By Pastor Glenn Pease
We are tempted to do evil, but seldom think of the reality that we are also tempted to not do good. It is possible to be doing nothing wrong, and still be living in sin, because of
what we are not doing. This is the surprising truth that James hits us with in 4:17 where he says, "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins." Doing nothing can be a worse sin than doing something that is bad. This is because the omission of good is the commission of evil. This text puts an end to any idea of sinless perfection, for it is not likely that anyone can live sinless for very long in the light of this verse. We can avoid doing any evil, but this will not render us sinless, for their is good we ought to do that we are not doing, and this too is sin. This text puts us all in the category of sinners. A Sunday School teacher asked her class, "Does anyone here know what we mean by sins of omission?" A small girl replied: "Aren't those the sins we should have committed, but didn't?" Lets clarify this issue so nobody has that kind of understanding.
It is a sin to lie, but it is also a sin not to tell the truth when you should. It is a sin to steal from another, but it is also a sin not to give to another when it is in your power to do so for their good. Prov. 3:27 says, "Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act." If you can do good and don't, it is a sin. It is a sin to commit adultery, but it is also a sin to not meet the sexual needs of your mate which can lead to adultery. In other words, the sin of omission can be the major cause for the sin of commission. Because you did not see that a man had food and shelter for his family, he had to rob and steal for these provisions. The doing of nothing on your part was a major cause for the doing of evil on his part. Both are a part of the sin problem. It is not just the one guilty of breaking a law, but those guilty of not meeting a need that leads to that sinful action who are a part of the total picture of evil. Matthew Henry wrote, " Omissions are sins which will be brought into judgment, as well as commissions. He that does not the good he knows should be done, as well as he who does the evil he knows should not be done, will be condemned."
Margaret E. Sangster
It isn't the thing you do dear,
It's the thing you leave undone
That gives you a bit of a heartache
At setting of the sun.
The tender word forgotten,
The letter you did not write,
The flowers you did not send, dear,
Are your haunting ghosts at night.
The stone you might have lifted
Out of a brother's way;
The bit of heartsome counsel
You were hurried too much to say;
The loving touch of the hand, dear,
The gentle, winning tone
Which you had no time nor thought for
With troubles of your own.
Those little acts of kindness
So easily out of mind,
Those chances to be angels
Which we poor mortals find-
They come in night and silence,
Each sad, reproachful wraith,
When hope is faint and flagging,
And a chill has fallen on faith.
For life is all to short, dear,
And sorrow is all too great,
To suffer our slow compassion
That tarries until too late;
And it isn't the thing you do, dear,
It's the thing you leave undone
Which gives you heartache
At the setting of the sun.
In 1744 Louis XV of France was sick and all the nation was weeping and in prayer for his recovery. The people lived in hope that the young king would bring happier days to them, for they had lived under the heel of a cruel tyrant. In 1774 after 30 years of his reign he was again lying ill, but there were no tears and no prayers for his recovery, because he had done nothing for the people to fulfill their hopes. Doing nothing good makes you an evil king, even if you do nothing bad. The Golden Rule is, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It is active and not passive. It is not enough to not do wrong. You must do right to be right with God. James is the practical book, and he makes it clear that not doing good works is to be a worthless Christian. If nothing good comes out of your faith, it is dead faith, and of no value to God or man. Doing is essential to being a Christian.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan the priest and Levite did not do any evil act. They did not go to the injured man and steal something the thieves had missed. All they did is pass by on the other side and do nothings to help the man. They broke no law of the Old Testament, but they did break the law of the New Testament, which is the law of love. They did not love their neighbor as themselves, and this do nothing religion was condemned as evil, and this is the kind of faith that James is condemning as worthless and dead. By doing nothing when they could have done good, they did evil, and were guilty of sin, and breaking the most important law of all, the law of love. They were as guilty as the thieves, if not more guilty.
Sin is like the speed limit laws. You can break the law by going over the legal limit, but you can also break it by going under the minimum limit. You can be going too slow, and not reaching a level that is expected. So it is in life. You can be living below what is expected by doing nothing, or being too slow to do what is right and good, and by so doing be sinning. Wickedness is going too fast, but negligence and indifference is going too slow. Both are breaking the law, and both are sinning. The old guy creeping along the interstate at 30 is just as dangerous as the teen flying along at 90. You must stay within certain boundaries to avoid sinning. Not doing good when you can is being below the minimum. The priest and the Levite were not speeding and breaking the law by going too fast, but they were not going up to the minimum speed, and so were just as guilty as the thieves who were breaking the law at the upper end.
