The Purging from Dead Works
By Fred O. Blakely
“For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: 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?” (Heb. 9:13-14).
The complete efficacy of Christ’s blood for the cleansing and consecration of the believer is here proclaimed by the Apostle. This effectuality is stressed by its vivid contrast with the deficiency of the ceremonially purifying rites of the Jewish economy which prefigured it. Whereas the foregoing provisions only sanctified “to the purifying of the flesh,” the latter purges “the conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
The Institutions of Reference. The institutions of reference in the context, of course, are those of the Day of Atonement and of the purification from contact with the dead (Lev. 16 and Num. 19). “In addition to the offerings of the Day of Atonement, mention is here made of the red heifer, whose ashes were mixed with water for the purification of such as had been ceremonially defiled by contact with dead bodies. They are classed together because both were general sin offerings for the whole congregation, representing the idea of continual and unavoidable defilement notwithstanding all the daily sacrifices. The difference between them was that the ashes were reserved for use in known cases of constantly recurring defilement, the sin offerings on the Day of Atonement were for general sin and defilement, known or unknown.”
None of these rites, however, could from their very nature avail for more than outward ceremonial cleansing--“the purifying of the flesh”--though they were effective for that. “The blood of ‘bulls and of goats,’ which was presented for the collected guilt of Israel once a year, consecrated the Jews ceremonially to the worship and service of Jehovah. In like manner, the sprinkling of the ‘ashes of an heifer,’ mixed with water, removed legal defilement from the person who had touched a dead body (cf. Num. 19:1-22).
The Point of Stress. The basic point of emphasis in Paul’s citation of these Jewish rites, as we have said, is the complete efficacy of our Lord’s blood to purge the conscience, not just the flesh, “from dead works to serve the living God.” The individual contrasts he makes are these: “1) It was the blood, not of beasts that perish, but of Christ Himself—the Christ, the Hope of Israel, whose Divine prerogatives have been set forth in the preceding chapters. 2) He offered Himself. His offering was a voluntary self-oblation, not the bloodshedding of passive victims. 3) His offering was really ‘without spot,’ in the sense of sinless--the only sense that can satisfy Divine justice--symbolized by the absence of material blemish in the ancient sacrifices. 4) And this He did ‘through the eternal Spirit,’ or that Divine element of life in Christ distinct from the human nature which He assumed of the seed of Abraham and David, in virtue of which He rose from the dead (I Pet. 3:18).”
The blessed result of this Divine sacrifice for sin is the cleansing of the conscience of those who receive it, not the purifying of the flesh. “Our conscience is satisfied--satisfied because it knows God is satisfied. The atonement, then, meets every requirement of the Divine law; not even God’s righteousness could demand greater. In it every claim of our conscience is intelligently and abundantly met. Sin separates between God and us. But, with a conscience satisfied that sin is put away, we can look into God’s face, venture to His side, bow at His feet, confide in His welcome. To the question of the Apostle, ‘How much more shall the blood of Christ purge your conscience?’ the utmost thought of man can give no answer.”
The Subject of Purgation. The subject of the conscience’s purgation deserves special note, since it is generally somewhat obscure. The blood of Christ purifies the conscience from “dead works,” it is declared. This phrase occurs but one other time in the Scriptures--in Hebrews 6:1, where reference is made to “repentance from dead works.” “In both places, it seems to signify such works as deserve death--works of those who were dead in trespasses, and dead in sins, and dead by sentence of the law, because they had by these works broken the law.” “As the touching of a dead body gave legal uncleanness, so meddling with sin gives a moral and real defilement, and fixes it in the very soul. But the blood of Christ has efficacy to purge it out.”
It appears to be inconsistent with the whole of Scripture’s revelation on the subject to infer that the expression “dead works” refers simply to any and all works, in themselves either good or evil, which were done in unbelief. There, thus, is no ground for assuming that “works of righteousness” performed before one receives Christ defile the conscience, or that they must be repented of in coming to Him, except in such cases where they were deliberately substituted for the “righteousness of God,” which is in the Savior alone (II Cor. 5:21; Tit. 3:5). Christ, it will be recalled, did not demand that the rich young ruler renounce and repent of his having kept the law, but that he take up the cross and follow Him in addition to the ruler’s claim to have fulfilled the law (Mk. 10:17-22).
