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What does "purge your conscience from dead works" mean in

Hebrews 9:14 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?

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  1. What are dead works? Are they same or related to ones in

Hebrews 6:1 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,

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  1. How does "dead works" affect conscience?

  2. How does the blood purge our conscience from dead works?

  3. How does such purging help us to serve the living God?

9 Answers 9

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The phrase "dead works" (νεκρῶν ἔργων) only occurs in Heb 6:1 and 9:14. Commentators have offered several views about what these are such as:

  • Sinful acts
  • Righteous acts done to earn salvation
  • Works done by people before conversion, ie, by the "carnal mind"

Whatever we make of these dead works, they are something that requires repentance as both references in Hebrews makes clear. Further, since the author of Hebrews is clearly addressing converted Christians, dead works clearly refer to something that Christians are guilty of.

Therefore, I am inclined to think that "dead works" are the sort of thing that Christians are notorious for - works to earn salvation which comes by grace alone (Eph 2:8-10). Not that works should be ignored as this wonderful text makes clear, but that, "by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified", (Rom 3:20 Gal 2:16). See also James 2:20, 26 which makes clear that good works are a result of salvation not its cause. In the poetic language of some preachers, "good works are the fruit of Christ's salvation, not its root".

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  • Given the intended audience of Hebrews, I would assume this is a reference to pharisaic rules.
    – Robert
    Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 5:40
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First, the Greek word nekros as used here means: causing death and misery, fatal, having a destructive power (Hebrews 6:1; 9:14). (Source Interlinear for the Rest of Us by William D. Mounce) Below are comments from three different study Bibles on Hebrews 9:14:

Hebrews 9:14 NIV: How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

NIV Comment: Christ offered the sacrifice, and he was the sacrifice itself. Because he was unblemished in his entirety, not just superficially, his blood removes sin’s defilement from the very core of our beings.

Hebrews 9:14 NLT: Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God.

NLT Comment: Christ’s sacrifice, unlike the sacrifices of the old covenant, removes the paralyzing guilt that keeps us from God by decisively cleansing us from sinful deeds – literally from dead works.

Hebrews 9:14 ESV: “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

ESV Comment: Jesus was both the high priest and the sacrifice. Mosaic sacrifices did not affect the conscience, but Christ’s sacrifice purifies the innermost being. Salvation brings people into God’s service. God is called “living” elsewhere, indicating his eternality; here there is also a contrast with the “dead works”.

ESV Dead Works: Deeds that cannot save due to human sinfulness. Cross-reference to Hebrews 6:1: Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God... (see Hebrews 9:14)

It seems clear that the expression “dead works” in Hebrews 6:1 is linked to the same expression in Hebrews 9:14. Anything contaminated by sin is “dead”. There is no longer any need for the believer to return to the elementary doctrines because forgiveness for sin and dead works has been granted.

What are “dead works”? Anything (sins and works) done prior to the new birth. Before, we are dead in our sins, incapable of doing anything to save ourselves from the righteous judgment to come. Nothing we say or do will bring us life because we stand condemned.

How does “dead works” affect conscience? Those who feel the burden of their guilt are unable to approach a holy and righteous God because of their guilty conscience. They are spiritually paralyzed under the crushing weight of condemnation.

How does the blood purge our conscience from dead works? The guilty sinner who repents and comes to saving faith in Christ Jesus is no longer condemned. The blood of Christ removes sin’s defilement from the very core of our being. We are once and for all accepted in the Beloved having been sanctified by the Word (John 17:17) and by the power of God the Father (Jude 1), in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:2) and through the Spirit (1 Peter 1:2).

How does such purging help us to serve the living God? Instead of being condemned by our past sinful “dead works” we can rightly claim to be God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). We have been set free to worship and glorify God, with a clear conscience, knowing that our lives have been transformed through the power of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

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  • 1
    Also see Hebrews 4 (culminating in vs 10) to incorporate the idea of entering into God's rest. Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 2:59
  • @Mike Borden Very relevant - thank you.
    – Lesley
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 7:58
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I am answering the main question only. Only one answer so far has included a most significant aspect of the "dead works" of Hebrews 9:14 and 6:1. However, given that I know the OPs exact date of death, I will not deal with the other 3 related questions, as the OP will not benefit from my input, but it might be helpful to readers for this important point to be stressed.

The letter to Christian Hebrews dealt a lot with the legal aspects of Christ's role in heaven, after his resurrection and return there. The writer made contrasts, e.g. contrasting Christ with angels. He especially contrasted the legal aspects of the old covenant, compared with those of the new covenant. A main point was that in a will (a 'testament'), the will cannot come into effect until the death of the testator. So, once Christ had died, the new covenant (testament) came into force. Also, that meant that the previous covenant had ended - Hebrews 9:15-24). And works of the law were now dead and useless to Christians.

