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Scandalous Grace, Part 7: Down with Dead Works!

July 18, 2010

Scandalous Grace, Part 7


Down with Dead Works!
Hebrews 9:14 & Selected Scriptures
Sunday Morning
July 18, 2010
Church in the Boro
Rob Wilkerson

Introduction

I don’t think there’s been any more trying times in my life than when I’ve felt like what I’m
doing for God is dry, dull, lifeless, boring, and never rewarding. Whether I’ve been volunteering
in a local church, serving on the mission field, leading a church, or whether I’ve been hanging
out with my wife, playing with kids, or praying, there’ve been some seasons of intense dullness
where I felt like I was just going through the religious exercise motions. I had no faith that God
was in it. I felt no love for those I was supposed to be doing it for. And I expected nothing from
God in return for my labors.

This time or season is something almost every Christian can relate to. At times it almost feels
like you’re eeking out an existence on the planet, simply making it to the next exciting event or
opportunity. As a result we really end up just relying on these events and opportunities to carry
us through much of our life. Does any of the following scenarios sound familiar?

 If you’re honest, you admit that your work week is just a tolerable pause between
weekends, which is what you really live for.

 You choose a default mode of watching T.V., videos, or movies during and/or after
dinner, through the rest of the evening, because you feel so slow and lackadaisical.

 Revivals, special meetings, conferences, workshops all pump you up spiritually, but
within days fade away in their impact virtually leaving no trace.

 Your prayer times, personal worship times, or quiet times (whatever you call them) slide
into routine (if you do them at all) so that you aren’t stretching yourself out for God, or
expecting God to meet you.

 Saying “no” to ministry opportunities for other people is the norm, except for the
occasional time when everybody else is doing it so you feel you have to also.

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All of these descriptions have depicted my life at one time or another. They make life
somewhat miserable. And if you’re a Christian, there ends up being this mixed signal in your
heart, transmitting most of the time, putting out vibes of confusion. Your heart tells you that
you should be more hopeful, expectant, and excited about ministry and service, parenting and
work, etc. But your mind just flat out tells you that you aren’t…or you can’t. So there’s this
conflict that lingers on causing frustration within…which you then seek to cover up by just
doing some thing in the church family, for your wife or kids or at work that appears or is
interpreted as loving and serving. But that just frustrates you more when you lay down on your
pillow that night and try to fall off to sleep.

This is where the scandalous grace of God appears on the scene to blow this lifestyle out of the
water…forever. The grace of God you’ve been presented with over the last six weeks is a kind
of grade that rescues and delivers you from this heart condition, mindset, and lifestyle. It not
only frees you from your sin, guilt and whatever things you think disqualify you from serving
God. Grace also frees you from simply going through the motions of life, ministry, marriage,
parenting, work, and serving one another. It rescues you once and for all from religious duty.

And this is what makes this grace so scandalous. Most of the world lives like this. It’s sort of
become the accepted norm. It’s been said that this is just the way life is and you just try to do
the best you can to make the best of it. If you’re a Christian, you at least believe you get a
break when you go to heaven.

But what about until you get to heaven? Is that all there is to the Christian life until then?
Unfortunately, that’s one of the side effects of the old-traditional-styled theology of church I
grew up: getting saved means confessing you’re a sinner and coming to Jesus so He can give
you a home in heaven when you die. All of that is true, but there’s a lot more truth that’s left
out…like what God wants to do for me, in me, through me, and with me while I’m on this earth!
And living a dull, lifeless, non-expectant version of Christianity is not what God intended! And
it’s not even real Christianity at all. That’s what makes an expectant, hope-filled, diligent, hard-
working, joyful faith in God so scandalous in the world, including in the church.

Hebrews 9:13-14 teaches us how this grace of God works to rescue us from all this.

