Sins of Omission

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17).

- James 4:17

Two thousand years ago, James, the brother of our Lord, was called to be a leader in Christ’s church and to pastor a community of believers from a Jewish background. This community found itself facing many trials as a result of its faith in Christ.

Being well-versed in the Old Testament, this audience should have known that God leads His people through trials in order to bring their faith to maturity (1:1–4). As God’s children become doers of the Word in the face of difficulty, this maturity will come (vv. 5–27).

True faith manifests itself in the profession of faith and the performance of good works. Abraham exemplifies this, and new covenant believers show that they have such faith when they treat all Christians equally and use their tongues for encouragement (2:1–3:12).

Such good works demonstrate the possession of true wisdom and not the arrogant, self-confident wisdom of this fallen world (vv. 13–18). However, in their trials, the original audience of this epistle fell into a confidence based on worldly wisdom and needed a call to humble themselves in repentance (4:1–10). This repentance manifests itself just as true faith does — through obedience to the royal law and humble trust in God’s providence (vv. 11–16).

Our obedience in no way makes us able to be counted as righteous in God’s sight, but it does demonstrate that true faith, the faith that does justify us, is present (2:18). Today’s passage discusses obedience to God’s royal law by reminding us that if we do not do the things we know we should do, we have sinned (4:17).

Having been told not to be arrogant in our plans for the future (vv. 13–16), we have no excuse for ignoring the fact that God decrees whatsoever comes to pass. We know that the righteous rest in God’s sovereignty rather than in the self; thus we have no excuse when we do not acknowledge His control over all our planning. This verse also applies to every teaching of the Lord. We sin not only when we expressly disobey a command but also when we fail to do what we know the Lord has commanded. We servants who know God’s will and fail to do it will be judged accordingly (Luke 12:47).

Coram Deo

When we confess our sins before the Lord, it is easy to remember our flagrant violations of His law. Harder to see, however, are those times when we have known what is right and yet have not done it. Perhaps we ignored a neighbor who was in need. Maybe we did not offer words of encouragement at the right time. Perhaps we neglected to take a stand for the kingdom. In prayer, ask God to forgive your sins of omission and to enable you always to do what you know is right.

Passages for Further Study

Jer. 17:19–27
Joel 2:12–13
Luke 10:25–37
2 Peter 2:21

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