Posted in sin of omission, tolerance

Discernment lesson: The sin of inaction

We know we sin. We sin all the time, every day. There is none who does good, no, not one. (Psalm 53:3, Romans 3:12).

The bible is the only reliable barometer for how to act. There are many explicit commands for do and don’t, and some gray areas in the generalities which the Holy Spirit helps us with to interpret what to do in any given situation.

So when we sin, we repent to Jesus, our High Priest, (Hebrews 8:1) who makes intercession for us at the throne. (Romans 8:34). Jesus is faithful to forgive us and that is an amazing praise to His mercy and His glory.

However, failing to act is just as much of a sin as acting in the wrong. Both are sins and both need repentance. In both cases, failure to repent sears the conscience and we travel further away from Jesus. James 4:17 explains it ever so clearly:

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it,
for him it is sin.”

Just in case someone out there wants to make a case that it doesn’t mean what he thinks it means, Luke 12:47 follows it up, John 9:41 confirms it, and 2 Peter 2:21 cements the deal. Inaction is a sin. Gill’s says it clearly:

“The omission of a known duty, as well as the commission of a known sin, is criminal.”

MacArthur says there are three problems with the sin of omission as James outlined in verse 17. “…this is the sin of disobeying God’s will. First, ignoring God’s will…secondly, defying or denying His will and thirdly, disobeying it.”


When we fail to do the good we know we must do it is actually disobeying God’s will. The entire Word testifies to the danger and ruin that happens when people fail to perform God’s will. Like Nike says, “Just do it,” but in our flesh we don’t. We delay, rationalize, ignore, or simply pretend that it’s not our concern.

Barnes Notes explains the James verse:

“If he understands what his duty is; if he has the means of doing good to others; if by his name, his influence, his wealth, he can promote a good cause; if he can, consistently with other duties, relieve the distressed, the poor, the prisoner, the oppressed; if he can send the gospel to other lands, or can wipe away the tear of the mourner; if he has talents by which he can lift a voice that shall be heard in favor of temperance, chastity, liberty, and religion, he is under obligations to do it: and if, by indolence, or avarice, or selfishness, or the dread of the loss of popularity, he does not do it, he is guilty of sin before God.”

I’m going to conjecture a bit here, but I can imagine what the congregation at Thyatira went through. Let’s

look at the verse, one which I believe is a life action experience of what James was talking about. We find it in Revelation 2:20-21:

“But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.” (Revelation 2:20-21).

There’s a lot going on here but mainly Jesus is condemning the people at Thyatira, an actual church of John’s day, because they knew something was wrong in their church and they did not do anything about it- for a long time. See, all the time Jesus gave the false prophetess time to repent, He was giving His sheep time to address the problem.

I can imagine how hard it may have been for the people at Thyatira. The false prophetess may have been well-liked. Maybe she was very popular and loved and they thought that were doing the loving thing by not ‘stirring up trouble’ or ‘making a controversy’. Perhaps she was well-connected and they did not want to infringe on the money flow, rationalizing that with the money, they could really do some good things. Perhaps they didn’t know who should address the problem, or how, saying “I’m not a leader, I’m not an elder…it’s someone else’s God-given task to open this can of worms.” Whatever the reason, the false prophetess had been around long enough to have birthed spiritual daughters. This means in my opinion that her false teaching was now infecting a second generation of foxlets, (Revelation 2:23) who were going out and carrying the seed of corruption with them.

Jesus charged the false prophetess but He also charged the people who knew she was teaching and doing wrong but failed to act.

Being tolerant is not loving- to JESUS. We tend to forget some important truths. First is this- no matter how much we love a person, we must love Jesus more. (Matthew 10:37). Love toward a fellow believer isn’t the sole barometer for whether we act. It isn’t even an important barometer for how or why we act. Jesus said we must love HIM MORE. When we act on behalf of Jesus at the seeming ‘expense’ of others, we are honoring Him by putting Him first. All good will flow from this. (Romans 8:28).

If we fail to act because we love that person more than Jesus, what we are actually doing is setting Jesus aside. All bad will come from that. Where Jesus is dishonored, He will do no mighty work there. (Mark 6:5).

So as hard as it may have been for the people at Thyatira to confront the false prophetess with her sin, it would have been much better to do so. If there is an issue in your church or in your family somewhere that needs addressing, or there is a false doctrine being accepted in your church, or the pastor or a leader is engaging in a gross ethical violation, whatever it is, and the person performing the sin is not addressing it, you must risk the confrontation.

Failure to do so actually encourages the wicked, (Ezekiel 13:22) and his sin of commission and your sin of omission combine to do an even darker work of evil. Ezekiel was warned about failing to do his duty. If Ezekiel had received a word from the LORD and failed to speak it, he was performing a sin of omission and he would be liable. (Ezekiel 3:16-21).

Paul discovered that a gross sin was being tolerated by the Corinthians and he laid into them, and said they ought to mourn and to confront the man performing the sin! (1 Corinthians 5:1-8).

We are not engaging in a right view of fellowship when we allow someone we love to continue in their sin. It is a wrong view of fellowship with each other but most importantly it is a wrong view of fellowship with the sweet Savior, who is the Head of the Church.

No one likes it, but we must risk the confrontation. Paul did, with Peter.

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” (Galatians 2:11).

Paul loved Peter enough to understand that his own failure to confront his brother would lead to his brother’s condemnation and leave blood on his own hands. Show no partiality. We must – in all meekness- look AT sin, not away from it, and lovingly call for repentance. And yes, it is our business:

Charles Spurgeon said,

“Did I not hear someone in the company say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” I know that gentleman! I heard his voice years ago. His name is Cain and I have this to say to him—it is true that he is not his brother’s keeper, but he is his brother’s killer . Every man is either the keeper of his brother, or the destroyer of his brother! Soul-murder can be worked without an act or even a will—it can be and is constantly accomplished by neglect!”

Do not encourage the wicked, leave your brother condemned, and open a space for satan to waltz into. Instead, risk the confrontation, honor Jesus, retrieve your brother from condemnation, and reject the wicked. Operating within His will is always better!


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.