Femi Aribisala

Dead works are works of presumptive righteousness that are very displeasing to God. Born again Christians specialize in these works, but their most ardent practitioners are pastors, especially the so-called mega pastors.

Dead works are deceitful. When we do them, we think we are righteous and assume we are doing what God wants. But God hates the dead works that Christians esteem. Jesus warns: “What is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15).

Isaiah points out that, to God: “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore, the writer of Hebrews maintains that repentance from dead works is one of the “elementary principles of Christ.” (Hebrews 6:1).

Joyless works

Dead works are works not done joyfully. Nehemiah counselled Israel in the wilderness: “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Jesus: “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” (Isaiah 53:4). Through His completed works of salvation, He gave us: “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that (we) may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3).

Therefore, we must “rejoice always.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). We should rejoice: “because (our) names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20). We must be exceedingly glad even when persecuted: “for great is (our) reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before (us).” (Matthew 5:12).

Jesus says: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). Therefore, James says: “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (James 1:2-3).

Because the Israelites did not rejoice in their maker and deliverer, Moses said God would send them into captivity:

“Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in need of everything; and He will put a yoke of iron on your neck until He has destroyed you.” (Deuteronomy 28:47-48).

Fullness of joy

For a Christian to do anything joylessly is to deny the great salvation of Christ and despise the continuing work of the Holy Spirit. It is to reject our translation from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God. This everlasting kingdom is not just about righteousness, it is about: “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17).

Isaiah says to God: “You meet him who rejoices and does righteousness, who remembers You in Your ways.” (Isaiah 64:5).

This means the believer has lost the right to grumble or complain about anything. Whatever the situation or circumstance: “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:14-15).

You can ask a child to do an inconvenient task and, although he does it, he hates doing it. That makes his doing it a dead work to God. Our works must be done joyfully. We must be: “hospitable to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9-10). Otherwise, our hospitality is a dead work. We must be patient and long-suffering with joyfulness. (Colossian 1:11). Otherwise, our patience and long suffering become dead works.

Good works are only those works that acknowledge the goodness of the Lord. They are works that redound to the glory of God. Therefore, this must be done with joy and gladness.

The psalmist says to God: “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You. Thus, I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.” (Psalm 63:3-5).

This means works done out of compulsion or necessity are abhorrent to God. This fact is hidden to mercenary pastors who threaten New Testament believers with the devourer and with exclusion from heavenly blessings if they do not give tithes and offerings.

These pastors love big givers, but God only accepts cheerful givers.  Paul says: “Let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

So, not all giving is acceptable to God. If you give reluctantly, it is a dead work. If you give and regret giving, it is a dead work. If you give sacrificially, it is a dead work.

Works without love

Jesus says: “I don’t want your sacrifices- I want your love; I don’t want your offerings- I want you to know me.” (Matthew 9:13).

The love of God is the only acceptable basis for good works. But Jesus says “our desires for other things” militate against our faithfulness to and love for God. (Mark 4:19). Any work not done because of the love of God is a dead work.

Paul says: “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2-3).

Moreover, our love for God must supersede all other loves. Jesus insists: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:37).

Works done out of fear of going to hell are also dead works. John says: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18).

 Lukewarm love

As newlyweds, a wife was very diligent in cooking delectable meals every day for her husband. She also loved to wash his clothes and iron them. But ten years down the road, it had become a chore for her. She still managed to do these things occasionally, but now only as a matter of routine.

After ten years of marriage, what she used to do for her husband out of love for him had become dead works because love was no longer the mainspring.

This is the predicament of most Christians. Over the years, our faith has been starched of the love and passion it once had when we newly believed. But works done dispassionately are abominable to God.

Jesus chides the church of Ephesus: “I have this against you, that you have left your first love.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:4-5).

He says to the Laodiceans: “Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Revelation 3:16-17).