WORKS WITHOUT FAITH ARE DEAD
(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 4/22/01 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Today's sermon is entitled "Works Without Faith Are Dead." Let's turn to Hebrews 9 and read verses 11 through 14:
Hebrews 9: (11) But Christ having appeared [as] a High Priest of the coming good things, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, (12) nor through the blood of goats and of calves, but through [His] own blood, [He] entered once for all into the [Holy of] Holies, having procured everlasting redemption. (13) For if the blood of bulls and goats, and ashes of a heifer sprinkling those having been defiled, sanctifies to the purity of the flesh, (14) by how much more [the] blood of Christ (who through [the] eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God), will purify your conscience from dead works, to serve [the] living God!
The author of Hebrews, who I believe is Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, mentions "dead works." He says that the blood of Christ purifies the conscience from dead works. Last week, we saw where the Holy Spirit through James talked about "dead faith." We saw that dead faith is faith without works. A person who claims to have faith in Christ but who has no accompanying works does not have a true, living faith. Today, we will see that a person who claims to have good works but who does not have faith is one whose works are not good works but are dead works. Turn to Romans 7:5:
Romans 7:5 For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sin were working in our members through the Law for the bearing of fruit unto death.
Paul uses another term for dead works. He calls them "fruit unto death." So when the Bible talks of dead works and fruit unto death, what does it mean? Well, the first thing we can see is that fruit unto death comes from those who are in the flesh. Who are those who are "in the flesh"? Look at Romans 8:1-13:
Romans 8: (1) [There is] therefore now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to flesh, but according to Spirit. (2) For the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus set me free from the law of sin and of death. (3) For the Law [being] powerless, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in [the] likeness of sinful flesh, and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh, (4) so that the righteous demand of the Law might be fulfilled in us, those not walking according to flesh, but according to Spirit. (5) For the ones that are according to flesh mind the things of the flesh. And the ones according to Spirit [mind] the things of the Spirit. (6) For the mind of the flesh [is] death, but the mind of the Spirit [is] life and peace; (7) because the mind of the flesh [is] enmity towards God; for it is not being subjected to the Law of God, for neither can [it be]. (8) And those being in the flesh are not able to please God. (9) But you are not in flesh, but in Spirit, since [the] Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone has not [the] Spirit of Christ, this one is not His. (10) But if Christ [is] in you, the body indeed [is] dead because of sin, but the Spirit [is] life because of righteousness. (11) But if the Spirit of the [One] having raised Jesus from [the] dead dwells in you, the [One] having raised the Christ from [the] dead will also make your mortal bodies live through the indwelling of His Spirit in you. (12) So, then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to flesh, (13) for if you live according to flesh, you are going to die. But if by [the] Spirit you put to death the practices of the body, you will live.
Paul contrasts those who are in the flesh with those who are in the Spirit. The ones who are in the Spirit are those who are alive. The ones who are in the flesh are those who are dead. Notice that one cannot be in the Spirit and in the flesh at the same time. There's a heresy going around that a person can be "in the Spirit" one day and "in the flesh" the next. Romans 8 demolishes this heresy. Also note in verse 8 that those who are in the flesh are not able to please God. Take some time to think about this. Those who are in the flesh are NOT ABLE TO PLEASE GOD. Does Romans 8:8 say that those who are in the flesh please God some of the time? No. They are NEVER able to please God, no matter what they do. So if you're in the flesh, nothing you do pleases God. NOTHING. So here's where we get into dead works and fruit unto death. They are the works of someone who is in the flesh. And they are not just SOME of the works of someone who is in the flesh; they are ALL of the works of someone who is in the flesh. No matter how outwardly good these works look to the world, these works are dead works and fruit unto death. Let's read Romans 8:8 again:
Romans 8: (8) And those being in the flesh are not able to please God.
Now let's compare this with the first part of Hebrews 11:6:
Hebrews 11: (6) But without faith it is impossible to please God.
See the connection? God says that those who are in the flesh are not able to please God, and without faith it is impossible to please God. Those who are in the flesh are those WITHOUT FAITH. Those without faith cannot do any truly good works. All their works are dead works and fruit unto death. So, you see, WORKS WITHOUT FAITH ARE DEAD. So-called "good works" that flow from a person without faith are dead works. And since these works are not pleasing to God, what are they? They are HATEFUL to God. They are an ABOMINATION to God.