"For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him; Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body... For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace." Romans 6:5-14

"The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law." 1 Corinthians 15:56. That is why Christians have to die to sin, and when that happens, they are released from the law, and its curse, and set free to live for Christ with a cleansed conscience.

"For the law of the Spirit of the life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death, for what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit... But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone... For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." (Romans 8:2-4 & 9:31,32 & 10:4,5)

Therefore, the meaning of Hebrews 9:14 is that the shed blood of Christ cleansed believers from a bad conscience, and they keep their conscience clean by never returning to dead works of law-keeping. "For the law made nothing perfect" - Hebrews 7:19 But Christians have been perfected by the blood of Christ.

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What does "purge your conscience from dead works" mean in

Hebrews 9:14 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?

The expression "dead works" appear at Hebrews 9:4 and 6:1 and mean the same thing.

"Dead Works"

Dead works- Anxieties of the worldly cares.

Most people are virtually consumed by "the worries of the world"—the pressures of making a living, paying bills, getting to and from work, raising children, taking care of home, car, and other possessions.​ Jesus said:

Matthew 13:22 (NASB)

22 "And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful."

Whilst many others are truly busy and productive , problems from such activities rob them of their rest at night, their mind is not at rest . The wise King Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 2:22-23 (NET Bible)

Painful Days and Restless Nights

22 "What does a man acquire from all his labor and from the anxiety that accompanies his toil on earth? 23 For all day long his work produces pain and frustration, and even at night his mind cannot relax. This also is futile!"

Dead Works- of the flesh

Before accepting Christ, some in the first century had engaged in the dead " works of the flesh," namely, Paul wrote:

Galatians 5:19-21 (NASB)

19 "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."

Unchecked, such works would have led to their spiritual death. Mercifully, though, those Christians had turned from their destructive course, repented, and been “washed clean.” They thus enjoyed a clean standing with God.

1 Corinthians 6:11 (NASB)

11 "Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."

Dead works-Jews converted to Christianity:

Paul’s letter was primarily addressed to Jewish believers, many of whom had no doubt adhered strictly to the Mosaic Law before accepting Christ. Of what dead works, then, had they repented? Surely there was nothing wrong with their having followed the rituals and dietary requirements of the Law. Was not the Law "holy and righteous and good"? (Romans 7:12) Yes, but at Romans 10:2- 3, Paul said regarding the Jews:

Romans 10:2-3 (NASB)

2 "For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. 3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God."

Most Jews mistakenly believed that by meticulously following the Law, they could earn their salvation. Paul, explained that "a man is declared righteous, not by works of the Law, but through faith in Christ."

Galatians 2:16 (NASB)

16 "Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified."

Futile activity.

Such futile activity or "dead works" should be of great concern to a Christian in as much God will repay each one according to his works,therefore Christians should not waste time on dead works, the Psalmist wrote:

Psalm 62:12 (NASB)

12 "And loving kindness is Yours, O Lord, For You recompense a man according to his work."

How does the blood (of Christ)purge our conscience from dead works?

We must demonstrate our appreciation of God's gift of the ransom, we can do this by getting to know more about God , the giver of the blood of Christ- "The Ransom" (John 17:3). As you read the scriptures and your knowledge about him deepens your love for Him and his Son Jesus will grow. That love for him will make you want to please him, and you can do this by harmonizing your life according to his commandments:

1 John 5:3 (NASB)

3 "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome".

John 3:16 (NASB)

16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

"He that exercises faith shall not perish but have everlasting life" ,James says that true faith is proved by "works."(James 2:26). One way to show our faith in Jesus , is by doing our best to imitate him, not in just in what we say, but also what we do.

John 13:15 (NASB)

15 "For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you."

How does such purging help us to serve the living God?

It helps, to scrutinize yourself regularly. From time to time, you might ask yourself questions such as: ‘Is preaching the good news and church attendance suffering because I have taken on unnecessary secular work?’ ‘Do I have time for recreation but little time for personal and Christian family study?’ ‘Do I expend much time and energy caring for material possessions but fail to care for needy ones in the church, such as the sick and the elderly?’ The answers to these questions might reveal a need on your part to give greater priority to spiritual works.

Conclusion:

Many"dead works"(not merely sinful works of wrong doing of the fallen flesh) may not be morally wrong in themselves, however they are nonetheless dead if they do not actually add to our life now or gain us favor with God. Such works as ,excessive time spend on- TV watching- hobbies- mundane reading- etc, consume time and energy but produce no spiritual benefits, and do not help us to get closer to God . Compare Ecclesiastes 2:11.

Ecclesiastes 2:11 (NET Bible)

11 "Yet when I reflected on everything I had accomplished and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it, I concluded: “All these achievements and possessions are ultimately profitless— like chasing the wind! There is nothing gained from them on earth.”

