“Your Word Is Truth”
Why Repent from “Dead Works”?
NEARLY 6,000 years ago humankind became alienated from Jehovah God. This came about when the first man Adam sinned. The truth about this is found in God’s Word, which tells us: “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”—Rom. 5:12.
As sinners, humans cannot gain an approved standing before Jehovah God on their own merit. Only by means of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ can people who were once “alienated” from God and “enemies” of God be reconciled to him. This is because that ransom has sin-atoning value.—Col. 1:19-22.
Reconciliation with God, however, does not come about without action on the part of individuals. One of the requirements for a person to become reconciled to God involves repentance from “dead works.” (Heb. 6:1) But what are these “dead works”? Have all people engaged in them, making their repentance from such “dead works” an essential thing?
Death being the opposite of life, “dead works” are evidently works that do not lead to life. They are spiritually dead, vain and fruitless works.
Manifestly the works of sinful flesh are death-dealing. According to the Bible, these works include “fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct, idolatry, practice of spiritism, enmities, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, contentions, divisions, sects, envies, drunken bouts, revelries, and things like these. . . . those who practice such things will not inherit God’s kingdom.” (Gal. 5:19-21) Anyone seeking God’s approval and life must repent of such “works of the flesh” and quit practicing them.
But are “dead works” limited to those works of wrongdoing and immorality? No, for there are also other works that are vain and fruitless.
Included in such “dead works” are works of self-justification. All efforts of humans to establish their own righteousness apart from Christ Jesus and his ransom sacrifice are in vain. That is why one who tries to adhere to the Mosaic law with a view to establishing his own righteousness is engaging in “dead works.” This aspect is highlighted at Romans 3:20-25: “By works of law no flesh will be declared righteous before [God], for by law is the accurate knowledge of sin. . . . It is as a free gift that they are being declared righteous by his undeserved kindness through the release by the ransom paid by Christ Jesus. God set him forth as an offering for propitiation through faith in his blood.”
Also works that might otherwise be good can become “dead works” if they do not stem from the right motivations. The apostle Paul pointed out: “If I give all my belongings to feed others, and if I hand over my body, that I may boast, but do not have love, I am not profited at all.”—1 Cor. 13:3.
Then, too, a person may be convinced that he is serving God when in actuality he is engaging in “dead works.” This is because, if not performed in harmony with accurate knowledge, his works would be vain and could even stand in opposition to God’s purpose. Respecting the Jews in his day, the apostle Paul noted: “They have a zeal for God; but not according to accurate knowledge; for, because of not knowing the righteousness of God but seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.”—Rom. 10:2, 3.
In view of the fact that “dead works” are not just debased practices, it is obvious that all persons need to repent from “dead works.” No one alive today can say that he has never done anything with the wrong motive. No one can claim that every action of his has been completely unselfish, a genuine expression of his love for God and his fellowman. There is not a man or a woman anywhere who can claim that all of his or her actions have been in complete harmony with God’s will. Observed the aged apostle John under inspiration: “If we make the statement: ‘We have not sinned,’ we are making him a liar, and his word is not in us.”—1 John 1:10.
Since all persons are sinners, all have engaged in “dead works.” For this reason as long as they remain unrepentant, they cannot have a clean conscience before Jehovah God. However, by repenting from “dead works” and striving to live a life in harmony with God’s will, a person can, on the basis of faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, have his conscience cleansed from dead works.—Heb. 9:14.
His sincere repentance opens up to him the way to approach his heavenly Father with freeness of speech. He does not feel condemned at heart. He does not fear that Jehovah God may give no heed to his cries for aid. Wrote the apostle John: “If our hearts do not condemn us, we have freeness of speech toward God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we are observing his commandments and are doing the things that are pleasing in his eyes.”—1 John 3:21, 22.
The person who fails to repent from “dead works” is therefore depriving himself of a precious relationship with his Creator. He is left without divine help in time of trial and distress. On the other hand, the person who becomes reconciled to God has positive assurance that he will receive the wisdom to cope with trials.—Jas. 1:5.
Those who have become reconciled to God cannot take their precious relationship for granted. If they are to continue to approach God with freeness of speech, they must maintain a clean conscience. This requires effort, because sin’s law or the inborn inclination toward wrongdoing continually works in their fleshly members. That “law of sin,” in effect, tries to control their course and make them follow a way that is out of harmony with God. Regarding his own struggle in this regard, the apostle Paul stated: “I really delight in the law of God according to the man I am within, but I behold in my members another law warring against the law of my mind and leading me captive to sin’s law that is in my members. Miserable man that I am! Who will rescue me from the body undergoing this death?”—Rom. 7:22-24.
With such a struggle being waged within himself, it might appear that Paul, despite his having repented from “dead works,” simply could not maintain a clean conscience before God. But this is not the case. In answer to the above question, Paul exclaims: “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:25) Yes, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ ‘rescued’ Paul, enabling him to preserve his relationship with God and keep a clean conscience.
By continuing to appeal to God in faith for forgiveness of sins on the basis of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, we, like Paul, can maintain the good conscience that resulted from our initial repentance from “dead works.” We can thus continue to enjoy the loving aid of our heavenly Father and have before us the prospect of life everlasting.