The danger of dead works (Hebrews 6:1-8)

There is a persistent theme that runs subtly through the chapters of the book of Hebrews, and this theme reveals the author’s purpose for writing the letter.

WHAT IS THE THEME?

The theme is that it is possible to have a religion of useless, futile rituals, which appear on the outside to evidence true faith, without having any faith at all. In other words, it is possible to fool yourself and to fool others by your religious activity, while remaining dead in your sins and performing dead religious works.

FORMERLY A PEOPLE OF DEAD WORKS

The recipients of this letter appear to have been predominantly Jewish, based on the letter’s detailed references to the history of Israel and based on in-depth discussions of the priestly duties prescribed by the Law and of the minute details of the tabernacle. Now, if this deduction is correct, then it means that most of the recipients of this letter formerly practiced the Jewish religion and thus performed ritualistic dead works as good members of the Jewish community. Formerly, then, performing useless dead works maintained your good standing in the Jewish community.

But now the gospel has come, and now all people everywhere are called to forsake their useless religious works, repent of their sins, and place their faith in Jesus, the Messiah. If they believe in Jesus, they will be saved (Romans 10:9-10, 13). Then they are to walk in good works (Ephesians 2:10).

SWAPPING OLD DEAD WORKS FOR NEW ONES

Now we refer back to the theme that runs through the letter and see how this would apply here. Since these people are accustomed to performing rituals as part of their (Jewish) religion, and since this new “religion” of following Jesus, the Messiah, is based on the Hebrew Scriptures, it is possible for some of the people to assume that this is just a new religion with new dead works. Now, instead of circumcision and Sabbath and Passover, we do the new works of baptism and resurrection day and the Lord’s Supper. Now we talk about Jesus more than we talk about Moses, and we sing different songs, and the sermons have different subjects for their messages, but basically, we are just swapping out the old set of dead works for a new set of dead works. “What am I missing?”

THE THEME LEADS TO THE PURPOSE OF THE LETTER

If you have followed me so far, then this question should have sent chills up your spine. “What are you missing?” What you are missing is that this new Way is the only way to escape the wrath of God, and the only way that you can enter this salvation is through faith. So, what you are missing is faith! Faith is everything! No, we are not just swapping out a set of Jewish dead works for a set of “Christian dead works!”

These thoughts express the author’s concerns and define the purpose of the letter. The author seems to be a teacher or a pastor in the community to which he is writing, who has been separated from them, and it is possible that he is in prison (Hebrews 13:19, 23). In any case, his purpose in writing is to warn those who are just going through dead works that they are in peril, and to spur them to genuine faith in Jesus. He exalts Christ as our great High Priest and as greater than Moses, and as greater than angels, and he warns that if you do not come to faith in Jesus, you will never enter God’s rest.

THE DANGER OF DEAD WORKS

In light of this purpose and in light of the danger of dead works, I wanted to share some thoughts that occurred to me regarding Hebrews 5:11-14; 6:1-8.

In Hebrews 5:11-12, the author rebukes the people about their ongoing immaturity.

it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

The warning is that a perpetual immaturity suggests a sobering diagnosis of dead religion. A perpetual immaturity puts you on a trajectory that ends in dead works and apostasy. Some of these professing believers should have been teaching the word, and yet they are still on milk and not solid food. The analogy would say that the child is running in the playground but has yet to be weaned off milk. Spiritual milk is what spiritual babes need (1 Peter 2:2), but if you have been in the fellowship for a decade and you are still on milk, there is reason for serious concern.

Do you know people who have supposedly been in Christ for decades and yet still barely drink milk? They are in great peril. In the Scriptures, there does not appear to be a good excuse for ongoing immaturity. The believer is always supposed to be in the process of spiritual growth. Paul had not attained spiritual maturity (Philippians 3:12-13), but he pressed on toward the goal (3:14). Paul thus gives us two lessons: none of us has yet attained full maturity, and therefore, we are always to be growing toward greater maturity.

There are other dangers of dead works and other thoughts that I have on this subject, but I will save those for another day.

SDG                 rmb                 4/9/2021

Luke 5:17-26. Part 1 – Faith and forgiveness

What is the nature of genuine faith in Jesus and who is this Man who claims to forgive sins? These are some of the questions that are addressed in the story of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic, a well-known story that appears in each of the synoptic gospels, in Matthew, in Mark, and in Luke. Over the next couple of posts, we will be looking at the account from the gospel of Luke, in Luke 5:17-26. I will be borrowing from the other gospel accounts for some of the details. This post will look at the nature of faith and forgiveness, and the next post will examine the Person of Jesus and find out more of His identity.

