Three Kinds of Sin


Sin is not something that we like to talk about. In fact, people have even gone so far as to deny its reality, even though it bobs back to the surface just as soon as it is denied.

Often, the mistake that is made is that sin is somehow external, that it is only what can be seen. Jesus, in what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount and in other places, dispelled such misapprehension to the reality of sin, saying things like,

“I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28, ESV)


“[What] comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. (Matthew 15:18-19, ESV)”

Sin is both internal and external. The sin that exists in each of it will eventually find expression.
Theologians who have have spent a great deal of time in study of what sin is, a field of study called hamartiology, have given us three essential classes of sin: sins of presumption, sins of omission, and sins of commission. Let’s examine these in reverse order.

Sins of commission are often the most obvious because they are the the most public. Murder, adultery, gossip and slander, are easy to identify and are easy to address. Most often these sins are the ones that get addressed in the sermon on Sunday, or in the study on Wednesday night. This class of sin often overshadows the other two, which are just as condemnable, and just as spiritually deadly.

The sin of omission is probably the most deceptive class. James, the Lord’s brother, in his epistle, goes after this sin. In the context of unrighteous boasting and ignoring God’s provision and will, he criticizes his audience,

“[Whoever] knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:17, ESV)”

Knowing what is the right thing to do, and failing to act is a willful sin in the eyes of God. Our selfish, sinful tendency to fail to do what it right, to speak up, to hand up, to intervene, these are sinful acts in the eyes of a holy and just God.

Lastly, the sin of presumption is probably the most dangerous because it can go farther than righteous acts are supposed to go, or can presume something about an act that is explicitly denied. Paul attacked one leg of the sin of presumption in his epistle to the Roman church,

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2, ESV)”

This was directed towards those who saw the extension of God’s grace in salvation as an excuse to begin to engage in behaviors that God had explicitly condemned. However, there is a second leg that is seen in the Old Testament, when Saul is preparing to go into battle, and grows impatient at the lateness of the prophet Samuel, and in his impatience and fear, lights the sacrifice himself. Samuel’s poetic response is devastating to the king,

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.  (1 Samuel 15:22-23, ESV)”

God doesn’t speak just to hear his own voice, but to make revelation and to speak truth in instruction to his creatures. Probably the best example of this are, what I call, inconsistent pro-lifers. They are opposed to abortion, but have no desire to engage in stopping this modern abomination. In fact, they will try to argue that those children who die in abortion go to heaven. How do they know this? It sounds like they are, in fact, presuming on God’s grace. Now, while I will not try to limit God, I can read his law and grasp a limited understand his will, namely that God expressly forbids the taking of innocent life, and those that do so have forfeited their own.

This is just a brief summary of these issues as I have thought about them and wrestled with them in my life.

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