Let's go back to Romans 7 and read verse 5 again:
Romans 7:5 For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sin were working in our members through the Law for the bearing of fruit unto death.
Now when most religionists think of fruit unto death, what do their minds immediately go to? Immorality. And most certainly when those without faith perform acts of immorality, this is fruit unto death. But look what Paul says about fruit unto death. Let's read verses 4 through 6:
Romans 7: (4) So that, my brothers, you also were made dead to the Law through the body of Christ, for you to become Another's, to the One raised from the dead, so that we may bear fruit to God. (5) For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sin were working in our members through the Law for the bearing of fruit unto death. (6) But now we have been set free from the Law, having died to that in which we were held, so as for us to serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of letter.
In verse 4, Paul talks of Christians being made dead to the law. In fact, he says that one must be dead to the law in order to bear fruit unto God. In verse 6, he says that Christians have been set free from the law and do not serve in oldness of the letter but in newness of spirit. Is Paul talking about lawlessness here? Is he talking about immorality? No! So when we read verse 5 in context, we see that bearing fruit unto death in this verse is NOT talking about immorality! Now if those who bring forth FRUIT UNTO GOD are dead to the law, then those who bring forth FRUIT UNTO DEATH are what? ALIVE to the law! Now what does it mean to be alive to the law? Paul uses himself as an example. What was Paul doing when he was bringing forth dead works and fruit unto death? Philippians 2 says that he kept the law! He was zealous and moral. And all his law-keeping, all his zealousness, and all his morality were FRUIT UNTO DEATH. Why? Because works without faith are dead. Paul did not have faith. He was alive to the law, and being alive to the law means to be void of faith. Paul was a law-abiding God-fearing religious man. Yet because he did not have true faith, his works were dead. "Alive to the law" means that he thought that his law-keeping, his obedience, his morality, formed at least some part of the ground of his obtaining and maintaining salvation and being recommended to God. He was a slave to the law, because in it he thought he had eternal life. But once God regenerated him, what happened? He became DEAD to the law and FREE from the law. Does that mean that he then tossed out God's commandments as his rule of life? By no means. Look at the end of verse 6 - Paul served God - he continued to strive to obey God's commands - but he did it in NEWNESS OF SPIRIT rather than in OLDNESS OF LETTER. Again, we see that before Paul was saved, he served in the letter of the law. This is not immorality. This is striving for perfect obedience. Before he was saved, he strove to obey every single jot and tittle of the law. But it was in oldness of letter. It was dead works. Why? Because WORKS WITHOUT FAITH ARE DEAD. He had the works, but he didn't have true faith. What was the evidence that he didn't have true faith? Was it that he went out and committed all kinds of immoral acts? No. The evidence that he didn't have true faith was that he was zealous to obey God's law out of the belief that his salvation was conditioned on his works. He thought that his good works were what made the difference between salvation and damnation, between heaven and hell. He was like the Pharisee in Luke 18 who was so proud of his works and who despised the tax collector, because he thought that his good works were what made the difference between his own saved state and the tax collector's lost state. But when God saved him and gave him knowledge of the gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone, he served God in newness of spirit. He realized that his law-keeping formed absolutely NO PART of the ground of his salvation and acceptance before God. He realized that it was the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ ALONE that made the difference between salvation and damnation, heaven and hell. It was this knowledge that caused him to count all things to be loss in Philippians 3:8. After God regenerated him, his obedience was FRUIT UNTO GOD rather than fruit unto death. God was PLEASED with Paul's good works. They were works that sprang from true faith, rather than dead, empty works, that sprang from dead faith.
Do you see how it all fits together? In man's natural, unregenerate state, all he can do is produce dead works and fruit unto death. He may be immoral and unconcerned, or he may be moral and zealous. He may have never set foot in a church building, or he may be diligent to attend every service and Bible study and be an active member or even a deacon or a pastor. But all his works are dead if he doesn't have what? FAITH. Those who do not have faith believe that their works form at least some part of the ground of their salvation, whether it be initial regeneration or maintaining salvation or entitlement to heaven. This includes everyone who believes that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception, because they do not believe that it is the work of Christ ALONE that makes the difference between heaven and hell, salvation and damnation; instead, they believe that it is the work of the SINNER that makes the difference. They do not have true faith in the true and living God. They do not believe the true gospel of salvation by Christ alone. And since they do not have faith, their works are dead. Everything they do is an abomination to God.
