James 4:17

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. James 4:17

The words here are not unlike those of Paul in Romans 14:23 –

But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.”

Doubting, faith, to know – these things are internal, and yet we are shown that we are held accountable for doubting when we do not eat in faith. And faith is something that must be read from the heart. Likewise, knowing to do good may be something that we alone know about, and yet if we do not act on that good thing that we are aware of, we sin.

James begins with, “Therefore.” He is summing up his thoughts concerning the future. The fact is that none of us knows what the future holds except in general brushstrokes of how God has revealed it in Scripture, or as can be logically deduced based on past experience. But ultimately, the future, and our personal interaction with it, is an impenetrable wall. We are bound to the present.

Because of this, James says, “to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” The meaning – in the context of making plans – is that we must submit our future actions to the will of the Lord. This is especially so when we interact with others. If we speak of the future as our own possession, we sin. We have laid hold to that which belongs to the Lord alone. Therefore, we are to include the Lord’s will in our future claims, subordinating what we say to His will.

This statement of James, however, is a general statement as well. It is one which carries truth in it all by itself. When we fail to perform a duty that we know is right, it is no less sinful than committing a known sin. In both, we commit an offense. Jesus speaks of this in Luke 12. In verse 47, He says, “And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.

When evil will occur because of our inaction, we cannot say, “I didn’t act and therefore I am safe.” Either way, our conduct is an inconsistency in the eyes of God which then results in sin.

Life application: Sin can be divided up in multiple ways, but the three main categories of all sin are:

Sins of commission
Sins of omission
Sins of the mind

We often focus on sins of commission – things that we actively do which are wrong, like stealing, adultery, lying, etc. These make for great sermons and are what the law is mostly based on. The majority of The Ten Commandments are things we are told not to do. Do not lie, for example. When we do, we commit a sin of commission.

Sins of the mind are good to use when witnessing to others –

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27, 28

Our thoughts reveal our corrupt nature and show us how far we really are from holiness. Even if we don’t actually commit adultery or murder, our intent condemns us. The commandment “Do not covet” falls under this category.

The third type of sin, which is that of omission, is no less wrong and covers a vast part of the sin in our lives. We know we should do something – that it is morally right to do it – and yet we make excuses to avoid doing it. James says that when this occurs, it is sin. What does all this tell us? It reveals to us that we really, really need Jesus. We may not have committed adultery, but we sure have thought about it. We may not have stolen, but we failed to stop the person accompanying us when they stole. Such sins separate us from God and only Jesus can restore us. Praise the Lord for Jesus!

Lord, surely we admit that we have committed every type of sin imaginable. We have done that which we ought not to have done. We have left undone those things we should have done. We have also intended evil in our hearts towards others. Yes, all of this is sin and we can only thank You and praise You for Your great mercy revealed in Jesus. It is He alone who cleanses us from all unrighteousness Amen.

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