Neither did He reprove the Jews for citing the Capernaum centurion’s good works in building for them a synagogue in connection with their request that He heal the centurion’s servant (Lk. 7:1-5). The subject of allusion in the term “dead works” seems to be made clear by other Scriptures. In Romans 13:12, they are called “the works of darkness,” and the sanctified are called upon to cast them off, putting on in their stead “the armor of light.” Ephesians 5:11 styles them “the unfruitful works of darkness,” which are to be reproved by the saints.
“Wicked works” is the designation given to them in Colossians 1:21, where they are said to have alienated from God, which representation of them accords with that of Hebrews 9:14 as defiling to the conscience. Galatians 5:19 simply calls them “the works of the flesh,” and Romans 6:21, “those things whereof ye are now ashamed,” the end of which is death. John says they are “the works of the Devil,” for the destruction of which Christ was “manifested” (I Jn. 3:8; cf. v. 5).
The Main End Sought.The principal end sought in the purging of the conscience by Christ’s blood must not be lost sight of. It is the freeing of His people from the power of guilt so that they may “serve the living God.” A defiled conscience is an effective restrainer from the filial service of Him which the divine Father seeks. People must come to realize that they are fully accepted in Christ--“without fault”--before the holy God (Rev. 14:5)--if they are to draw near and adequately serve Him in the full assurance of faith and possession of “the spirit of sonship” (Rom. 8:15, RSV). The purging of the conscience by our Lord’s precious blood is designed for, and will accomplish, that good purpose.
That blood is abundantly sufficient to “enable us to serve the living God, not only by purging away that guilt which separates between God and sinners, but by sanctifying and renewing the soul through the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit. We have been purchased by God for this purpose, that we might be enabled to serve Him in a lively manner.” So Titus 2:14: “Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a people for His own possession, zealous of good works”(ASV).
“The conscience which is defiled by dead works sheds a clear and penetrating light on the disqualifying nature of sin, and the exclusion from the service of God which it produces. The precious blood of Christ, which cleanses the conscience, makes it full of the life of love, gratitude, and filial service. The fruit which comes from such life is holiness now, and hereafter it is everlasting life. It opens the prospect of fellowship with God, who is ‘the living God,’ and communes with His people from off the mercy seat. The life of those who are forgiven turns to God, and the living God holds fellowship with them, which is the privilege of believers now, and the pledge of its continuance in the world to come.”
Thus, is fulfillment of the Scriptures realized in the believing individual. In his consciousness of liberty from sin, he casts off “the spirit of bondage,” which engenders a cringing fear of God. In its place, comes “the spirit of adoption,” or “sonship,” whereby he not only cries, “Abba, Father,” but serves God as a son of the Divine household who has been made “free indeed” by Christ, its Head (Jn. 8:31-36; Rom. 8:15, ASV, RSV). In other words, having received “the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” he simply conducts himself accordingly, as he goes about his Father’s business. So is accomplished in us who have “received the atonement” (Rom. 5:11), “the mercy promised to our fathers” in the Abrahamic covenant (Lk. 1:68-73). That mercy is that “we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve Him [God] without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life” (vv. 74-75).
“The subject of access is the nerve-thought of this whole section of the treatise (Heb. 8-11). The worshipper under the new covenant, being cleansed through the ‘one offering’ of Christ (ch. 10:1), is admitted into the immediate Presence of Jehovah. He stands within ‘the second veil’ (ch. 9:3), that veil being now ‘rent in twain’ (Mt. 27:51; Rom. 5:1-2).
Now, he has full freedom to serve God. A guilt-stained soul cannot do that, but a spirit that is washed in the blood of Christ’s atonement begins immediately to be of use to its Redeemer. Our High Priest has shed His blood, not only to render us safe, but to make us holy; not only to deliver us from God’s wrath, but from our own wickedness. So soon as Christ destroys ‘the body of sin’ within us (Rom. 6:6), we discover that it is our ‘reasonable service’ to present our persons ‘a living sacrifice’ (Rom. 12:1).”
At the Lord’s Table. The Lord’s table, where we assemble every first day of the week to corporately eat and drink of Him, is an especially suitable place to think on these things. As we rejoice in God through Christ, let us thank Him for the cleansed conscience which He has given us by the Savior’s blood, and resolve anew to fervently serve Him with our spirits in the gospel of His Son (Rom. 1:9; cf. Phil. 3:3).