Once again we are going to look a little deeper at what it means to do dead works that are neither classified under good or evil, and that makes us religious instead of making us spiritual.
We want to look at two more characteristics of dead works in this study. Before that let us just review what we have already studied in our previous studies. We have been trying to understand what is the difference between a religious Christian and a spiritual Christian? And we have been trying to see how this makes all the difference in the world, because religious Christians will finally become Pharisees, and they are the people who crucified Christ. Spiritual Christians will become like Jesus.
So it is not just a small difference. The Pharisees were not people who were living constantly in adultery, or theft, or murder etc. They were not debaucherous evil worldly people. In fact, they were considered very spiritual by the undiscerning Jews of their time. It is quite likely that even the disciples of Jesus, before they began to follow the Lord, if you had gone up to Peter or James or John, say, 2, 3 years before they met the Lord and asked them, ‘Well Peter, who do you think is a spiritual man that you know in your town?’ I think, Peter would have, perhaps, mentioned some long bearded, old Pharisee who was an elder in the synagogue. And, I think, James and John would have also said the same. Because those are the people whom they respected as leaders; they saw them fasting, they saw them praying, they saw them carrying these little boxes with scripture upon their foreheads. They were so frequently praying in the synagogue, fighting for the truth and standing for the true doctrine. They were reading the scriptures, studying the scriptures, fervently keeping the law. They would have thought that these are spiritual men.
But when Jesus came along and they joined up with Him, and when they heard Jesus denouncing these Pharisees as vipers and deceivers who deserved to go to Hell, they must have been shocked. Only then would their eyes have been opened to see that what they thought was spirituality was actually religiosity; that the people whom they considered to be spiritual were just plain religious. I believe, unless the Holy Spirit opens our eyes, we can make the same mistake; we can be quite sincere like Peter, James and John were, and yet be mistaken.
We have looked at so far, (1) when a person does the Lord’s work, Christian work, Christian activity without joy, it is a dead work; (2) When he does it without love; (3) When he does it without zeal; (4) When he does it without faith; (5) When he does it for his personal gain and honour; (6) When he does those works merely to ease his conscience; (7) When he does it out of fear of divine judgment; and (8) When he does it for the sake of obtaining a reward; All of these would be classified as dead works.
In this study we shall look at two more characteristics of dead works.
(9) Works that are done without bearing our cross daily. Let us look at a verse which many Christians are not familiar with: ‘‘we always bear about in our body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in our body’’ (2 Cor. 4:10). The life of Jesus is the light of the world. If I were to ask you, ‘who is the light of the world?’ what would your answer be? My guess is that 99% of Christians would give the wrong answer. They would say, ‘Jesus is the light of the world.’ Unfortunately that answer would be wrong, and I will show that to you from the Scripture. Pay attention to this. Jesus said in John 9:5, ‘‘While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’’ So when did Jesus say He was the light of the world? – As long as He was in the world.
When He prayed to the Father in John 17, He said to His father, ‘And now, I am no longer in the world. I am leaving this world and I am coming to you.’ Now that Jesus is no longer in the world, but in heaven, who is the light of the world today? He said that as long as He is in the world, He is the light of the world, but He is gone now. But He had said to His disciples in Matthew 5:14, ‘‘You are the light of the world.’’ So what is the correct scriptural answer to this question- who is the light of the world today? The answer is, ‘We, the disciples of Jesus Christ.’ Now that sounds like an awesome claim, but that is exactly what Jesus said. Sometimes we have got to change our way of thinking and make it more in line with scripture.
What does it mean to say we are the light of the world? The Bible says, ‘‘In Jesus Christ was life and that life was the light of men’’ (Jn. 1:4). The world is full of darkness. It is ruled by the prince of darkness – Satan. And in the midst of this darkness God wants the light to shine for Him. Do you think the people in the world can see the life of Jesus in Jesus himself? No, He is in heaven; they cannot see him. Where can they see it then? They have to see it in you and me, as disciples of Jesus Christ. If they don’t see it in us, they will never see it anywhere. In us, in the way they see us react in different situations and behave; in the way they see us handling money and talking to people and behaving; there, people see whether the life of Jesus is being manifested or not.
And here we see Paul saying (2 Cor. 4:10) that ‘‘the life of Jesus is manifested in our mortal flesh.’’ In other words, here is the life coming forth from us, from which come forth certain works. You know the difference between taking a glass of water and pouring out the water and a glass being filled with water from a jug and the glass overflowing with water. Water is getting poured out from the glass in both the cases. What is the difference in its application to our life? Is your service for the Lord is something you are pouring out, or is it the overflow that is coming out of your life, because you are filled with the life of Jesus? There is a lot of difference.
Jesus said, ‘‘If you thirst, and believe in Me, out of your innermost being will flow rivers of flowing water.’’ Now what is the difference between a river flowing and a hand pump through which water is pumped out? There is a world of difference. With many Christians, their service to the Lord can be likened to a hand pump. Yes, some water does come out – there is some type of service. You pump and pump and pump and pump, and some water comes out. But, in the case of Jesus, His service to the Father was not like that. Similarly in the case of a spiritual Christian, his service for his Father and the Lord is not like that; it is an overflow. It is not something poured out or pumped out, it is an overflow, because his life is filled with the life of Jesus.
So how can we come to this life? – Only if we bear the dying of Jesus; take up the cross daily. If I don’t take up the cross daily, the life is not going to flow out from within. Let me give you a practical example. If we merely control our tongues from speaking angrily or our faces from scowling, but we are still boiling with anger and irritation against somebody inside, what are we doing? We are just practicing self-control, and any heathen could do that. You don’t need the Holy Spirit. You don’t need Jesus Christ to do that work within you. You just need to have a lot of self-discipline. Now that is not what Jesus offers us. It is good, but it is not the best. That is all that The Law can produce, but the Holy Spirit has come to bring a death within us so that from us will flow, from within, from our innermost being, the goodness of Jesus. There will be no boiling and irritation inside.
(10) One last characteristic of dead works is works that originate from our own human reasoning. Perhaps, the best example of this would be Martha’s service for the Lord in Bethany, described in Luke 10:38-42. We read that Jesus came to Bethany and Martha served. Now isn’t that a very good thing to do? You know the Lord and His disciples are hungry, I need to go to the kitchen and produce some food for them. She did that work because she felt that was a good work to do. But let me direct you to a scripture which is very sensible: ‘‘The most important thing about a servant is that he does just what his master tells him t’’ (1 Cor. 4:2 Living), and not whatever he feels like doing.
If you have a servant at home, or if you have a servant at office, what do you want him to do? – Just what he feels like? – Even if it is not evil, and just good? Or do you want him to do exactly what you tell him to do? You see there are very few people who understand this. This is the difference between soulish human service and spiritual human service in the will of God. God’s Word divides between the soulish and the spiritual as we read in Hebrews 4: 10, 12. Soulish works are dead works; they are works that originate from my own human reason.
There is an amazing verse written about Jesus in John 5:30; He never did anything on his own initiative. That means He waited to listen to what the Father wanted Him to do, not what He felt like doing. You know, since Abraham wanted to help God, he produced an Ismael, which caused so much confusion. If he had listened to God, he wouldn’t have done that.
Ishmaels are the dead works many Christians are doing today, sincerely wanting to help God, but without seeking the will of God. Now what shall we do? Shall we sit back and do nothing? On the contrary, let us seek God. If you love Him, it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes. We can go forth to doing spiritual works to the glory of God.
This is part of the Basic Christian Teachings Series, a set of 72 short messages presented by Zac Poonen. You can download the audio mp3 files or listen to Basic Christian Teachings by clicking here.