Some things we do simply aren’t worth our energy.
In a letter to his son, Mormon discussed an issue that had caused some contention in the church: Do small children need to be baptized? Mormon responded that baptism is for people who are old enough to know right from wrong. “Little children are alive in Christ,” he said, “For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law;… and unto such baptism availeth nothing” (Moroni 8:22).
But what is the harm in baptizing small children, even if they don’t need it? Mormon says that, if we did this, we would be “putting trust in dead works” (Moroni 8:23)—relying on something which would not produce the intended outcome.
The apostle Paul used the same phrase twice to describe the activities we leave behind as we grow closer to God.
- One of the first principles of the gospel, he said, is “repentance from dead works” (Hebrews 6:1).
- He subsequently assured his readers that Christ could “purge [their] conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14).
To be dead is to be stagnant and motionless, unable to act and to achieve meaningful goals. A dead work, therefore, is a useless activity, which costs time and energy but produces no beneficial outcome.
As we recognize that some of our actions are no longer useful, we leave them behind and adopt better ones. Paul taught that the law of Moses functioned as a “schoolmaster” to bring people to Christ. “But after that faith is come,” he added, “we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:24-25).
The Savior taught the same principle to a group of believers in 1830. He had recently directed Joseph Smith to organize His church, and He had specified that new members would enter the church by baptism. (See Doctrine and Covenants 20:37.) However, some people who had previously been baptized wanted to join the new church without being baptized again. In response to this request, the Savior clarified that He was offering them something new and different from what they had received before. “All old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing, ” He said (Doctrine and Covenants 22:1). Just as the law of Moses had been replaced by a higher law, this new church would enable these people to draw closer to Him than ever before, but only if they were willing to follow His guidance and leave behind practices which would not achieve the same outcome:
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….
Wherefore, enter ye in at the gate, as I have commanded.Doctrine and Covenants 22:2, 4
When the Lord teaches us a “higher, holier way” to operate, we ought to adopt His new teachings and not cling incessantly to our former habits and practices. (See Russell M. Nelson, “Ministering,” General Conference, April 2018 and Russell M. Nelson, “Opening Remarks,” General Conference, October 2018).
Today, I will strive to identify and abandon my “dead works.” I will let go of activities, even activities which may previously have been useful, if they are no longer productive. I will strive to follow the guidance of the Lord as He helps me dedicate time and energy to higher value activities.