13 Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young
cow could cleanse people's bodies from ceremonial impurity. 14 Just think how
much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from [dead works] so
that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ
offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. (NLT)

9:13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled
on those who are defiled consecrated them and provided ritual purity, 17 9:14
how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered
himself without blemish to God, purify our 18 consciences from dead works to
worship the living God. (NET Bible).

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What I’d like to do this morning is briefly break down these verses, and then address the issue
of dead works. God wants to deliver all of us this morning from dead works, and I believe He’ll
show us how they operate and how His deliverance works by understanding what the grace of
God through the blood of Christ has done for us.

The Old System: Complicated, Repetitive, & Limited

The New Living Translation began verse 13 with a reference to the Old System. And it’s
referring to the Old Covenant sacrificial system. In short, it was complicated, repetitive, and
limited.

 It was complicated because there were so many laws, rules, precepts, and standards.

o Read through Exodus and Leviticus and you’ll see what I mean. Most of us have
fallen asleep during this part of our “Read Your Bible in a Year” plan. But it’s
actually a great read if you give it a chance. It shows you what God expected of
His people back then, which shows you what He’s delivered you from through
the death of Jesus. There were so many laws that the Jewish Priests also had to
be lawyers of a sort, memorizing and interpreting and applying all the commands
we read there.

o One of those sacrifices involved a red heifer, which if any of you didn’t grow up
on the farm like I didn’t, it’s a specific kind of female cow. It was to be burnt as a
sacrifice, and its ashes kept. The priests would carefully preserve all the ashes,
mix it with water, and sprinkle it on people who had some type of legal
disqualification from entering the Temple. Maybe you were handicapped, had a
disease, a runny nose, an ingrown toenail or foot fungus, bruises, even that
special time of the month for women, or whatever. During that time in history it
would not be uncommon to have come in contact with a dead body, which
would make you “unclean” or ceremonially unfit to offer your sacrifice to God.
The red heifer ashes mixed with water and sprinkled on you was God’s way of
saying your body was cleansed and you were able to come in and do your
worship. Pretty dang complicated, I’d say!

 It was repetitive because the sacrifices had to be offered repeatedly.

o If you read through the laws and see the various sins people commit, there were
often times different sacrifices for different sins which had to be offered at
specific times, specific days, and in specific ways, all of which had to be done
repeatedly…because you sinned a lot! The main sacrifice was the Day of
Atonement on which a lamb was offered by the High Priest once a year in the

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most holy part of the tabernacle or Temple. This was the sacrifice God
commanded as a symbol of His forgiveness of the sins of the entire nation.

o The repetitiveness included the red heifer ashes practice. Because if you had to
come back in a week or two to offer another sacrifice, and you’ve still got that
pesky skin condition, you’ve gotta wait in line and be sprinkled with cremated
cow water in order to go and worship God. In other words, you never got a
break!

 It was limited in that all it could do was cleanse your body from disqualifying defects
and sins you’d committed previously. It could not permanently remove any ceremonial
disqualifications or sins you would commit in the future. The practices were only good
right then and there, and had no power or ability to anything for you in the future. It
couldn’t heal you from your bodily issues, and it couldn’t forgive your sins once-and-for-
all. In the next chapter, the writer of Hebrews teaches this very fact: “For it is
impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4, ESV).

Now here’s the point the writer of Hebrews is trying to make. If the blood and ashes of bulls,
heifers, goats, and other animals could only take care of present various issues you had at
various times, how incredible and awesome is it that Jesus Christ has come and taken care of
ALL your issues once-and-for all!

The New System: Clear and Free…Forever!

The writer of Hebrews says that there were two parts to what Jesus Christ did for us when He
died on the cross.

1. He offered Himself without any of the bodily defects that almost everybody else had
when they came to worship God. And He offered Himself without any of the sin that
everybody else committed and had to deal with before they could worship God.

