Summary: Sin not only includes doing bad things. It also involves not doing the things we know we should do.
What is the first word a little baby learns to recognize? It would be so nice if it were “momma” or “daddy” but anyone who has been around children knows that it’s not true. The first word a child learns to recognize, and because it is an easy one to say, the first one they learn to say is usually “No.” Don’t you wish it wasn’t so? It seems like such a negative way to start them out with their first word being “no.”
Not too long ago a couple I knew had their first child and they didn’t want their little baby to grow up being negative. The way they decided they would accomplish that was to not use the word “no” with their baby. That theory worked so well for the first couple of months while their infant “cooed” and gurgled in the baby blankets. How long do you think that theory lasted once the little guy started crawling around? After a broken lamp and a few near catastrophic mishaps, those parents and that baby learned just how important the word “no” really is.
No matter how much we hate it, the word “no” is a critical part of our learning how to get along in the world. Through it we learn the limits, we have defined for us the difference between right and wrong, between good and evil, between what is best for us and what is harmful to us. And quite honestly, a big part of preaching is helping people know what to say “no” to.
But unfortunately, sometimes we preachers never get past the word no. It’s a whole lot easier to teach people to “Just say no” than it is to help them understand what they need to say “yes” to. Consequently, over the years much of preaching, and a whole lot of what the Church is known for in our culture, has been what we are against rather than what we are for. You know the routine. So much of the church’s words tend to wind up sounding like “To be a good Christian you don’t drink, you don’t smoke, you don’t chew, and you don’t go with girls who do!” That’s an exaggeration, but you understand what I mean. Too much of our message can wind up teaching people what to say no to. Don’t misunderstand, learning to say no is very important, but it can be overemphasized. The church, and we preachers, have often been guilty of being so concerned about moral purity that we have ignored the command of Christ to get our hands dirty helping others. Avoiding sin doesn’t just mean learning how to say no, it also means learning when to say yes.
That is what James is speaking about as he pens the 17th verse of the 4th chapter of His letter. “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” Sin is not just avoiding evil. It is coming face to face with evil in hand to hand combat. If you look at the passage in your Bible, you see that this sentence comes at the end of the paragraph about planning what you will do tomorrow. (Read James 4:13-17) As James highlights the need to turn every day over to God, he reminds us that God has a positive agenda for our lives. God has not simply told us what to avoid, He has told us and modeled for us what we should be doing.
The reality of the Bible is that God has placed a big emphasis on what we should avoid. There are alot of “Thou shalt nots” in the Bible. We have been told that we are not to have other gods, or make any images of god. We are not to lie, steal, cheat, covet, commit adultery, or do any of those other big sins that God has restricted us from.
But it is interesting that when God came to earth, He spent very little time preaching and teaching against the sins of the flesh. It’s not that He took sin lightly. You can turn to the Sermon on the Mount and see that His definition of sin was very strict. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.” Nobody took sin as seriously as Jesus did. But you didn’t just know what Jesus was against. You knew what He was for because Jesus spent more of His life involved in a ministry of grace and mercy toward sinners.
-It was Jesus who was criticized for eating and drinking with the tax collectors.
-It was Jesus who was ostracized for hanging out with the lepers and outcasts.