James 4:17 – The Sin of Omission

17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.


Here James comes to the close of his argument against these merchants with a final sweeping blow given to his reading audience…

“If you know the right thing to do, but you don’t do it, then that means you are sinning!”

What? If we omit something from our lives we are sinning? Yes. If you omit the Gospel from your lives, guess what? You’re sinning.

Let’s have that sink in for a moment…

Now wait just a minute! Isn’t that a little harsh of James? The poor merchants have to plan for the future, don’t they? That’s part of their job. Are you saying that they have to say those words every time they talk about future plans or else they’re sinning?

Well… No!

Here are a couple things I am NOT saying…

(1) I don’t believe James is teaching us that we have to use this phrase in verse 15 every time we talk about the future. In other words, we don’t need to wear it out like a red headed step child.
(2) Saying the magic words won’t make any of us right before God. Without faith in Jesus, no one pleases God. So, don’t ever get the mentality that if you say the right words and do the right things that you can earn your way into heaven: That is legalism and legalism only results in damnation. (Gal. 2:16)

Now, here is what I’m saying…

To bring it together for us, James is telling us that the particular sin of omission occurs when we ignore God, plan to do something, find success in doing it, and then brag about having done it.

A couple of examples from the gospels will enlighten our minds… Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan: (Matthew 10:25-37)

The first two men were not sinning because they were walking along the road to get where they had planned to go. They sinned because they omitted the fact that there was a man lying there on the other side of the road beaten half to death and about to die.

Only the Samaritan did the good he knew to do.

Remember the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man: (Luke 16:19-31)

Jesus said that a poor man with sores all over his body only wanted to be fed by the crumbs off of the rich man’s table. But the rich man omitted the fact that Lazarus was even there and never helped him once. Jesus says that even the dogs cared more for Lazarus because they came and licked his sores.

Do you see the point Jesus is making here? If we know the good things we ought to do, but we don’t do them… these are NOT just little oopsies. They are BIG uh-ohs!

This applies particularly to those of us in the Church. The Church has the Gospel and most of its members have believed it to some degree. So, one of the greatest sins anyone in the Church can perform is the sin of not doing what we know is good and pleasing to the Lord Jesus.

In James’ day, the problem that these merchants had was not that their planning and working was evil. But that their attitude in planning and working was evil. They knew that they were supposed to acknowledge God and ask him for help and strength in everything that they planned to do.

But, as James points out, they were not doing that at all. They were omitting God from the picture and boasting in their own accomplishments.

So, for those of us who believe the Gospel… It is my challenge to you today to never omit God from your future plans, even the plans about tomorrow. I challenge you to believe that Jesus really is Lord and that He really is King of this universe, ruling and reigning at the right hand of God today at this very moment! This means that whatever He says goes! (1 Peter 3:22)

To close… as you read this today, I hope you will live your life with the attitude, “If it is God’s will, I will live and do this or that.” Don’t ever start to think you can make it with out Him. Don’t ever think that you can plan out all the details of your life, for even the next day, when none of us are guaranteed another breath without God willing that we breathe.

In Christ and In Defense of the Faith,