All sins fall under one or the other of these two categories of the sin of commission or omission.
1. “Sin is the transgression of the law.” 1 Jn. 3:4
In this, we see an essential positive element… transgression of the law.
2. “To him, therefore, that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” James 4:17
In this we see the second element… knowledge of what is wrong, and willfulness to do wrong by action or decision for non-action.
The first, sins of commission, is a category of sin describing the things we did and shouldn’t have. I committed (commission) a sin when I cheated and I shouldn’t have. There is action here and I made a decision on the action.
The second, sins of omission, are the category that encompasses the sins of not doing what we should have. This looks like passive action which seems not to have been taken but really the decision was to remain status quo which pre-empted action and is still sin. We don’t think as much about the sin of omission even though it is as pernicious and destructive as anything we could commit Many would hide under the pretext that no action was taken so no sin was committed. I should have testified because I knew he was innocent, but I didn’t out of fear. When we know the right thing to do and don’t, that’s a sin.
Often we do what God has forbidden. We are very conscious of these things because they are visible. Of this kind, Paul says,
“For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.” – Col 3:25
We know what Paul is talking about. We often repent of doing these things.
But what about the other kind of sin, the sin of omission? Sometimes we sit on our hands and say or do nothing when we should have acted. James says,
“Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” – James 4:17
The sin of omission is “knowledge without practice” This person’s “faith” is empty if he only offers well-wishes to the cold and hungry person when the right thing to do with the means to do it is to offer the coat or food; to do nothing is a sin.
Paul was referring to the sin of omission, when he wrote “the good that I want to do I do not do” (Rom. 7:16).
Being a Christian demands positive action. A person can’t say, “I decided I would not sin today and so I didn’t.” “How did you do that?” “I just sat down so that I would not step into sin, and I thought about nothing so that I would not think evil.” It does not work that way because you are called as a Christian to fulfil your role in God’s plan. ” Don’t you think you committed the sin of being the useless fig tree?” “I didn’t think of that.” It involved wilfulness on your part not to do right.
The command by Jesus to “deny yourself, and take up your cross and follow me” encompass the things we ought not to do.
Sin is a matter of the heart and intent, not necessarily the result of what occurred. If he thought that he was stealing his neighbor’s wife, he was committing a sin in his own heart as did King David, a willful transgression of a known law of God. King David did go one step further in stealing his neighbour’s wife and then orchestrating the killing of her husband. Would it have been a lesser sin if he did not go all the way?
This gives us insight into many passages of Scripture such as in 1 Corinthians where a man was involved with incest. Paul, a Jew who knew the Law, was in a pagan land where they knew little or nothing of the Law. Paul constantly remarks with exasperation, “Did you not know?” This is how they could be carnal, yet obedient up to the light that they had about right and wrong. Once informed of the sinfulness of this act, Paul suggests that Church discipline be enacted as to “turn such a one over to Satan.”
Luke records in Acts 17:30, that, “the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” God views mistakes and “sins” of ignorance differently than willful “high-handed” sins, which is to be seen throughout Scripture. “Sin” as an act is something that the Bible asserts is unavoidable.
To remain true to the Scriptures, we must differentiate between intentional sin, and “sins” of ignorance. God reveals that He makes the differentiation, so we must do so also. There is a sin which leads to death (willful sin), and that which does not, (sins of ignorance) 1 John 5:16. If any man see his brother sin a sin [which is] not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.
There is hope of forgiveness where there is time in life here and repentance. We know of cases enough where sin “may” be forgiven; and, without allowing the mind to be disturbed about the question respecting the unpardonable sin, it is our duty to bear such cases on our hearts before God, and to plead with him that our erring brethren may be saved.
In closing, let each person consider the personal application of Christ’s words to: “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you“, and that, “It is more blessed to give, than to receive“, and finally, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel“, Jesus said. By doing God’s will, we avoid the sin of omission.
If you are luke-warm in your Christian walk – have you sinned? Where are you supposed to take action and have not? Are you committing sins of commission or excusing yourself for the sins of omission today?
Think about it.