Jesus Christ was perfect in every single way! And He offered His perfect self to God for YOU!
He knew there would always be something that would disqualify us from worshiping God under
the Old System. So He came and started a New System where we would have access to God to
be loved by Him and worship Him…not just now in the present, but forever more in the future
as well! How freeing that is!

a. Jesus destroys complication! The New System isn’t complicated because it’s one
offering once and for all! The only offering and sacrifice I have to remember is
the one that was already made for me! Whenever I come to alter of my heart
and think about something I’ve done wrong, some sin I’ve committed, there’s an
empty cross and an empty tomb there to remind me Jesus already took care of
everything God expected and required. Awesome!

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b. Jesus destroys repetition. If there’s already been a once-and-for-all offering,


what is there left for me to offer? Nothing! I’m free!

c. Jesus destroys limitation. The work Jesus did doesn’t just apply to my body,
which He promises to heal and make new (whether now before He comes or
when He actually comes), but to my soul, or as the writer says, to my conscience.
That means the death of Jesus is so effective that as a sacrifice it penetrates far
deeper than any cremated cow water could do in the Old Testament. It goes
deep into the recesses of my conscience so that every sin I’ve ever committed is
forgiven, every secret I keep from God is actually known and already covered in
love, every fear I have is already met with comfort and peace. This is simply
astounding…and scandalous!

2. Jesus offered Himself to purify my conscience from dead works to serve the living
God.

a. The conscience is the organic hard drive where every thing you’ve ever done is
assessed, judged, and stored away.

So because we screw up so much, there’s this constant judging and condemnation going in our
hearts which is like mental spam and malware. It all builds up and gunks up your conscience,
your heart and mind, so that you can’t think straight or feel right. The gunk is called guilt, and
the more it builds up the more it debilitates you, much like the gunk in your computer’s hard
drive slows things down almost to a standstill. Listen to what Albert Barnes said about guilt in
his commentary on Hebrews. This is an amazing description.

“Guilt originates in the soul remorse and despair; guilt makes a man troubled
when he thinks of death and *God’s future+ judgment; it is [only guilt] which
[scares a man almost to death] when he thinks of a holy God; and it is nothing
but guilt that makes the [thought of any afterlife] terrible and awful. If a man
had no guilt he would never dread his Maker, nor would the presence of his God
be ever painful to him (compare Gen_3:6-10); if a man had no guilt he would not
fear to die - for what have the innocent to fear anywhere?...The fear of death,
the *knot in your stomach about+ the judgment to come, and “the dread of God,”
are strong and [undeniable] proofs that every man is a sinner. The only thing,
therefore, which ever disturbs the conscience, and makes death dreadful, and
God an object of aversion, and eternity awful, is guilt. If that is removed, man is
calm and peaceful; if not, he is the victim of wretchedness and despair” (Barnes’
Notes on the New Testament, Heb. 9:14, E-Sword).

Imagine then what it would be like to have that guilt removed! No more fear or dread about
what’s coming next for you? Guess what! It’s been given to you! A clean conscience is yours!
Jesus bought it for you with His blood and offers it to you freely…no charge!
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b. A Christian’s cleansing from sin and guilt and fear is so thorough that this
cleansing includes and affects everything he or she wants to do for God or one
another.

Fear, guilt, and dread used to mark and maim the conscience of a person who is not a Christian.
As a result, it affected everything they did, including the religious stuff they wanted to do, but
felt was worthless and useless.

A Christian however has been so thoroughly cleansed that fear, guilt and dread cannot and
should not maim or manipulate you to do anything you want to do for God.

This is what “dead works” in Hebrews 9:14. They are works you try to do for God but are driven
by fear, guilt or dread. They are not things that are driven from a certainty of freedom, but a
question of acceptance. In other words, when we try to do something for God or someone else
and we do it with a question as to whether or not we will be accepted, it is a dead work. When
we try to do something for God or someone else that without a certainty that we are FREE from
guilt, sin and dread, we are doing a dead work. And Jesus has cleansed us from this!

When He did, we have the very person of God in the Holy Spirit living inside of us telling us
what to do (if we will slow down and listen), equipping us with proper motivation (as we fight
to kill the bad ones), and giving us success!

