Do What You Ought

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. James 4:17

We read a lot about sin when we read our Bibles. We may not even have to be church-going folks to know a lot about sin. Case in point: I didn’t grow up in a church. We went a handful of times. The Christmas candle-lighting church-going kind. I think those regular attenders would have called us “the Christmas and Easter crowd.” Yes, people like us got names. I did, however, know about God. I knew about sin. It was probably one of the most talked about things growing up. All the things we couldn’t and shouldn’t do. Adam and Eve, and that original sin that came through them. I knew of personal sin, the sins we chose, our willful acts against God. I knew that a life of sin sent you to hell.

I now attend church regularly. I pastor in a church. Because, well…it is just like God to take someone from the “Christmas and Sunday crowd,” and use them to minister to others. I also am still tempted by Satan to sin. I may at times know what to do, and be tempted to not do it.

And just like myself, you are not immune.

I know what you may be thinking: I don’t sin. I read my Bible. I attend Bible study. I go to church every Sunday and I serve. So that isn’t me.

But you do struggle with the “what I know to do, but what I do anyways.” We all do. Even the Bible reading, Bible studying, Sunday going, preacher type. Because we are human. And we all have a propensity and a bend towards sin.

Look at Paul. Paul for goodness sake. He speaks to what we all encounter in our daily walk in holy living:

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. Romans 7:15-20, MSG

We sometimes decide to act in one way, but lack the self-control to simply do it. We don’t want to do that thing we said we were trying not to do, but we slip and do it again.

So yes…you have sinned. Maybe unintentionally. But you have done one thing when you should have done something else. Need some examples? Here’s some relatable ones for you in case you are stuck on robbery, murder or adultery. 

How about pure lack of self-control when it comes to maybe your speech? The Bible is clear about unwholesome talk, and it doesn’t just mean a few choice curse words. It means ill words about a believer, or anyone that God would desire that we speak of in love. We sin each time we choose to use words to tear down, instead of words to encourage or build up. We sin each time we go to our neighbor to speak ill words about a person, instead of words that are positive, edifying, and meant to glorify. We sin each time we gossip and repeat stories that we didn’t hear directly from the person about whom we are speaking. The Bible tells we ought not speak these hurtful things, and what we should do instead.

How about how we deal with our conflicts? The word is clear we should not sin in our anger (Ephesians 4:26), however, in conflict is anger our go to response? If it is, how is our behavior? Riddled with sharp words, and flailing arms. Or perhaps we never even have a conversation with the person at all, maybe we have it with everyone but. Conflict that is handled without sin at the center is handled like Jesus indicated in Matthew 18:15-20. Yet, we often do the opposite of what we know we ought.

Even yesterday…on Easter, my gracious. I had to pray through most of the service that God would rid me of the focus on anything else besides Him. Because I was just distracted. And maybe others didn’t see it, but I did…the screen turning off, the movement of people. My mind wandered to the number of things all around me that were overwhelming, and likely a tactic to take focus away from the purpose-Jesus’ victory over death.

And those simple, worldly things keep us focused on the world. Which is where Satan wants us.

And I know when I am distracted and the focus is taken off Him, other things set in. Anxiety breeds thoughts that lead directly where the devil wants me. In my own head. In my pride. On my self. Exactly where self-control flees, and sin can creep in. And if I don’t have a handle on it, I can forget what I ought, and do what I know I shouldn’t.

We all can get here. No matter how many Bible verses you read. Bible study or Sunday morning serves you attend. The devil is ready for you to shift focus, so he can grab your self-control and move you right into some sin.

Stand on guard. Keep your focus on Him, and what you ought to do. And if you shift, turn off course; no matter how small the curve-repent. And do what you ought again. And again. And again.

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