“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17, ESV)
In 1983, the Lord saved me as I read a Gideon Bible in a Minneapolis hotel room. Shortly thereafter, I visited a church of another denomination. When I entered the church, in the narthex, there was a poster on the wall, right at the entrance to the church. It listed some ten to twenty prohibitions for the people in the church. They covered things regarding the way one should dress and speak. It was a list of “don’ts.” Do not do this or that. I was puzzled about the list and thought to myself, “This is what I must not do, but what am I supposed to do?” Yet even if they formulated the list to contain both “dos and don’ts,” in my opinion it would still miss the mark. The problem with the lists of “dos and don’ts,” is that they will always miss the main point.
James gave the example of some businessmen who were boasting about what they would do to make some money. In doing so, they denied the sovereignty of God. One huge problem with such boasting is that it results in people going in their own direction and potentially missing the will of God in their lives. This seems to be a point connected to this verse. James stated that these businessmen should have stated, “If the Lord wills,” we will do this or that. Yet, this statement indicates that it is of paramount importance to surrender to the will of the Lord.
The question of what is the will of the Lord has always been one for great discussion. I mean, how does one determine the will of the Lord in a specific situation? Verse 17 takes us right to this point. The implication is that we need to be doing the right thing and the right thing is the will of the Lord for us. So, then it behooves us to determine the will of the Lord and then do it. Let me present a few thoughts on determining the will of the Lord.
In one way, it is difficult or impossible to determine the will of the Lord. The reason is that His ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours are (Is 55:8-9). We will never be able to know everything that God knows. We will not be able to comprehend the full extent of God’s mind. He is omniscient and we are finite in our mental capacity.
Yet, regarding the will of God, there is much that we can know. First, everyone of us must understand that God has revealed everything we need to know to live a life according to His will in the Scriptures. Our problem is that we have not read and studied enough. His word, as illuminated by the Spirit, reveals to us His will. We need to become students of the Bible and remember that it is a lifelong effort. If you have read and studied the Bible once, do it again, and repeat.
Second, we must learn to live by the Spirit. We cannot expect to get it right if we are living according to our fleshly passions (Gal 5:16). We progress in this as we grow in Christlikeness, which is also a work of God’s Spirit in us.
So, if we can be people of the book, the Bible, growing in our understanding of it and living by the Spirit, we have an ability to know the mind of the Lord for us. We then will have an ability to know the right thing to do and the power to do it. If we fail to seek the will of the Lord by studying the Scripture or fail to live by the Spirit, we will miss the mark and sin by omission. Do not be complacent in your pursuit of the knowledge of God’s will as revealed in Scripture and then endeavor to yield your will to it.