The Gospels do not tell us of Jesus going about avoiding evil. He did that, but they tell us that he went about doing good. It is the positive of what he did, and not the negative of what he avoided that is the focus of his life. He would not have lived a perfect human life had he gone off to live in a cave somewhere and never once committed any sin. Sinlessness is not found in not doing evil only, but in doing good. The purpose of Jesus coming into the world was not to see if he could avoid doing what was out of God's will, but to fulfill God's will and do all the good he could, and in the end atone for the sins of the world that all might have the chance to experience God's ultimate good in eternity. Jesus avoided the worst sin of all by not committing the sin of omission and leaving undone the great good he, and he alone, could do. He said on the cross, "It is finished." Nothing was left undone that needed to be done for our salvation to be possible.
Jesus is our example, not only in that he avoided doing what was bad, but in that he always did what was good. The nine who never came back to Jesus to thank him for curing them of leprosy did not do evil, but they failed to do something that was so right and good. The five foolish virgins did not do evil, but they failed to do what was right and fill their lamps with oil. The man with one talent did not do evil with it, but he buried it and did nothing with it, and for that he was condemned. Those who are judged as goats in Matt. 25 did not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or visit those in prison. They are not condemned for doing evil, but for doing nothing good when they could have done so. We need to understand that not doing something is the same as doing something bad. When you are not kind, it is being unkind. When you do not give encouragement, you are being discouraging. Hood wrote,
The wounds I might have healed!
The human sorrow and the smart!
And yet it never was in my soul
To play so ill a part;
But evil is wrought by want of thought,
As well as by want of heart.
The basic definition of sin is missing the mark. It is missing the opportunity to do good, and choosing instead to do evil, or to do nothing at all. And the nothing at all is often overlooked as being a part of the whole problem of sin. If we fail to build up another in the body of Christ, it is to be in partnership with those who seek to tear him down. We are part of the problem, and not part of the solution. It is not enough to just be one who is doing nothing bad. You must be one who is doing something good. When we do not do the good that we can we are not the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We are failing to be channels of God's love in this fallen world just by doing nothing. The Bible is loaded with sins that are not active sins of violating the law of God, but which are things that we are not doing that we should be doing. Whit Sasser has compiled this list of such sins:
We Sin By...
1. Not Praying - I Samuel 12:23
2. Not Loving everyone - I John 3:14
3. Not Assembling with the congregation - Hebrews 10:25-26
4. Not Providing for our family and relatives - I Timothy 5:8
5. Not Giving as we ought - Malachi 3:8-10
6. Not Helping Those in need - Matthew 25:42-43
7. Not Eating the Lord's Supper correctly - I Cor.11:29
8. Not Bearing fruit - John 15:8,2
9. Not Growing spiritually - II Peter 1:5-10
10. Not Treating Wife right - I Peter 3:7
I Conclude That We Also Sin By...
1. Not being Patient
2. Not Forgiving another
3. Not singing with my Heart
4. Not Confessing openly that I am a Christian
5. Not submitting to my government
6. Not working
7. Not Being more Holy or godly
8. Not Putting on the Divine nature, being more like Jesus
9. Not Obeying the gospel II Thessalonians 1:8
I am sure we could find even more such sins with a little thought and research, but these are more than enough to get the point. Jesus made it clear to the religious leaders of Israel that saying and not doing is the cause for their guilt and judgment. In Matthew 21:28 through 31 we read, "28 But what think ye? A [certain] man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. 29 He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. 30 And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I [go], sir: and went not. 31 Whether of them twain did the will of [his] father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." It is a dominant theme of James that saying good things is of little value if their is not action to back them up. To say to the cold and starving, "Be warmed and filled," but then not give them food and shelter is a conspicuous example of the sin of omission. Many other such sins are not as easily seen, and so we seldom feel guilty for this most common of sins.
For example, we may never show partiality like the usher James refers to who sits the poor person on the floor and the rich in the finest seat. We do not do acts of prejudice and discriminate against other races. We avoid the active sins of racism, but do not realize that we sin still by failing to reach out to include other races in our lives and care. We do not ever seek to show love to the poor, or other classes of people that are neglected and oppressed. We are content just to not do wrong, and forget that not doing right is also wrong. So much of our Christians sinning is undetected because it is not doing what can be seen as wrong. It is not doing what we are capable of doing to make things better in so many situations. It is the unseen sins of omission that blacken the record of all of us. We know what is the good and right thing to do, but we never get around to doing it. We have good intentions, but we never get them fulfilled. This is living in sin just as those who are doing what is clearly seen as out of God's will. There is no escape, for we are all then living in sin, and this should make us humble about being judgmental toward others. James asks in verse 12, "Who are you to judge your neighbor?" We are all guilty of going off to do our will in gaining wealth, and not asking what God's will if for us. Life is short and we could be taken out of life and miss doing what God wills for our lives, all because we do not pay closer attention to the sins of omission.
