A word of caution from Jordan B. Peterson in his current best-seller 12 Rules for Life reminded me of something important I taught for years, but have not said much about the last few years. In Rule 10 (Be Precise in Your Speech) he warns, “Don’t ever underestimate the destructive power of sins of omission” (p. 271).
A good definition I used for sin in my “Bible Basics and Our Church” class was that sin is “missing the mark.” The image suggests shooting an arrow at a target and missing it. I always made the point that there were two ways to miss. One was missing by going past the target. The other was to miss by coming up short of the target.
When it comes to sin there are two ways to miss the mark: there are sins of commission and there are sins of omission. The root verb of the word commission is to commit—to do something God has told us not to do. The root verb of the word omission is to omit—not to do something God has asked us to do (to leave something out).
My sense is that in general the Church and Christians have overemphasized sins of commission to the neglect of sins of omission. We have majored in those things we should not do and minored in those things we should do. Some have known Christians more for what they are against than for what they are for.
I not suggesting we should quit talking about the things God has clearly instructed us not to do. With many people first coming to Christ, dealing with sins of commission would seem to be the first kind of sin to address. But soon on the heels of that, I would hope an equal emphasis would be put on sins of omission.
I’m excited to teach a Sunday evening class this fall entitled Overcoming and Replacing the Seven Deadly Sins. The focus of overcoming the seven deadly sins will be on sins of commission. The emphasis on replacing them will be primarily about sins of omission.
We all miss the mark when it comes to living as the Lord has called his followers to live. We need to deal with both sins of commission and sins of omission. And I think Peterson’s observation—“Don’t ever underestimate the destructive power of sins of omission”—is worth taking to heart.
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