In the previous study I looked at the reasons why we have hope of eternal life through our faith in Jesus Christ and his resurrection. In that study, I touched briefly on the fact that James adamantly tells us that having faith without works is dead. But in the book of Hebrews it tells us that we are to repent from dead works – this is actually said to be one of the foundational principles of our faith. One person seems to be telling us that we must include “works” in our faith, while the other is saying that we need to repent from our dead works. I want to say a little more about this, and try to clear up some of the apparent contradictions. It’s not talking about the same type of works here. It’s easier to understand if we remember that besides there being two different types of works, there are also two different covenants(also called testaments) – the old and the new.
James tells us that faith without works is dead.
James 2: 19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
Jesus tells us here that not only is He our Lord, but that we must follow his commandments.
Luke 6: 46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
John also tells us that we need to keep God’s commandments – or “works”.
1John 5: WHOSOEVER believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. 4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. 5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
John gives us a hint as to what those specific commandments/works are in the previous verses, but Jesus in his own words also very broadly explains what they are here.
John 15: 9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. 10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. 11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. 12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
If there is still a question in your mind as to what these commandments – or “works” – are, look at these two verses that more clearly tell us.
Paul tells us in Galatians.
Galatians 5: 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
And James tells us the same thing.
James 2: 8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
Now that we know in general what the “works” of faith are that James spoke about, let’s contrast all of the previous verses with the writer of Hebrews telling us that we must repent from dead works.
Heb 6:THEREFORE leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit.
Let’s now look at the type of “works” it is that we are supposed to repent from.
Heb 8: 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. 13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away………Heb 9: 8 The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: 9 Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; 10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation………14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
Now we can see from the previous verses that the type of works that are dead – being of an old covenant – are the type that would effectually make you righteous by obeying God’s commandments along with the sacrificing of animals, while the other type – the new covenant – makes you righteous through the grace of God if we choose to obey Jesus as our Lord in faith. Notice here too that having a clear conscience plays a big role in our moving on to “perfection”, which is talked about as being the next step in a Christian’s life after building the foundation.
Each of the two covenants comes with it’s own set of rules so to speak, and only through the new covenant can we truly be made righteous before God, and thus have the hope of receiving eternal life. Remember that a covenant is an agreement between two or more parties. Just like they had to follow their part of the agreement in the old covenant – that is to obey the commandments of God – in return for the promises that God made to them, our part of agreeing to this new covenant is to obey the words of Jesus Christ(Mat 28: 18-20), in return for this hope that he has given us of eternal life. Of course there is a little bit more to it, but this should give us some more understanding from which to build a good foundation.