Listen to the amazing description by Marvin Vincent of what it means to be cleansed from dead
works.

“The effect of Christ's sacrifice upon the conscience transmits itself to [our]
works [,what we do for God], and fills [those efforts and activities] with the living
energy of the eternal Spirit. It changes the character of works by purging them
of the element of death. This element belongs not only to works which are
acknowledged as sinful and are committed by sinful men, but to works which go
under the name of religious, yet are performed in a merely legal spirit” (Vincent’s
Word Studies, Heb. 9:14, E-Sword).

At Church in the Boro we cry, “Down with Dead Works!” How horrid they are! I remember
growing up a pastor’s kid and having to endure Wednesday night prayer meetings. We’d have
hundreds on Sunday morning, but dozens on Wednesday nights. A few were serious about
meeting God and expecting Him to meet with us. But most demonstrated that it was clearly a
religious exercise or duty to be there. Others would just sit it out and talk around the
Wednesday night supper table in the cafetorium, waiting until it was over to attend the best
part of Wednesday nights, which was choir practice.

Praying there during those days was SO difficult. I was bored out of my mind for one reason: it
seemed nobody knew who they were praying to. Without any desire to scorn or mock those

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who came and prayed, let me just say that most prayers were not motivated by real faith.
Nobody expected God to answer when they asked Him for something big, so they settled for
asking about small things like sickness, illnesses, and of course, protection for the missionaries.

Ever been a part of something like that? Perhaps it was praise and worship on a Sunday
morning at a church you attended or visited. You’d stand there behind a wooden bench, hold a
book, and sing like you were at a funeral…because it felt like one. Or maybe it was the offering,
where some people would feel the compulsion to give, but just a little bit, in order that they
wouldn’t be embarrassed that they were the only ones on the row who weren’t giving. It may
have been the children’s ministry. I remember coming home sometimes talking bad about my
Sunday School teacher because they were boring! For some of them I couldn’t tell they
believed in the God they were telling stories about, because they didn’t show it or get me
excited about it.

And lest we be all self-righteous about our experiences, let’s remember how many times we’ve
gotten on our knees never fervently believing God was there listening and waiting to answer us.
Or the many times we’ve read the Bible without a single thought that God wanted to really talk
to us and teach us something. Or the too-many times we’ve shown up to serve another brother
or sister without putting our whole heart into it, wishing we were elsewhere, hoping the
opportunity will end soon. Jesus came to save us from these dead works!

Four Kinds of Dead Works in Our Lives

So what kind of works are considered dead works in our lives? There are mainly four that I
want to see if you identify with.

1. Dull routines: There’s no faith or expectation in the things you do for God.

 Church programs and ministries are littered with events that no longer really serve
any genuine purpose except to get people together and socialize.

 Preaching and leadership seems empty, even though it’s filled with gospel-oriented
content, because there aren’t any people being saved by it.

 What do we do about it? Terry Virgo said it plainly in his book, God’s Lavish Grace.

“We lack the pragmatic ruthlessness that Jesus demonstrated when he encountered
the fruitless fig tree. His instruction was simple and straightforward: ‘Cut it down!’
When the disciples defended the tree, Jesus conceded that it could be tended for
one more year, but then if it remained fruitless it should be axed. It was taking up
space” (p. 65).

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a. Ask yourself what you expect when you attend praise and worship on Sunday
mornings? Give it to God, then look for it to be answered or blessed. Make sure
it never becomes a religious duty.

b. Ask yourself what you expect when you spend time with God alone? Let your
requests be made known to God and expect that the peace He offers will come
to you and guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Expect that His power and
presence will come and give life to your body so you can be fervent for the King.

2. Presumption: You don’t ask God before you decide to do something.

 There are several stories in the Bible about men who made decisions without asking
God first.

