James 4:17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
Ouch! This verse has got to bite any thinking believer. We tend to think of sin in terms of commission, things we do that we shouldn’t, but this is dealing with omission, failing to do things. Actually, there is a very famous story Jesus told that deals with exactly the same thing. At the very last of the story of the judgment of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, Jesus said, “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” (Matthew 25:45) Then those “goats” are sent off to eternal punishment! That actually fits in very well with the even more famous parable of the talents, recorded in verses 14-30 of the same chapter, just ahead of the sheep and the goats. We like to focus on the blessing given the first two servants in that story, but the condemnation of the third servant rose from what he did not do with what had been entrusted to him. We are not to be passive in our faith, expecting everything to be handed to us. It is true that all real power comes from God and we can do nothing without Him, but we are called on to seek Him for the opportunity and the ability to do what He desires with what He provides. James distills all of that down to this one short verse.
I’ve certainly committed sins of commission, actively doing things I knew were not pleasing to God, but I have probably committed far more sins of omission, failing to do what I knew He was indicating to do. Someone has humorously observed that sins of commission are far more fun! However, sin itself is nothing to joke about, because what comes from it is death. (Romans 6:23) Like probably the vast majority of human beings, I tend to be lazy, and as James says, that can generate a lot of sin. I have a tendency to feel that simply knowing Biblical truth is enough, when, as again James points out, knowing it and failing to apply it is just deceiving myself. (James 1:22) I have long felt that verse was written especially for me! All of this said, I still am not to get anxious or frantic. God has told me personally to rest, relax, and rejoice. My heart is to be keyed to Him, desiring to do His will but trusting Him to show me what that is. There are countless “good things” I could be doing, but trying to earn God’s favor is actually the opposite of faith. I am not to draw back from anything He does want me to do, but I’m not to be neurotic about searching for things to do.
Father, thank You for this reminder and clarification. Thank You for the times You have enabled me to be obedient to You, and for Your grace and forgiveness for the times I have failed to do that. Help me hear You more accurately and obey You more completely, living out the Word You have poured into me, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!