The whole context makes it clear that a Christian can go through life being so self-centered that he lives for little more than does the world with its never ending quest for more money and things. They can plan their life with little attention to the purpose of God and boast in their success. They can be very judgmental toward others, as if they were the measure of all things, and the standard by which success is to be judged. And the end result of all their success is that they fail to do what God's will is for them, and totally mess up by living a life of sinful omission of the good they might have done in life had they been open to God's leading. The judgment on Christians will likely be far greater for the things they have failed to do than for the things they did. Our most important prayer should be the one Paul prayed at the moment of his conversion, "Lord, what will you have me to do." May God help us to be open and alert to the opportunities for doing good. Some of the greatest advice Paul ever gave is in Gal. 6:10. "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of God." We should be asking ourselves frequently, what good that I could do for someone have I left undone?
If God's will is not the main feature of your future, you are planning to fail, for you will miss so many opportunities to do the good he wanted you to do. You will sin against God for you will not do the good he wanted to do through you; you will sin against those who did not receive the good you might have given, and you sin against yourself by missing the joy, growth, maturity, and reward you would have gained by those acts and words of goodness. Sins of omission are not little sins of no great consequences. They will likely be the greatest sins in most every Christian life. Let us take seriously the saying, "For wrong to prevail it is only necessary for good people to do nothing." All too often we are experts at doing nothing, and we feel good about not doing wrong. It is time to wake up and see that it is the very doing of nothing, when we could do something good, that is the wrong. When we are indifferent and apathetic to the needs of others, when it is in our power to make a difference, we are living in sin.
The goal of this message is not to make us all feel so guilty that we can never have peace of mind again in a world where there is never an end to the good that needs to be done. God knows our limitations, and He knows that we cannot be ever doing good deeds. We have a life to live, and a family to raise, and a mate to love. We need time away from responsibility and obligation. Even Jesus needed this, and sought for privacy. Nobody could ever do all the good that is possible. This message is just to call attention to an area of neglect. It is a part of the whole sin picture puzzle that we have misplaced, and I am just putting it back on the table so we can fit it in to the total picture. It is not God's will that we become depressed with guilt over our sins of omission, but that we stay alert to our opportunities to be agents of His love.
Pastor Ron Clarke illustrates the problem with this story: "Many years ago a youngster who lived in a rough area of town was having a hard time at his new job in the factory. He was brave enough, or foolish enough (depending on your point of view) to hang on to his ideals, even his Christian beliefs. His work mates did not approve of that so he got his daily dose of ridicule and abuse. One day, one of the men said to him: "You're a fool. Can't you see that if there is a God who cares anything for the likes of you, he would tell someone to come along and give you what you need - a good meal, a comfortable home, and at least the chance to make something of yourself." To this the youngster replied: "I reckon God does tell someone, only that someone always forgets." How many good things never happen in the body of Christ because of forgetting? We forget that the prayers of others can be answered through us in so many ways if we stop doing nothing, and start doing something.
The Old Testament stress is on law, and the commission of sin by doing what is contrary to the law. The New Testament stress in on love, and the sin of omission by not doing the loving thing, or saying the loving thing. It is the omission of love that is the most severe issue of sin. All the avoiding of breaking the law is of great value to society, but one is not pleasing to God until there is a life that goes beyond that level to doing acts of goodness and kindness. We must not stop eliminating the negative, but we must more often be expressing the positive. Life is not complete until their is the doing of good works that opportunities bring to you.
These good works do not save you, for only the good work of Christ on the cross could do that, but they make it so that your life is saved, and not just your body and soul. Their is salvation in time as well as in eternity, and the salvation of your life on earth is what we are dealing with here in the issue of the sins of omission. By not omitting the good works life brings your way, you can save your life, and make it a fruitful tree in the barrenness of this needy world. If you want to redeem the time, then be on the lookout for the opportunity to do the good you know is the right thing to do. Avoid the sins of omission, and instead, "Let your light so shine that the world may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven."
I am adding to my message this list of sins of omission that was compiled by the great evangelist Charles G. Finney in his book Revival Lectures. He saw more conversions in his ministry than anyone could number. He changed the history of American Christianity. And one of the ways he did it was by getting Christians to experience revival, and a focus on sins of omission was one of the key tools to reach that goal. If reading this list does not make you more aware of your sins of omission, and spur you on to good works, then you have quenched the Holy Spirit.
"INGRATITUDE (unthankfulness). Take this sin, for example, and write down under this heading all the times you can remember where you have received great blessings and favors from God for which you have never given thanks. How many cases can you remember? Some remarkable protection where your life was spared, some wonderful turn of events that saved you from ruin. Write down the instances of God's goodness to you when you were living in sin, before your conversion, for which you have never been half-thankful enough; and the uncountable mercies you have received since. How long the list of times where your ingratitude has been so black that you are forced to hide your face in shame! Get on your knees and confess them one by one to God, and ask Him to forgive you. As you're confessing these, they will immediately remind you of others...write these down too! Go over them three of four times in this way, and see what an incredible number of times God has given you mercy for which you have never thanked Him!