 In the book of Joshua, we read about Joshua’s presumption. He defeated Jericho in


the famous battle about which a famous old negro spiritual was written. But he
then went out and attempted to defeat the city of Ai next without first talking to
God. As a result a bunch of Israelites were killed that day.

 In 2 Samuel 24 King David decided to conduct a census. But he didn’t talk to God
about it. As a result, David’s pride was revealed as the real motivation for the
decision, and it ended up resulting in thousands of people dying in a plague.

 The stories aren’t meant to scare you, but teach you what kinds of things –
sometimes monumental consequences – happen when we don’t ask God before we
do something.

 What do you do about this dead work? Ask God’s forgiveness for being prideful and
presumptuous, and walk in the Spirit so you can hear from God on stuff you feel like
you want to do.

3. Uncommanded Works: You take opportunities and make decisions without knowing
whether or not it’s God will.

 A work that God didn’t tell you to do is a dead work. We do them because we don’t
walk in the Spirit, pray in the Spirit, or live by the Spirit. The Spirit is given to us as
the very person of God to communicate with us and hear from us. He is how the life
of grace is lived. He is where the life of grace is lived.

 I can tell you of many a time when I did this simply by walking through what many of
us call, “an open door.” I figure that because it’s open, God opened it in front of me,
and therefore wants me to walk through it. How ridiculous! “Not all opportunities
for Christian service are automatically for you” (Virgo, p. 66).

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 What do we do about this dead work? Don’t do anything without asking God first
and/or without knowing with absolute certainty that He’s pleased with that. The
book of James teaches that whatever is not of faith is sin. So don’t do it if you don’t
know that God has told you to do it.

4. Lack of Love: You participate in religious activities without genuine, fervent love for
the person, people, or opportunity.

 In 1 Corinthians 13 the Apostle Paul tells us that even the supposedly greatest
spiritual or humanitarian acts people perform are absolutely nothing without love.
In fact, if you do anything without the motivation of love for someone else then it
amounts to nothing, and I myself am actually nothing. I actually devalue who I am in
Christ when I do something without love!

 Anything you and I do that is not motivated by love is just religious duty that is
unacceptable to God. What do we do about this? Fight hard for fervent love for one
another so that you’ll always be motivated by love and not a sense of dull, religious
duty.

Why We Perform Dead Works

So why do we do these things in the first place? What is the motivation or cause of them?
Here are five reasons. And if you’ll notice as I deliver them to you, they’re almost a progression
of sorts.

1. Because we don’t have a clear conscience.

 When a person doesn’t maintain the clear conscience God has given them, it can
easily get gunked up again with fear, guilt, and dread. These things create insecurity
in our hearts and we are no longer certain of how God views us, thinks about us, or
feels about us. And we then are no longer certain of our relationship with Him. The
result is that we lose a sense of our security and begin to flail too and fro, almost like
we’re drowning.

2. Because you are trying to make yourself feel better.

 When you’re insecure you’ll do anything to gain that feeling of security back again.
And you’ll end up doing all sorts of things to make yourself feel better. You’ll go out
and buy a new study Bible, purchase a new book, download cool Christian
wallpapers and screensavers, install a new daily Bible reader app, get a Christian
tattoo, go to a Bible study, begin throwing away stuff you think God doesn’t like, buy

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some Christian CD’s, etc. (Obviously you can tell how familiar I am personally with
all the various ways to silence the gunked up conscience!).

3. Because we are trying to justify ourselves.

 When you aren’t secure in God’s grace with a clear conscience, you’ll notice your
performance increasing…in a bad way. That means you’ll notice yourself trying to a
bunch of ministry related activities…for God, of course…without feeling the presence
and pleasure of God in it. That’s because it’s being motivated by a conscience that is
telling you to do more for God so that you can ease the pain in your conscience.

