Question: "What is a sin of commission?"

Answer: There are two basic ways we sin: either by omission or commission. Sins of omission are those in which we knew we should have done something good, but refused (James 4:17). A sin of commission is a sin we take action to commit, whether in thought, word, or deed. A sin of commission can be intentional or unintentional. Foreknowledge is not the issue. If you visit another country in which traffic drives in the left lane, and you drive in the right lane, you are still breaking the law whether you know it or not. The Old Testament Law prescribed special sacrifices for sins that were unintentional but were nevertheless sins (Numbers 15:22–24; cf. Hebrews 9:7).

Humanity’s first sin was a sin of commission. God forbade the eating of a certain fruit (Genesis 2:16–17). Adam and Eve knew God’s command and disobeyed anyway (Genesis 3:6). They took action to commit a sinful act. When King David committed adultery and then had Uriah killed to cover it up, both were sins of commission (2 Samuel 11). The Bible does not hide the often sordid details of the lives of people He loved and used anyway. Its pages are peppered with sins of commission by great leaders such as Abraham (Genesis 20:2), Moses (Exodus 2:11–12), David (2 Samuel 12:13), Solomon (Nehemiah 13:26), Peter (Matthew 26:74–75), and Paul (Galatians 1:13).

We are all guilty of sins of commission. We all commit intentional sin by acting in ways God has forbidden. We also commit unintentional sin in our ignorance of God’s standards (Acts 3:17; 1 Peter 1:14; Leviticus 4:13–14). Our sin nature keeps us from fellowship with God. We may be able to limit the number of sins we openly commit, but we cannot cleanse our hearts. Jesus said that “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” (Matthew 15:18–19).

That’s why we need Jesus. We cannot stop ourselves from sinning, and by sinning we eliminate any hope of connecting with a holy God. Only when we allow Christ’s death and resurrection to be our substitute can our sin be expunged (Colossians 2:14; Romans 6:6). Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus took upon Himself all our sins of commission and omission and paid the debt we owe God.

Psalm 51 is the prayer David wrote after he had been confronted with his own sin of commission. He had sinned greatly, and there would be consequences (2 Samuel 12:14–15). But he knew how to repent. And he had enough confidence in the mercy of God to cry out, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Psalm 51:10–12). David models for us the right way to deal with our sins of commission. When we recognize our sin against God, we can turn to Him, acknowledge that sin, and ask for His cleansing. We can trust in the power of Jesus’ shed blood to wipe away our sin. God promises to restore us to fellowship and strengthen us to live in a way that pleases Him (Philippians 4:13).