LACK OF LOVE FOR GOD. Think how grieved and alarmed you'd be, if you suddenly realized a great lack of affection for you in your wife, husband, or children; if you saw that someone else had captured their hearts, thoughts and time. Perhaps in such a case you would almost die with a just and holy jealousy. Now, God calls Himself a jealous God. Have you not given your heart to other loves and infinitely offended Him?
NEGLECT OF THE BIBLE. Put down the cases where for perhaps weeks, or longer, God's word was not a pleasure. Some people, indeed, read over whole chapters in such a way, that afterwards they could not tell you what they had been reading. If that is so with you, no wonder your life has no direction, and your religion (relationship with God), is such a miserable failure.
UNBELIEF. Recall the instances in which you have virtually charged the God of truth with lying, by your unbelief of His express promises and declarations. If you have not believed or expected to receive the blessings which God has clearly promised, you have called Him a liar.
LACK OF PRAYER. Think of all the times you have neglected private- prayer, family-prayer and group-prayer meetings; or prayed in such a way as to grieve and offend God more, than if you hadn't prayed at all.
NEGLECT OF FELLOWSHIP. When you have allowed yourself to make small, and foolish excuses that have prevented you from attending meetings. When you have neglected and poured contempt upon the gathering of the saints merely because you "didn't like church!"
THE MANNER IN WHICH YOU HAVE PERFORMED SPIRITUAL DUTIES. Think of all the times when you have spoken about God with such lack of feeling and faith, in such a worldly frame of mind, that your words were nothing more than the mere chattering of a wretch who didn't deserve that God should listen to him at all. When you have fallen down upon your knees and "said your prayers" in such an unfeeling and careless way, that if you had been put under oath five minutes later, you could not say what you had been praying for.
LACK OF LOVE FOR SOULS. Look around at all your friends and relatives, and think of how little compassion you have felt for them. You have stood by and seen them going straight to hell, and it seems as though you didn't even care. How many days have there been, when you have failed to make their wretched condition the subject of even one single fervent prayer, or to prove any real desire for their salvation?
LACK OF CARE FOR THE POOR AND LOST IN FOREIGN LANDS. Perhaps you have not cared enough about them to even attempt to learn of their condition. Do you avoid missions-magazines? How much do you really know or care about the unconverted masses of the world? Measure your desire for their salvation by the self-denial you practice, in giving from your substance to send them the gospel. Do you deny yourself even the hurtful expenses of life, such as tobacco, alcohol, expensive food, clothes, and entertainment? Do you defend your standard of living? Will you not suffer yourself ANY inconvenience to save them? Do you daily pray for them in private? Are you setting aside funds to put into the treasury of the Lord when you go up to pray? If you are not doing these things, and if your soul is not agonized for the poor and lost of this world, then why are you such a hypocrite as to pretend to be a Christian? Why, your profession of faith is an insult to Jesus Christ!
NEGLECT OF FAMILY DUTIES. Think of how you have lived before your family, how you have prayed, what an example you have set before them. What direct efforts do you habitually make for their spiritual welfare?
LACK OF WATCHFULNESS OVER YOUR WITNESS. How many times have you failed to take your words and actions seriously? How often have you entirely neglected to watch your conduct and speech, and having been off your guard, have sinned before the world, the church, and before God!
NEGLECT TO WATCH OVER YOUR BRETHREN. How often have you broken your covenant, that you would watch over them in the Lord? How little do you know or care about the state of their souls? And yet you are under a solemn duty to watch over them. What have you done to get to know them better? How many times have you seen your brothers or sisters growing cold in faith and have not spoken to them about it...neglecting one spiritual duty after another, and you did not reprove them in love? You have seen them falling into sin, and you let them go on. And you pretend to love them? What a hypocrite! Would you watch your wife or child going into disgrace, or falling into a fire, and hold your peace?
NEGLECT OF SELF-DENIAL. There are many professing Christians who are willing to do almost anything in religion that does not require self- denial. They think they are doing a great deal for God, and doing about as much as He ought to reasonably ask, but they are not willing to deny themselves any comfort or convenience whatever for the sake of serving the Lord. They will not willingly suffer reproach for the name of Christ. Nor will they deny themselves the luxuries of life to save a world from hell. So far are they from realizing that self- denial is a condition of discipleship, that they do not even know what it is. They never have really denied themselves a ribbon or a pin for Christ and the gospel. Oh, how soon ones such as these will be in hell! Some are giving from their abundance, and giving a lot, and will even complain that others do not give more; when, in truth, they are not giving anything that they need, or anything that they would enjoy if they kept it. They only give of their surplus wealth!"