By: Gary L. Hutchens
James wrote, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (Jas. 4:17). James could not have been much clearer- not doing what we know we should do can constitute sin! Such sins are called sins of omission. Why did James include that verse in his letter? Because James was writing God’s word (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and God guided him to write exactly what He wanted James to write (2 Pet. 1:20-21).
Many passages of scripture warn against doing certain things that constitute sin. “You shall have no other gods before Me” “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:3, 7, 13-15). These warnings, and many others like them, describe sins of commission.
Sins of commission are overt, sinful acts. They’re sinful because they’re something we do that we’re not supposed to do. Sins of omission, on the other hand, are acts left undone, things that God expects us to do, but we don’t do them. They’re sinful because they’re things we don’t do that we’re supposed to do.
Both types of sins represent disobedience. Sins of commission are acts of outright disobedience to clear and direct commands to abstain from this or that. Sins of omission demonstrate disobedience to a clear instruction to do something.
Sins of omission are covered under Jesus’ admonition, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Jn. 14:15). To “keep” the Lord’s commandments is to obey His commandments. To not obey is to be disobedient to His commandments. Some people feel that they’re basically righteous simply because they abstain from overtly unrighteous acts such as murder, theft, lying and using vulgar language. But righteousness is equally demonstrated through active obedience to commandments that demand action.
The most basic sin of omission is the failure to repent of one’s sins, openly confess faith in Christ and surrender to Him in baptism for the remission of one’s sins (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38). Willful neglect to worship God with the church can also be a sin of omission (Heb. 10:23-25). A lack of active service and dedication to Christ (Rom. 12:1-2), not being involved in the “good works” God has designed for us to be involved in as faithful Christians (Eph. 2:10; Tit. 2:14) can be another sin of omission.
Which is worse, sins of commission or sins of omission? While different types of sin, they’re both sinful. And, “the wages of sin is death!” (Rom. 6:23). Paul’s warning makes no distinction between types of sin; he simply states that sin not repented of and not sought forgiveness for leads to eternal spiritual death.
We would do well to carefully weigh the implications of James’ admonition: “to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin”…
Gary L. Hutchens