What Are “Dead Works”?

from Feb 20, 2013 Category: Articles

Dead works are the works of our hands. These are works of selfrighteousness, and they are appropriately called “dead” works because they lead to death. Twice the book of Proverbs says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (14:12; 16:25). We rely on work. We get significance from our work. We like a job that is well done. And well we should, because God created us to work. Yet all of our labors are useless, and thus dead, if they do not point to the worship of God. Any significance and esteem we attain from our labor apart from the end of bringing God glory and establishing His rule upon the earth is misplaced. Such godless labor may appear good to us and even receive the applause of others, but heaven finds it repulsive and defiled by sin. In other words, unless we have been washed in the blood of Christ, all our good deeds are worthless, useless, vain, and dead.

…unless we have been washed in the blood of Christ, all our good deeds are worthless, useless, vain, and dead.

These works are lethal because the thing that most keeps people from Christ is the belief that they can be good without Him. Their lives may be filled with good deeds in the eyes of men, but such works are not necessarily good in the eyes of God. Unfortunately, many have been led astray by the church, as preachers and teachers have told them that the gospel is what they do. Live right. Eat right. Give right. Die right. The truth, however, is that only faith in Christ matters—everything else is sin (Rom. 14:23). You can sing like Mahalia Jackson or Whitney Houston. You can play like Mozart or Yo-Yo Ma. Without Christ, these works are dead. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal is believed to have said, “There are only two kinds of people in the world: the righteous who understand themselves to be sinners, and the sinners who believe themselves to be righteous.” The Bible says that, apart from God in Christ, all my righteousness is but filthy rags—defiled and unclean (Isa. 64:6). Apart from the blood of Christ, my conscience and my hands are unclean, and my worship and works are dead. But in Christ, not only am I made alive, so are my works.

Why don’t dead works cut it? Simply put, our God is a living God. God is not into dead things. Death and Christ are not friends. Whenever Jesus came upon a death, He reversed it. When Jesus went to a funeral, it did not stay a funeral. The Bible records three instances during the life of Jesus when He came in contact with the dead. Each time, the dead were brought back to life. He raised the son of a widow (Luke 7:11–17). He raised Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:41–42; 49–56). He raised His friend Lazarus (John 11:1–44). When Jesus touches the dead, He makes them alive. Why? Because He is alive! Consequently, to serve and worship God is to serve and worship the living God. Dead people do not worship a living God. This is why the Bible says we have been made alive in Christ (Eph. 2:5). We do not glory in our dead deeds. We glory in the living Christ! Only Jesus provides the clean consciences, hands, and hearts we need to glory in Him.

This post is an excerpt from Anthony Carter’s new book, Blood Work.