The one turning in faith to God through Christ Jesus, repents from all works rightly classed as “dead works,” and thereafter avoids them, his conscience thereby becoming cleansed. Hebrews 9:14.

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I think the real problem we face as Christians is understanding what distinguishes works of the flesh, from works of the Spirit, because outwardly they appear to be the same . The Pharisees were guilty of producing their good works to be seen of men. Therefore the key is in the motivation of our hearts. Are we motivated purely by our love for Christ, or are we motivated by some other motive?

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    – agarza
    Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 3:33
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    Hi Wayne. Thanks for contributing. Your response should try to directly answer at least one of the specific questions asked by the OP.
    – Austin
    Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 4:22
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When our hearts stick to futile and transient things, then our actions comply to our heart's disposition and are also futile and "dead", for they will not edify and build towards eternity, where our true home is.

For instance, if I establish a friendship on the ground of some mercantile interest with a person whom I, otherwise, find quite sleazy, dull and boring, then such a friendship will be finished as soon as such a volatile thing as a mercantile interest will change, so this is a "dead friendship" from the outset. But real friendship is for eternity.

The same with our friendships and companionships with sins - they will not last, for sins will not last, and thus, they are dead. If I am befriended to alcohol being a drunkard, my drinking habits are "dead deeds", for they go to nowhere but towards my self-destruction. But if I accept the Lord's sacrificial redemption through His blood, that is to say, if I, through Him, also die for my sins, then He will be vivified in my heart and will provide His dynamic presence and work - His grace - in me, that I may love already the eternal and imperishable things and also do the deeds that build towards eternity; because, the Lord created my soul in order to dwell and reign in it eternally together with the Father (John 14:23) and the Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), thus non-eternal dwellers of my heart and soul, my sins, are aliens and fake-friends and strangers (that's why the Psalmist says in Psalm 19:13 "from strangers spare your slave") who drag me towards transient and dead deeds that lead not to the Kingdom; but if the Son dwells in me, then my soul has found its true home and true, natural friend who will remain forever (John 8:35).

From this it is clear that the entire modern civilization is against eternity, for it puts the notion of "free self-expression" as something absolute and self-sufficient, forgetting the most important thing, that free self-expression can be both of futile and dead things, and of divine and eternal things, and if the first are not abandoned and the second not embraced, any free self-expressing pal will end up in hell.

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The dead works are the business, employment, tasks, industries of this world that we busy ourselves with, exchanging time given by God for money made by man.

John 7:7 the world can not hate you, but it hates me because I testify that the WORKS of this world are evil.

There is a reason the LORD Yeshua required all of his disciples to quit their jobs and leave all worldly possessions behind to follow Him.

John 6:27 Do not labor for food as the pagans do (natives of this world).

The LORD Yeshua repeatedly promises to provide our earthly needs, while commanding us not to be self reliant but entirely God dependent!

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Work for the LORD=fruitful. Work for Satan=dead/vain.

Conclusion: Self reliance is a punishment from God because of original sin. This punishment is experienced through work/toil to provide for one’s own bodily needs.

The ministry of Christ was not only to save our souls from eternal damnation, but to lift the curse of self reliance for the provision of our needs and to reinstate our right to depend on God for our needs to be met through faith in the LORD Yeshua. Therefore there is now no condemnation(punishment) to them who are in Christ Jesus who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit (Roman’s 8:1)

We are not to exchange time for money nor to put our energy or service to the upkeep or continuance of this world. Reason being, this world belongs to Satan according to Luke 4:5-6, and satan enslaves those who “work” in this world through money-psalm 22:7.

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Roy Hession's book, "Shadow to Substance", treats this verse differently than any of the answers so far. He explains the type referred to as the fascinating one of the ashes of a heifer. These were stored to be applied as needed later for matters not of sin but of ceremonial uncleanness. Hence, we may trust the surpassing quality of Jesus' blood to much more put to rest our conscience regarding the futile things we have attempted to do and gain peace by, only to find ourselves as troubled as before.

Thus dead works are not so much sinful as foolish and ineffective.

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Jaames famously claims that "faith apart from works is dead" (James ch2 v26, RSV).

I suggest that this statement is a conscious reversal of a slogan to the effect that "works apart from faith are dead", and that this otherwise unknown slogan lies behind the reference to "dead works".

Either way, the slogan is a metaphor based on the idea that an organic body does not move unless some spirit within prompts it to move. It seems to me that "Works is a dead body which needs to be moved by faith" is a much more plausible and visually effective image than James' "Faith is a dead body which needs to be moved by works", and that's what makes me think it would have been the original version.

In other words, "dead works" are "works not animated by the Holy Spirit" and "cleanse yourselves from dead works" is another way of saying "give up your sinful works, and give up trying to be saved by your good works, and look to be saved by your faith instead".

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