Works Without Faith are Dead
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We have seen that faith without works is a dead faith. But did you know that the Bible talks about dead works as well? Hebrews 9:13-14 says this:
"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, 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!
Paul uses another term for "dead works" in Romans 7:5; he calls them "fruit unto death":
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.
When the Bible talks of dead works and fruit unto death, what do these phrases mean? We first see that fruit unto death comes from those who are "in the flesh." Who are those who are "in the flesh"? Let us look at Romans 8:5-13:
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. For the mind of the flesh [is] death, but the mind of the Spirit [is] life and peace; 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]. And those being in the flesh are not able to please God. 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. But if Christ [is] in you, the body indeed [is] dead because of sin, but the Spirit [is] life because of righteousness. 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. So, then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to flesh, 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 is 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. 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. Here is 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 good these works look to the world, these works are dead works and fruit unto death.
Compare Romans 8:8 to Hebrews 11:6:
But without faith it is impossible to please God.
Do you 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. Thus, 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 us consider Romans 7:5 again. When most religionists think of fruit unto death, their minds will usually go to immorality. It is true that when those without faith perform acts of immorality, this is fruit unto death. But look at the context before and after verse 5:
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. 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. 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. (Romans 7:4-6)
In verse 4, Paul talks of believers 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 immorality here? 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 to God" are dead to the law, then those who bring forth "fruit unto death" are alive to the law! 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? He says in Philippians 2 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, when he was Saul of Tarsus, did not have faith. He was alive to the law, and being alive to the law means to be void of faith. Saul of Tarsus 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 favor with God. Thus, he was a debtor to do the whole law (Galatians 5:3). 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. As seen 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 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 did not have true faith. What was the evidence that he did not have true faith? Was it that he went out and committed all kinds of immoral acts? No. The evidence that he did not 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. 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. 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 to 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 does not have 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 salvation and damnation; instead, they believe that it is the effort 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 the work of 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 this 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.
Let us now consider the issue of making judgments in light of the two articles ("Faith Without Works is Dead" and "Works Without Faith are Dead"). I will give some scenarios to help illustrate the points.
Let us 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 universal atonement advocates. 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 or an adulterer or any other kind of person that the Bible says is unregenerate.
Let us now go over judgments in light of 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 does not 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 unregenerate, 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 scenarios, I have 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. Look at 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
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, nor thieves, nor covetous ones, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor plunderers shall inherit the kingdom of God. 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.
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. 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.
To conclude these two articles, the two principles put together show us that a true believer is one who has a true faith and good works, while an unregenerate person is one who has neither true faith nor good works. 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 is absolutely impossible. The reason it is impossible is that 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 salvation and damnation.
There is also not a single Christian who does not have good works. There is no such monstrosity as a regenerate person with no good works. The reason for this is that God, when He gives us a new heart, causes us to do good works out of love for Him.
On the other side, there is 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 universal atonement advocates 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 universal atonement advocates 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. If there are no good works, there is no faith. If there is no faith, there are 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.