But when God regenerates someone, He gives that person a knowledge of the gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone. All good works that spring from that faith are LIVING works, not dead works. Their works evidence their faith. They love the brothers by not speaking peace to their brothers' enemies. They have a true desire to obey, motivated by a love for God out of the newness of the spirit, not out of the oldness of the letter.
I'd now like to take some time to talk about making judgments in light of what I have said today and last week. I'll give some scenarios to help illustrate the points. Let's first go over judgments in light of the principle that faith without works is dead. Suppose Mr. Smith says that he believes in the gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone. Suppose he says that he believes all of the doctrines of grace and considers anything opposing the doctrines of grace to be heresy. Now also suppose that he knowingly speaks peace to Arminians. His profession of belief in the gospel sounds orthodox, but his actions show that he hates the brothers. Here we apply the principle that faith without good works is dead. Mr. Smith's faith is shown to be dead by his evil deeds. The same would apply if Mr. Smith's profession sounded orthodox but he was a homosexual.
Now for the principle that works without faith are dead. Suppose Mr. Smith is a professing Christian who is the model citizen, whose outward life is impeccable, who worships according to the Regulative Principle, who advocates for modesty of dress, who home-schools his children, who doesn't let his children watch even the slightest hint of immorality on television, etc. Now also suppose that he believes that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception. We judge this person to be lost, because all those works without belief in the true God, the true Christ, the true gospel, are dead, no matter how good they look outwardly.
Thus far in the two examples, I've talked about professing Christians. But what if we do not know what the person professes? What if all we see is that the person is living a life that is characterized by immorality? Is this enough to judge a person lost, without knowing what this person believes? Yes it is. Turn over to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
1 Corinthians 6: (9) Or do you not know that unjust ones will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be led astray, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, (10) nor thieves, nor covetous ones, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor plunderers shall inherit the kingdom of God. (11) And some of you were these things, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God.
Here God gives us a list of kinds of people who will not inherit the kingdom of God. If we see someone who is one of these kinds of people, then we already know without asking them that they do not have true faith. God gives us certain evidences that a person does not believe the true gospel without our having to talk with that person. And think about this: what if one of these people who are described in 1 Corinthians 6 turns out to profess belief in the true gospel. Would that change our judgment of this person? No. That gets into the principle that faith without works is dead. So an immoral person who professes to believe the true gospel and an immoral person who does not claim to be a Christian are both unregenerate. And if both are unregenerate as shown by their works, then what they profess is not going to influence our judgment of either one. Do you see that?
Okay. What I want to emphasize in these two sermons is that a Christian is one who has a true faith and good works. An unregenerate person is one who has neither true faith nor good works. That's what both principles put together show us. There is no such thing as a person who has a true faith and dead works or a person who has dead faith and good works. There is not a single Christian who does not have true faith. This means that there is not a single Christian who does not believe the true gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone.
There is not a single Christian who believes that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception. It's impossible. The reason it's impossible is because when God regenerates a person, he gives that person a knowledge that the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ is what makes the only difference between heaven and hell. There is also not a single Christian who does not have good works. There is no such monster as a regenerate person with no good works. The reason there's no such monster is because God, when He gives us a new heart, causes us to do good works out of love for Him.
On the other side, there's not a single unregenerate person who believes the true gospel. Belief of the true gospel is something that is impossible for an unregenerate person to do. They walk in darkness. They are blind to the only ground of salvation. They are going about to establish a righteousness of their own. Even the tolerant Calvinists who profess to believe in the doctrines of grace and who can give you all the Scripture references for all the doctrines fit into this category. They say they believe the gospel, and at the same time, they say that Arminians believe the same gospel they do. This shows that they really do not believe the true gospel and that they are correct in saying that Arminians believe the same gospel they do, which is the false gospel of salvation conditioned on the sinner. There is also not a single unregenerate person who has good works. Everything that an unregenerate person does, from the vilest immorality to the heights of morality, is wicked and evil. They are under God's curse, and God hates them and everything they do. They constantly bring forth evil deeds and fruit unto death.
Let us always remember that faith and works are inextricably linked. No good works, no faith. No faith, no good works. And let us who are Christians rejoice that the blood of Christ has purged our consciences from dead works to serve the true and living God. Amen.