Mark Shaw

Making Visible the Sins of Omission

April 5, 2012

Making Visible the Sins of Omission

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, we read: “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

As a biblical counselor, I have the privilege of dealing with sin issues and living out this Scripture verse each day I counsel. There was a hint of sarcasm in that previous statement because dealing with sinful issues is NOT something I often think of as a privilege to be cherished! Many times, I honestly dread it. Who really wants to patiently, lovingly, and compassionately “admonish the idle”? I am fine with the “encouraging the fainthearted” and “helping the weak” parts of that verse, but admonishing a person who is sinning is not on my list of “Top Ten Favorite Things to Do.”

Whether I feel like it or not, biblical counseling is a privilege. God has given me this privilege and requires that I speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) to others for His glory and their spiritual growth into Christ-likeness. Whether a sin issue or not, I must speak the truth to them in love. I do not have a choice. I do not have the option of giving my opinion, but must tell them the truth of Scripture in love. Let’s face it: our ideas, opinions, and experiences really do not matter as much as God’s Word. The Lord wants to speak through me to the heart of the counselee without adding my own ideas or subtracting from His Word.

There are many times where I am sitting quietly in a session, praying, and asking God to help me to say what I think is a “hard truth” that might not be well received by the counselee. Knowing I do not have a choice to opt out of speaking the truth in love, I look diligently for an opportunity to be delicate when I deliver the “bad news,” as I think of it. Telling people that they are either acting or failing to act in a manner that is not pleasing to God is not easy. I depend wholly upon the Lord to do what He has called me to do.

Defining Sin and Its Consequences

For almost all of my counselees, I find I must define the two types of sin: commission and omission. Most people think of sin as simply those of commission: murder, adultery, or stealing, for example. But many people do not understand sins of omission which are unseen. It is possible to sin by NOT doing anything or by failing to do the right thing (omission). It can be a failure to act in a way that God requires, a failure to forgive, a failure to love one’s wife as Christ loved the church, a failure to honor one’s husband, a failure to honor one’s parents, or a failure to trust God.

In addition to defining these types of sins, I often make a very strong statement that “sins of omission, or failing to do the right thing that God requires, usually have far-reaching consequences that can be greater than sins of commission.” In other words, sins of omission (or being “idle”) can devastate more lives with tremendous impact when compared to sins of commission.

Addressing Sin

For example, a husband who has failed to love his wife for 20 years, comes home to find her heart hardened toward him for the final time as she packs her belongings planning to divorce him. He may not even realize how his sins of omission have greatly impacted this situation (not making her actions justifiable). He might think he is a helpless victim and be self-righteous or confused about why this is all happening.

For a biblical example, I think about the younger son in Luke 15:11-32 who committed sins of prodigal, or luxurious living, but it is the older brother whose sins of omission have greater impact, as he was a lost son, too. Often, in my counseling experience, the counselee who is sinful like the younger son with sins of commission in prodigal living can see their sins and come to repentance much quicker than someone who is sinning by omission like the older brother in the parable.

The older brother in that parable would have been a nightmare counselee because of his self-righteousness and inability to see his sinful heart of omission. He was failing to love his brother, failing to honor his father, and his heart was becoming so hardened by the deceitfulness of his own sinful, inward attitudes that “admonishing his idleness” would be a challenge to any biblical counselor, no matter how many PhDs the counselor possessed.

Only the Holy Spirit could break through to that older brother in a biblical counseling session. It does not matter how many degrees you have, how many years you went to seminary, or how many books you have read. If you do not have the truth of God’s Word working in the heart of your counselee by the power of the Holy Spirit, your counselee will not repent and turn back to Christ. My job as a biblical counselor is simply to speak His truth in the love of the Holy Spirit to the counselee who is idle and sinning by omission or commission.

Looking the Other Way

One more recent example of a sin of omission occurred in the Penn State scandal when the leaders of that institution failed to act and do the right thing when they discovered sexual abuse of a minor. The consequences were extreme as many lives were impacted and devastated in a myriad of ways.

I was surprised at what ESPN wrote on their website about this scandal: “More than six decades of achievement could not withstand the sin of omission in connection to a terrible scandal. And so it ends for Joe Paterno.”[1]

Talk about far-reaching consequences! Sixty years of work and a man’s legacy is ruined by one very serious “non-action” or omission. It was sinful behavior that was allowed to go undisciplined—and look at the number of victims potentially harmed by the continued acts of the perpetrator through a non-profit agency designed to help children. It truly is amazing and astonishingly sad.

Making It Visible

So, fellow Christians…should I look away from sin which is failing to “admonish the idle”? Never! Because to do so would be a sin of omission on my part. God does not want me to ignore sin. In fact, it is unloving to do so. If I truly love someone, I speak the truth in love to them and call them to repent. If I truly love God, I speak the truth in love to them and call them to repent, no matter how challenging it may seem. Love for God and love for others must compel us to make these hidden sins visible!

As a believer in Christ, let me gently urge you to deal with sin in all meekness and call people to repent, even when it is difficult to do so. When a believer does so, God promises that there are blessings in Proverbs 28:23: “Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.”

God sent His own Son to take care of both sin problems for us and that is good news! God knows how the consequences of both sins of commission and omission destroy lives. We should take heed to Him in His Word and be courageous to admonish the idle and deal with sin lovingly as biblical counselors. Truly, it is a tremendous responsibility and privilege.

Join the Conversation

How would it impact your one-another ministry if you saw even the act of confronting sin in love as a tremendous responsibility and privilege?

5 thoughts on “Making Visible the Sins of Omission

  1. Great examples of Sins of Omission and how a biblical counselor needs to address an area so often overlooked.

  2. This is so clearly the responsibility of our faith community in discipling and sharing the truth in God’s word. I hope more believers will grow in this understanding and application of grace and truth. 

  3. Wonderful! I agree that it is not always easy, but necessary. If we don’t know where we are going wrong we can’t repent or even pray about it. It is our responsibility as believers to help each other….even if it hurts. 

  4. Thanks, Mark, for challenging and encouraging us with wisdom from the Word.  Not only do we see this in our counselees, but even in ourselves when we fail to address them.  We (I) need constant reminding that humbly and gently (Gal. 6:1) calling our counselees to repent from every sin is always best for them and always what brings the most glory and honor to God.

  5. Sins of commission and omission are sometimes related or follow the other. For instance, look at how the Penn State/Paterno thing involves both… omission by “officials” helped facilitate commission by Sandusky. Or the example of the married couple: 20yr of ‘omission’ by the husband’s lack of love results in the wife’s ‘commission’ of divorce. Thanks Mark for the encouragement to be bold in proclaiming truth……

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