4. Because we are trying to impress others…or even God.

 When we are not secure in God’s grace through a clear conscience, He ceases to
become the goal and object of our affection. You’ll generally notice a shift in your
attention moving away from God and to other people. You’re constantly searching
for security, and you’ll begin looking for it in friendships or in actions that make
other people notice you, how gifted you are, what all you can do, what you’ve
already done, etc.

5. Because we are manipulated through false guilt.

 When we are insecure in God’s grace, not maintaining a clear conscience, it is so


easy to then become manipulated. This is how hundreds of thousands of Christians
become duped and trapped into manipulative religious systems and denominations.
They desperately want freedom, and Satan tells them that the place to get it is in a
prison of sorts where someone else controls them and tells them what to do.

 We can all relate to guilt manipulation. You hear that a group of people are doing
something amazing for God. Each person in the room or around the table shares a
testimony. Almost everyone stands up and shares a praise or prayer request or
word or prophecy or a tongue. And what happens? You feel peer pressure and are
tempted to stand up and share something because everyone else is doing it.

 Or worse, someone actively puts pressure on you to do something, to participate in


some way with what’s going on, because “everyone else is doing it.” In cases like
this there is only one thing to do: be secure in your standing before God, be
untroubled by the attack on your conscience, and stand your ground with a clear
conscience (Virgo, p. 68). You don’t have to do it unless you know for certain God
wants you to.

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Conclusion: What it Means to Serve the Living God

How do we overcome dead works then? The writer of Hebrews 9:14 tells us in the closing part
of the verse, “to serve the living God.” That’s the reason we were given a clean and clear
conscience. What does this mean? Three things in closing.

1. Expect that God wants you to be zealous for a good kind of works.

 The Apostle Paul has written in Titus 2:14 that Jesus is seeking a people who are,
“zealous for good works.” This means fiery hot, passionate for doing good things.
So never say or believe that scandalous grace means you don’t work hard for God. It
just means you work hard with a clear conscience, not out of fear, guilt, or dread.

 Jesus Himself told us in the Sermon on the Mount that we are to, “let your light
shine before men so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in
heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Your good works are a pathway to some people coming to
salvation in Jesus!

 This means working hard at doing good things. Jesus also said in John 9:4, “We
must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.* The night is
coming, and then no one can work” (NLT).

2. Seek the rewards God wants to give you for those good works.

 Jesus also said, at the end of the Bible, “Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward
with me to repay all people according to their deeds” (Rev. 22:12, NLT). It is very
evident in this verse that King Jesus is interested in your good works. It is also clear
that, “He calls you to work in such a way that will bring glory to him and in such a
way that he is able to reward you when Jesus returns” (Virgo, p. 70).

 I wish I had time to break open the teaching on rewards, but that would take an
entire message. I’d challenge you to do a study in the NT on the word “rewards”
and see if you see what I see. And here’s what I see: when King Jesus comes back
again He’s going to welcome us to Himself and embrace us. Then He’ll conduct a
meticulous inspection of our works. Those that were dead works will be thrown out.
Those that were good works will be rewarded. Some will suffer loss of rewards in
this moment. Others will suffer greater loss. What will be your situation?

3. Maintain the right motivation for the good works you do.

 The best way to guarantee a pile up of rewards for good works is to maintain a
proper motivation for doing them in the first place. “God is interested not only in
your doing good deeds, he is also painstakingly interested in your motivations for

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doing them” (Virgo, p. 71). That’s where the root of the reward is located for each
of us.

 Jesus’ judgment of our works is based on motivation, so run as fast and far away
from dead works as you possibly can. Don’t let the guilt, manipulation, or fear of an
improperly maintained unclean-yet-already-declared-clean conscience steal away
your rewards!

 King Jesus hates and despises works that are merely external, religious, or dull. This
is where the church of Laodicea found themselves in Revelation 3. They had fallen
asleep spiritually in their lack of love for one another. As a result, Jesus threatened
to shut them down and close the doors. But by God’s grace this is not something we
want to hear from Him here at Church in the Boro! Down with Dead Works!

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