>Would you please explain James 4:17 and "sins of omission?"

James 4:17 says "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin."  The context indicates that the "good" of which he speaksis the Lord's will (Jas. 4:13-15).  To live without ordering one's life after the Lord's will is to sin against the Almighty.  That which the Lord commands of us in His word is "good," and His very commandment obligates us
to do it (cf. Matt. 7:21-23).  To omit the stated will of the Lord from our life, even after knowing what it is, brings us into sin.

At times we hear folks comment on the Lord's will by saying, "But I can't do that!   God shouldn't expect me to do what I can't do!"  Dear friend, 2 Corinthians 8:12 teaches that the Lord does not expect of you anything that you are not able to do.  But, the One who knows our hearts expects to find in our hearts a willingness to do all that we are able to do.  Remember, even the one talent man was blessed with some ability, and his master expected him to use it (Matt. 25:15, 24-27).

A part of the Christian's spiritual growth is the increase of his spiritual capabilities.   An adult can do many things that are beyond the ability of an infant to perform.   So it also is in spiritual matters.  The NT not only affirms the spiritually mature have the capacity for greater service, but that they are responsible for such.   (cf. Heb. 5:12-14; Jas. 3:1)

Every Christian is expected to learn the Scriptures and apply the Lord's will to his life (2 Tim. 2:15; Matt. 7:21-27; 2 Pet. 3:18).  The Bible warns us against sins of ignorance (cf. Lev. 5:17-19).  We will not be able to plead "I didn't know!" before the judgment seat of Christ.  He has fully revealed His will and it is constantly available to us (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  So, instead of seeking comfort in ignorance, it is to our eternal advantage to "understand what the will of the Lord is" that we may do it (Eph. 5:17).

Here are a few NT scriptures which illustrate the sin of omission (Jas. 4:17):
 1)  Luke 10:30-37:  In the parable of the good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite sinned by not doing what they knew to be good and right.  They sinned in failing to love their neighbor.
 2)  Matthew 25:24-30:  The man who received one talent from his master knew he was responsible for using it, but he choose to bury it rather than use it for his master's profit.  He knew to do good, but he did not do it.  Thus, he sinned against his master and was cast into punishment.
 3)  Matthew 25:41-46:  Jesus warns that many will be delivered to everlasting fire because they failed to do what was right toward their brethren.

Life is brief and uncertain.  It is "a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.  Instead you ought to say, "if the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that" (Jas. 4:14-15).  We must always remember to never omit the Lord's will from our lives.  Every God-given responsibility is "good."   We must commit ourselves to "do" them.  (Jas. 4:17)

The "good" the Lord gives us to do includes (but is by no means limited to) such things as:
 1)  Loving God and our neighbors (Lk. 10:25-28).
 2)  Teaching the gospel to others (Heb. 5:12).
 3)  Pressing on to spiritual maturity (Heb. 6:1-3; 1 Pet. 2:1-2).
 4)  Doing good to all men, especially God's people (Gal. 6:10).
 5)  Loving our brethren in deed and truth (1 Jno. 3:17-18).
 6)  Being proper marriage partners (Eph. 5:23-33; 1 Pet. 3:1-7).
 7)  Not forsaking our assembling together to worship the Lord (Heb. 10:24-25).
 8)  Hold fast to what is good and abstain from every form of evil (1 Ths. 5:21-22).

Joe R Price

Bible Answers

Mt. Baker church of Christ