Most people associate sin with something you should not do. But few people ever stop to consider the words of the Apostle James: “Whoever, then, knows what is right to do and does not do it, that is a sin for him” (James 4:17, Moffatt translation; emphasis added throughout).
Are you one who frequently does not do what ought to be done? Then hear the words of God’s inspired Scriptures: If you know what is right to do, and don’t do it, that is sin!
The Price of Affluence
In his book Slouching Towards Gomorrah, Robert Bork attributes much of society’s decadent moral slide today to Western affluence.
“Affluence,” he wrote, “brings with it boredom. Of itself, it offers little but the ability to consume, and a life centered on consumption will appear, and be, devoid of meaning. Persons so afflicted will seek sensation as a palliative, and that today’s culture offers in abundance.”
There can be no doubt that life today is much easier than it was 50 years ago, even among the poor. We enjoy more conveniences than ever before. Likewise, our society offers much more entertainment and leisure than in generations past. Yet, paradoxically, there has also been a substantial increase in boredom and idleness. And the consequences, as Bork points out, have not been good.
During the last half of the 20th century, television surpassed printed material as our primary source of entertainment. Almost one half of our leisure time is now spent in front of the television. And, as a recent study pointed out, nearly 5 million Americans spend at least 40 hours a week—the equivalent of a full-time job—playing video games.
Television viewing and many other screen time pursuits, on the average, require little physical or mental effort. What they do require is time—something of which this spoiled and affluent society has plenty.
Over the past generation, we have drifted from a studious, organized, hard-working and diligent lifestyle to one of idleness and ease. Physically, we have also reaped the dividends of our affluence: Over two thirds of Americans over the age of 25 today are either overweight or obese.
One can still become quite educated today with a proper amount of self-discipline, but it’s easier and more stimulating to the senses to indulge in entertainment and leisure. One can still be quite healthy in this prosperous society, but it’s much easier to consume unhealthy foods that are easy to prepare and that taste good.
It’s a vicious cycle. Affluence affords us more time and money, which makes things easier on the average person. This easier lifestyle, as Bork said, “offers little but the ability to consume.” Our dietary consumption is not healthy, physically or mentally, which leads us to seek things even easier and more unhealthy. Like a deadly drug, idleness has put the “educated” masses in the Western world into the throes of addiction.
It is this attitude, this approach to living, which James labels as sinful. Heading down a path we know will be destructive and will end in ruin, and then doing nothing about it, is living in sin—it leads only to destruction and death.
The Sin of Omission
Herbert W. Armstrong often talked about two different kinds of sin: the sin of commission and the sin of omission. This second type is what James spoke of in chapter 4:17 and what Paul speaks of in Hebrews 2. If we don’t do what we should, Paul says what truth we have heard and learned will slip away.
A true Christian is an individual of action—not one who remains idle, waiting around for Jesus Christ to return.
Jesus Christ revealed this principle in the parable of the pounds. In Luke 19, after giving His 10 servants a pound each, Christ instructed them to do something with what they were given. Those who multiplied their pound were rewarded for their works. But the one who buried his pound and remained idle not only missed out on a tremendous reward, Christ even took away the pound he had!
We can actually fail to escape and lose out on salvation if we neglect doing what ought to be done (Hebrews 2:3).
No one can be saved without accepting the shed blood of Jesus Christ—that is true. But beyond that, God expects action. He expects change for the better. He expects us to be doers of His Word (Romans 2:13; James 1:22). He will not tolerate idleness or neglect. That is sin! Sin is not just avoiding those things we know to be wrong. It is also neglecting and failing to do what is right!
In Matthew 7:21, Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” It takes more than just talk. It’s more than just saying you believe in Christ. He expects us to do! God will not harvest unfruitful trees. He expects us to produce fruit (verses 17-20).
The Abundant Life
Early in his life, Benjamin Franklin outlined 13 “moral virtues,” as he called them, and devised a plan to put each virtue into practice. Franklin understood the importance of resisting what was wrong and doing what was right. Study into the life of Abraham Lincoln and you will see that he practiced similar habits and met with similar success.
These men were determined to do something about their idleness. What about you? What distracts you from doing what you ought to do? What is the cause of your neglect? What leads you into the habit of idleness, of not doing what you should, whether it concerns your family, your work, your diet?
Great individuals of this world, even without the spiritual understanding of God’s Word, realize the extreme danger of living a life of idleness and ease. “What is man,” Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed?”
The Bible is clear on the fact that those who are diligent about their business now will be rewarded greatly when Christ returns. But God also wants to bless us even now, in this life, if we are diligent. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
In this thankless society, people rarely stop to consider the great wealth of blessings that have come upon them. But what a prosperous and abundant land Americans live in! If we spent all our time and energy on useful pursuits, what a successful people we would be! How much happier we would be if we would just determine to do what is right, no matter how we feel.
Jesus Christ came to give the truly abundant, happy life we all desire. But we must be willing to do what needs to be done to attain such abundant living. Resolve to do what ought to be done. And then, no matter how you feel, do it! If you do, happiness, joy, peace and abundance will follow. ▪