THE PLOT OF THE STORY

            As the story opens, Jesus is teaching to a big crowd inside his house when four men try to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, presumably for healing him of his paralysis. Since they are unable to get to Jesus through the crowd in the house, they go up on the roof and lower the bed-ridden paralytic down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus forgives the sins of the paralyzed man. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who seem to always be there to give Jesus a hard time, complain that Jesus is wrong to claim to forgive sins, since only God can do that. Jesus then miraculously heals the paralytic, proving that He is, in fact, God and, as God, has authority to forgive sins. The crowds are duly amazed.

FAITH RESULTS IN FORGIVENESS        

            What principles can we learn from this story about the nature of saving faith?

            First, faith in Jesus always results in forgiveness of sins. Faith is the trigger for Christ’s forgiveness, because Jesus always perceives and responds to genuine faith. After Jesus saw their faith, He declared to the paralytic, “Man, your sins are forgiven you (5:20).” Notice that neither the paralytic nor the paralytic’s friends asked Jesus to do anything, but Jesus, “when He saw their faith,” spontaneously granted forgiveness of sins. This is always the case. Then and now, faith in Jesus always results in forgiveness of sins and salvation. If you have placed your faith in Jesus, you, too, have received forgiveness of sins.

            What does Jesus require for Him to forgive sins? Faith alone! “When He saw their faith” What “works” does He require to extend His forgiveness? None! Unlike other false religions and false teaching, there are no works required for Jesus’ forgiveness (Romans 4:2). It was the men’s faith that saved, not their effort. Just so, your faith alone saves you.

            Jesus granted unlimited forgiveness, in essence, absolute forgiveness. “When He saw their faith, He said, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” Jesus did not say, “Your known sins and your felt sins are forgiven,” so that the man would need to return later if he felt guilty. Nor did Jesus say, “Some of your sins are forgiven, but some are not.” Rather, Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).” When Jesus forgives sins, He forgives ALL sins forever. He does not forgive some but leave the rest unforgiven. His forgiveness is permanent and comprehensive. If Jesus has seen your faith, then you can have complete confidence that all your sins, past, present, and future, are forever forgiven.

            The proper end of all faith is salvation (Ephesians 2:8), and Jesus grants forgiveness and salvation to this man based on the man’s faith. When Jesus grants forgiveness, He is declaring that the righteous requirement of the Law (death for sin) has been fulfilled in us by means of His death on the cross (Romans 8:4). Because Christ has fulfilled the Law’s requirement on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18), our forgiveness and our salvation are two sides of the same coin. Thus, the person whom God has forgiven has also been saved.

FAITH PRODUCES ACTION

            There is another principle that we see here in this story about those who have genuine faith: Genuine faith manifests itself in faith-filled actions.

            Notice that faith precedes the “works,” or faith precedes the action. So, first, the men had faith that Jesus could heal their paralyzed friend, and then, second, they visibly demonstrated their faith in Jesus by carrying their friend all the way from where he was to where Jesus was. Their faith led to faith-filled action.

            In this story, the men’s faith-filled action was not for Jesus’ benefit, but for the benefit of the crowd that was watching. Jesus saw their faith, but the crowd needed to see the radical action that their faith produced. It is most often faith-filled action that makes genuine faith visible. Those outside of Christ cannot see or understand faith unless our faith is manifested by the actions of our lives. As James says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:18).”

APPLICATION

            An application of this principle that genuine faith produces action would be to ask ourselves, “Does my faith in Jesus produce faith-filled action?” In other words, if anyone were watching my life, would my actions clearly betray that I am a man or a woman of faith in the Lord Jesus? This is a challenging question for us all, but I think it is incumbent upon us to consider it. Does my faith manifest itself in my life such that an unbeliever could see it?

            Some actions that have occurred to me as evidence of faith are: prayer (Do others know you pray? Do they know to whom you pray? Do they know why you pray?), obedience to Scripture (Do you make decisions that puzzle others because you are obeying a clear teaching of the Scripture?), submission of all aspects of your life to the Lord (Does the Lord have first priority in your life?), unselfishness, humility, your speech. These are everyday ways that we can make our faith visible to others.

NEXT POST

            The next post will use this same passage to examine the Person of Jesus and find out more of His identity and why He claims to forgive sins.

SDG                 rmb                 11/30/2020