James 4:17 – Sinning

sin chasm separating us from God

Read James 4:17

This will be your shortest reading ever! But it was a verse that packed a powerful punch, and it didn’t seem to fit with what came before or after. I chose to reflect on this single verse on its own. Here it is again from the NLT translation:

“Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do
and then not do it.”

James’ audience would know about sin. Those Jewish believers would even have flashbacks to following the law of Moses and all the sacrifices they now didn’t make. But what James is talking about here is not being sinful by breaking a law you should know better than to break, but to not do good when doing good is the right answer. Does that make sense?

I had trouble with this at first, and my pastor husband David told me James’ was talking about sins of omission here. In other words, when we don’t do the good things we know we should, that’s sinful. Like for instance, if God is calling you to give to a certain charity and you spend your money on a new car instead, that would be sinful. You missed out on an opportunity to serve someone in Jesus’ name. That’s sinning, too.

James seems to be the one to point this out because sin is not commonly discussed like this. But it makes sense. To not be helpful when a way of being helpful is right in front of your face would not be what Jesus would do. We can’t go wrong when we strive to think, feel, and act like Jesus would act if he were in our place. That can be the mindset shifter we need to keep us focusing on doing good in this world.

Jesus made it a point to be loving and helpful wherever he went – sometimes to the chagrin of his closest friends who didn’t even understand that kind of love. It’s hard to sin when you’re busy loving someone. Opportunities to love another human being come into our lives every day. How many times have you rushed on when maybe somebody needed to be seen or heard?

That’s what James is convicting me of today. He’s reminding me I need to keep my eyes open for people to love. I don’t need to worry about sinning for not doing good if I’m always on the look out to show love to someone. That’s what Jesus would do. James would know, as his brother. We can’t help but please the father when we try to be more like the Son.

Sins are sins, and James is reminding us of a sin we may not be thinking of if we’re focused on obedience to the law. All sins separate us from God. Some of the “other” ones that at come to mind include (and I’m not necessarily admitting these are “my” sins): Drinking to excess. Lying (even small “white lies” count). Gossiping. Adultery and other sexual sins. Causing another to stumble. Idol worship. Not sharing our faith. Being selfish. Ignoring the poor and needy. Cheating on a test (or your taxes). Being too busy for God. I trust you can see how when we “know better” we do the opposite of these examples to avoid sin.

What came to mind for you? What sins are keeping you awake at night?

Today’s reading may not have been very long, but I hope it challenges you to get real with yourself. Spend time with God and ask him to reveal the sins you may not even be aware of. For those sins that you do know you’re committing on a regular basis because of what you’re NOT doing, remember how your sinfulness separates you from God’s perfect plan for you. These very sins are holding you back from greatness.

Let’s pray. Father, I know I’m a sinner. Forgive my shortcomings. Reveal to me those sins I may be blind to as well so that I can clear them away. Help me to open my eyes so I can see those who may need some love from you. I want to do a better job of listening for your voice and following your will. That is my greatest desire. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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