One of the more sobering Scripture passages is James 4:17. “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” This passage emphasizes an aspect of sinfulness that people often don’t consider. The first thing most people think of when sin is mentioned are sinful things they have done. Often the idea that we sin by not doing something is not that prominent in their thinking. But this passage tells us that many of our sins are ones of omission.
Stop and think what this passage is saying. Here is just one application. Every time I fail to love my wife with the same sacrificial love of Jesus, I sin. That means every time I put my wants before hers (whether in what to eat, what TV show to watch, what activity to do), I sin. That means whenever I tell her I can’t help her right then because I need time for myself, I sin. That means when my love for her is not completely perfect, I sin. All this is sin because Scripture says: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” (Ephesians 5:25). Jesus never once thought of himself. He never put himself before us. And, according to this verse, his love is to be my pattern. That is just one “good” I know. But I sadly admit that that is the good that I don’t always do. How many times a day do I fail to do this? How many times a week do I fail to do this? How many times in our marriage have I failed to do this? Here is one instance that the word countless is not an exaggeration.
Loving my wife as Christ loved the church is just one of hundreds of “good” things that I know. In fact, it is just one tiny aspect of the good of loving all people. And that is just one of many good things God tells us to do. The more I think about it, the more examples of sin come to mind. Just a few minutes reflection on this passage convinces me that sin is what I regularly do. It also convinces me that no matter how hard I try, I won’t be able to stop sinning. There will always be some “good” that I won’t do.
Couple that with something James says a couple of chapters before and the situation becomes even bleaker. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (2:10)
Many don’t see the intent or feel the full force of these passages. Scripture tells us that the reason why God gives us such sobering commands, why he has given us the law, is to open our eyes to the seriousness of our sinfulness. (Romans 3:20). It’s only after people see the enormity of their sins that they will give up on thinking that they can do anything whatsoever to contribute to their living eternally with heavenly Father. It’s then, hopefully, that they see the wonderful fact that Jesus has done it all for them – that solely because of what Jesus has done can they live eternally with Heavenly Father.
The less people see their sinfulness, the less value they will attach to Jesus and what he has done for them. Conversely, the more people see their sinfulness, the more valuable Jesus and his work will be to them. It all starts with how we see ourselves. And that is why we need to take seriously these passages.