We tend not to regard sins of omission as real sins or real failures. But they are, as is clearly taught in the book of James. Teaching on faith and good deeds, James, the pastor of the Jerusalem church, gave a striking example: What if you knew a person who lacked basic needs such as food and clothing? You greeted them warmly, wished them well, and continued on your way. But what good did it do them? None! “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). Notice that he doesn’t say such faith is mediocre—it is dead. Useless. A complete waste of time.
James illustrates this example in the context of an ordinary activity— making plans (v. 13). A businessperson preparing for a profit-making business trip is perfectly normal, right? Within a biblical worldview, though, what’s missing is any acknowledgment of the brevity and unpredictability of life (v. 14). The Bible teaches that life is like a “fleeting shadow” (Ps. 144:3–4). We should acknowledge that God is sovereign over all of life, even our plans. Saying “If it is the Lord’s will” is a conscious choice to recognize and submit to that sovereignty (v. 15).
The deeper sin here is pride. When we announce our plans as if they were a sure thing, without acknowledging our limits or the sovereignty of God, it amounts to boasting (v. 16). The sin here doesn’t lie in what is said, but in what is not said. Verse 17 goes on to define a “sin of omission”: “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” That’s a high standard!
>> This passage contains its own pair of applications: First, the next time you make plans, remember to take an “if it is the Lord’s will” attitude. Second, remember to confess sins of omission as part of your regular prayer times.