Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. [James 4:17 (NLT)]
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. [The Book of Common Prayer (1928)]
A sin of commission is the willful act of doing something that violates God’s commands in Scripture. With a little self-examination, our sins of commission are pretty easy for us to spot because they’re blatant and (more often than not) deliberate. While we may try to rationalize our actions, we know when we’ve lied, cheated, coveted, stolen or worse.
On the other hand, sins of omission are not doing what is right or failing to do as instructed. For example, adultery is a sin of commission but not respecting, honoring or loving our spouse is the more subtle sin of omission! [Ephesians 5:22-33] The things we’ve left undone that should have been done are as much a sin as the things we shouldn’t have done that we did!
Many of Jesus’ parables are as much about people not doing what is right as they are about people doing what is wrong. A priest and a Levite ignored the plight of a fellow Jew lying naked and half-dead in a ditch, the invited guests didn’t come to the great feast, the five bridesmaids didn’t bring enough oil, a servant didn’t invest his master’s money, the Pharisee didn’t humble himself, the son didn’t work in the vineyard, and the forgiven debtor didn’t forgive his fellow servant’s debt. All were sins of omission.
Take a moment to think of the things Scripture commands us to do that we frequently don’t. Chances are we frequently ignore at least one of the commands found in Ephesians—to always “be humble and gentle…patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults.” [4:2-3] Furthermore, we are to rid ourselves of “all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander” and be “kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” [4:31-32]. For that matter, do we always serve as the “salt of the earth” or the “light of the world”? [Matthew 5:13-14] How are we doing on the loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us? [Matthew 5:44] Chances are we haven’t erased from our lives “all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech.” [1 Peter 2:1] We frequently pass by people in need [1 John 3:17]. Do we always love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and how are we doing on loving that obnoxious neighbor with the dog who poops on our lawn? In the forgiveness department, have we skipped over the adulterous ex-spouse, the friend who betrayed our trust, or the co-worker who maligned us and got the promotion that should have been ours?
When a woman in the crowd called out, “God bless your mother!” Jesus replied, “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” As His followers, we are to be doers of the Word. That’s all of the Word—both the dos and the don’ts and the shalts and shalt nots!
The omission of good is no less reprehensible than the commission of evil. [Plutarch]