Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 21
To him, then, who is knowing how to do good, but is not doing it, it is sin to him. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 4:17, mjlt)
Sin is one of those tricky subjects with which we, as believers in Yeshua, have a tendency to play fast and loose. We know in our heads and hearts what is right and wrong, but when it comes to applying that knowledge to our lives, we like to lean as far as we can into the grey. It is from that compromised position, then, that Scripture can become twisted or misconstrued in our minds. This is why some believers will defend their sin by saying it’s a matter of conscience, and not all so-called sin is the same. In other words, “it is sin to him” (as the Scriptures say) is actually a statement of relativity (so some of us believe), and, therefore, what is sin for you is not sin for me.
So if you believe that cursing and drinking (to inebriation) and “mature” entertainment and pre-marital relations are sin, but I don’t, then it’s sin for you—but not for me. For me, they are just adult decisions, and the Scriptures are either silent about them (that is, they don’t explicitly address them), or can be understood in different ways. But if you see those things as wrong, then you just have a “weak conscience” (see 1 Corinthians 8), which means you shouldn’t do them, because then you would be sinning.
But while such false thinking betrays not only the letter but also the spirit of the word, it finds no friend in “it is sin to him.” Indeed, the immediately preceding verse says it all: “As it is, you boast in your pride. All such boasting is evil” (Ya’aqov 4:16). It is arrogance that leads us to subvert the instructions of Scripture, and worse, to attempt to use Scripture itself to justify our subversion. Not only are we endeavoring to elevate ourselves and our own thoughts and standards above God’s, but we are trying to use His own words to do it. And this leads to the actual point of the instructions that “to him, then, who is knowing how to do good, but is not doing it, it is sin to him.” It is in arrogance that we repudiate the good we know, and, in so doing, it becomes sin… for us!
To begin with, neither “sin” nor “good” are left up to us to define. The knowledge of “how to do good” is not subjective, but rather conveyed to us by God Himself. He, Himself, is good (Ps. 25:8), as is obeying His words (De. 12:28). God’s loving-kindness is good (Ps. 69:16), as is His command (Ro. 7:12), His Torah (Ro. 7:16), and His perfect will (Ro. 12:2). It is good to speak a word in season (Pr. 15:23), and it is good to seek justice and correct oppression (Is. 1:17). God “has declared to you, O man, what is good: …to do judgment, and love loving-kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Why, then, would we not want to do the good that we know? Because we are selfish, and only want to do the good that we want. We desire to be unbound by our responsibility to others, and to be “free” to do as we wish. We want to be answerable to no one with regard to ourselves, our principles, or our circumstances.
“It is sin to him,” then, in no way supports or implies the idea that “what is sin for you is not sin for me.” Rather, it is a warning that when we do not act on the God-given and God-defined knowledge of good, then that failure to act becomes sin. If you see a person in need, and you can help, but you don’t, your refusal to help is sin to you. If you see your brother in Messiah faltering in his faith, but you do not offer words of edification and correction, your holding your tongue is sin to you. We know the good we are to do, and the word tells us how to do it. But when we know that good, and yet we do not act on it, to us, simply, “it is sin.”
Claiming that “what is sin for you is not sin for me” is just another way of saying, “what is truth for you is not truth for me”—both of which are undermined by the very Scripture some attempt to use to justify it. The good we all know as Messiah-followers is the same good God has revealed in His word to us all. We have no valid reason not to do that good, and when we evade or refuse to do it, we then own that sin. “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but Adonai is measuring hearts” (Pr. 21:2). Don’t be deceitful in dealing with others or yourself; do not sin—you know exactly what God expects of you. You need look no further than the good for you that God has done. You have all you need to know… now, go do good.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!