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While sins of commission are often blatant and deliberate—transgressing a known law or command—sins of omission can be subtle and sneaky. We may not even realize that we have failed to do what God commands. While I might not ever commit adultery, for example, I could easily fail to love my wife as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). In this example, committing adultery would be a sin of commission, while failing to love would be a sin of omission. When we consider and examine our own sins of omission, we should be humbled and flee any attempt to boast in self-righteousness.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines sin as “any lack of conformity to, or transgression of, the law of God” (WSC 14). Put simply, a sin of omission is any lack of conformity to God’s law, or failing to do what God commands, which is as grievous as actively transgressing what He commands. James writes, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). He also explains that we must not be only hearers of the Word, but doers also (1:22). While it is certainly true that we can sin without realizing it, sins of omission are intensified by knowledge. When we know what God has commanded us in His Word and we fail to do it, then we have silenced the voice of conscience and sinned against Him.
I want to suggest three ways we commit sins of omission—in our thoughts/desires, words, and deeds—and provide a gospel remedy. First, we commit sins of omission when we lack conformity to God’s law in our thoughts and desires—when we do not set our minds on things above (Col. 3:2) or when we fail to love God with all our hearts and minds (Luke 10:27). We are commanded to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) and to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). But how often are we doers of these commands? When we fail to honor God with our thoughts and desires, we commit sins of omission.
Second, we commit sins of omission when we lack conformity to God’s law in our words. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians exhorts the church to speak the truth in love and to speak “only such as is good for building up” (Eph. 4:15, 29). We should speak truthfully (1 Peter 3:10), giving words of encouragement to one another (1 Thess. 5:11). Our speech should be gracious (Col. 4:6) and gentle (Prov. 15:4). But when we fail to speak in these ways, we commit sins of omission with our speech.
Third, we commit sins of omission when we lack conformity to God’s law in our deeds. The Bible contains a number of positive “one another” commands. For example, we are called to “be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50), to bear with one another in love (Eph. 4:2), to be “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (v. 32), and “to seek to do good to one another, and to everyone” (1 Thess. 5:15). The prophet Micah writes, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8). Jesus teaches that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). Then there’s the Ten Commandments, including keeping the Sabbath day holy (Ex. 20:8). When we fail in keeping these positive commands, we commit sins of omission.
As you can probably see, the more we examine our lives—our thoughts, desires, words, and deeds—the more we realize how much we fail to think, love, speak, and do those things that please and honor God. We fall short of His glory (Rom. 3:23), and we fail to do what we know is right and good (see 7:15).
Before we can come to experience the amazing grace of God in Christ, we need to realize how serious these sins of omission really are. Paul, quoting Deuteronomy 27:26, writes, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Gal. 3:10). Think about that. If you do not abide by all things in God’s commands and laws, you remain under the “curse” of God. All of us, then, justly deserve His wrath—the wages of our sin. But God, being rich in mercy, has forgiven our sins through the shed blood of Christ, who “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (v. 13). Our sins of commission and sins of omission have been laid on Christ and He has paid in full our debts, which we can never pay ourselves.
With the assurance of God’s pardoning grace, all of His commands and laws come to us not with the threat of judgment but with the encouragement of a friend, leading us in the way that’s pleasing to Him. God’s law is good, and we should meditate upon His law day and night, that we might be well-watered trees bearing fruit (Ps. 1:2–3). And though we fail to conform to His law, our hope is in the One who has accomplished all that God has required of us. We should daily repent of our sins of omission and put our faith in Christ. We should confess—with the saints of old—that “we have left undone those things which we ought to have done” (Book of Common Prayer), neglecting and disregarding God’s positive commands. And when we do, let us rest in the promise of God that He “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).