Monday, April 26, 2010

What are dead works?

I was reading section 22 of the Doctrine & Covenants and I ran across that term “dead works”.
Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Manchester, New York, April 1830. HC 1: 79–80. This revelation was given to the Church in consequence of some who had previously been baptized desiring to unite with the Church without rebaptism.

1 Behold, I say unto you that all old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing; and this is a new and an everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning.
2 Wherefore, although a man should be baptized an hundred times it availeth him nothing, for you cannot enter in at the strait gate by the law of Moses, neither by your dead works.
3 For it is because of your dead works that I have caused this last covenant and this church to be built up unto me, even as in days of old.
4 Wherefore, enter ye in at the gate, as I have commanded, and seek not to counsel your God. Amen. (D&C 22:1-4)
The term that interested me was “dead works”. The general gist that I get from this chapter is that temporary rules (like the Law of Moses) are dead works, whereas the more ancient works are more enduring.

I decided I wanted to learn more about what “dead works” meant. So I went to the index and the topical guide to see if I could get some perspective. Here are some scriptures I found:
22 For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing—
23 But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works. (Moroni 8:22-23)
This suggests that dead works are those that are done upon those who don’t need it. Mormon’s letter to Moroni names little children and those without the law as those who don’t need baptism. They simply don’t know enough to be accountable. Another example of dead works would probably be duplications of vicarious temple ordinances.
27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.
28 Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?
29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. (John 6:27-29)
This suggests that live works are strongly coupled with belief in Christ and that dead works are those that are dissociated from Christ or done without belief in Christ.
10 And if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it.
11 But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return. (3 Nephi 27:10-11)
This suggests to me that dead works tend to spiritual death, which makes them the works of men or the devil. On the positive end, I think there is a thought that is very significant—“[if] the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it.” This indicates that live works are actually the Father’s works—what He would do if He were doing it. It could mean that the church is given examples to follow from the Father and it could mean that the live works act as signs as well.

The labour of the righteous tendeth to life: the fruit of the wicked to sin. (Proverbs 10:16)

This shows us that live works bring us closer to eternal life (enlarging our souls, enhancing our spirituality), while dead works actually bring with them a tendency towards sin.
24 For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away:
25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you. (1 Peter 1:24-25)
Even the works of men, well-intentioned as they are, are dead works. If our works are to endure, they must have their foundation in the gospel with the power of the priesthood.
Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy…(2 Nephi 9:51)
This tells us that dead works do not (indeed cannot) satisfy us. (And they certainly don’t satisfy the Lord.) On the other hand, live works will satisfy us, as the rest of the verse says, as shown below:
…come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted, and let your soul delight in fatness. (2 Nephi 9:51)
And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism—All those who [:]
humble themselves before God,
and desire to be baptized,
and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits,
and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins,
and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ,
having a determination to serve him to the end,
and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins,
shall be received by baptism into his church. (D&C 20:37)
Look at the verbs in that list. Humble, desire, come forth, witness, are willing, having a determination, truly manifest. These are the doings of live works preliminary to baptism. And really, they aren’t much different from the live works we should have after baptism as well. Dead works would be the opposite: puffing up, apathy, heart hearts, denying the Spirit, unwillingness, uncommitted, falsely manifesting.
6 For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.
7 For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.
8 For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.
9 And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such. (Moroni 7:6-9)
This tells us that unless real intent is attached to our works, they don’t do us any good, which means they are dead works. I think this was given us so that we can learn to monitor the intentions behind our works and pray for a purer intent if we find ourselves lacking. On the more positive side, when the works are done with real intent we DO profit from them, which I think means that we are sanctified by those works. (For example, when our service is done with real intent, we come out of the temple better people than we were when we went in.)
And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever. (Isaiah 32:17)
This shows us that live works are those that give us peace and assurance and that dead works will leave us uncertain.
For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:14)
This seems to suggest that God will also judge every religious work, whether it was a dead work or a live work.

In summary, it seems that for religious works to be live rather than dead, they have to have these characteristics:
  • They are built upon the Lord’s works
  • They are according to the Lord’s eternal word
  • They are founded on the gospel
  • They are done to those that have been given the law and who need it
  • They are done with real intent
  • They are done with belief in Christ
Live works are promised these blessings:
  • The worker is given peace and assurance forever
  • The worker is satisfied
  • The Lord considers the work righteous
  • The worker is sanctified


Michelle said...

I just found your blog through "We Talk of Christ, We Rejoice in Christ", and I am so excited.
I love your writing style, and that combined with your content makes me want to really study scripture better.
I have read the preface and first chapter of your book on Isaiah for teens, and it is excellent. I took Bro. Ludlow's Isaiah class ELEVEN (yikes) years ago, and have been amazed ever since at how much new stuff I get every time I read Isaiah, but also amazed at how much I still don't get. Anyway. I love your book so far, and have tried in various browsers to access the pdf version so I can print it, but without success. It just pulls up a freehostia page, which remains blank. What am I doing wrong?
Thank you for sharing your insights. So uplifting!

Michaela Stephens said...

Thanks Michelle! I've sent you a PDF of it.

Yup, we have to give Victor Ludlow a lot of credit for that Isaiah course.

Anonymous said...

imo, dead works means an action which avails/profits nothing.
Examples are:
baptizing little children
being baptized while unrepentant
partaking of the sacrament unworthily
praying without faith

The Law of Moses was not dead works at the time it was given. It pointed the minds to Christ.
The verse simply says that you cannot enter at the *gate* by
1. law of moses
2. dead works
The verse does not equate 1 and 2.
And what is the gate?
2 Ne 31:17:
"gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water and ...[baptism] by fire and by the Holy Ghost."

Michaela Stephens said...

I think you are right, Anonymous.