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Hope When We Sin by Not Doing Anything

I don’t usually talk about sins of omission. I have my common, go-to sin examples I reference when teaching—sins like lying, lust, and greed. Are there really sins we commit by not doing anything? Is that right? If I didn’t do anything, how could I have done something wrong?

God makes it clear that sins of omission are not only possible but all too common. James 4:17 says we sin if we know good we ought to do and don’t do it. Paul echoes this sentiment when he writes, “I do not do the good I want” (Rom. 7:19).

Before Christ came and offered himself up as our ultimate and final sacrifice (Heb. 10:10), God reminded his people of their sins by giving them the series of five sacrifices described in the opening chapters of Leviticus. The first sacrifice, the whole burnt offering, was specifically given to cover the people’s sins of omission.

Whole Burnt Offering

The whole burnt offering was the most frequently performed offering in Israel. The sacrifice was made twice each day and additional times on special holy days (Num. 28).

God makes it clear that sins of omission are not only possible but all too common.

The Hebrew word for “burnt offering,” ʿōlâ, comes from a root meaning “to ascend” or “to go up in smoke.” Unlike the other offerings where parts of the animal were saved as food for the priests, the entirety of this offering went up in smoke as a “pleasing aroma to the LORD” (Lev. 1:9).

The animal selected for the whole burnt offering had to be a male without defect. This was costly; the most valuable animal in the herd. The sacrifice felt like a sacrifice. Moreover, the person bringing the sacrifice would place his hand on the head of the animal, signifying a symbolic transfer of guilt for sins (cf. Num. 27:15–23; Deut. 34:9). The burnt offering would be accepted in place of the Israelite who brought it.

But if you read ahead in Leviticus, you’ll discover other offerings given for sins. So which sins did the whole burnt offering cover?

In Leviticus 4 and 5, we see the sin offering was given to decontaminate sinners and cover their sins of commission; we also see trespass offerings were given to make reparation between the sinner and God. This leaves the burnt offering to cover sins of omission.

What About Our Sins of Omission Today?

In his teaching, Jesus gave us several examples of sins of omission: whatever we ought to do for the least of these, like giving food or water to the hungry or thirsty, taking in strangers, clothing the naked, taking care of the sick, and visiting those in prison (Matt. 25:35–40). We commit sins of omission when we fail to care for our neighbor. But as Jesus said, loving God and others is more important than even the burnt offering (Mark 12:33).

Just as in the Old Testament, there’s a sacrifice for our sins of omission today. Wait, put down the knife—the answer isn’t a new burnt offering. Hebrews teaches us that the Levitical offerings—including the whole burnt offering—were provisional for God’s people, that the blood of bulls and goats could never finally take away sins (Heb. 10:1–4). The Israelites offered the burnt offering over and over and over (v. 11).

By offering these sacrifices God required, Old Testament believers did reveal their faith. But the Old Testament sacrifices weren’t in themselves able to cover moral transgressions and assuage God’s holy wrath against sin. They needed a better burnt offering.

The Greek word used to translate “whole burnt offering” in the Septuagint occurs twice in the New Testament. One instance is Mark 12:33 (referenced above). The second is found in Hebrews 10:6–8. There we see that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, as the once-for-all-time sacrifice his people needed (v. 10). We’re saved from our sins of both omission and commission through faith in Christ’s precious blood.

Offer Yourself to Christ as a Living Sacrifice

Jesus the burnt offering who enables us to wholly delight in obedience to God. The Levitical burnt offering pointed Israel forward to the day their Messiah would come and make a way for true and final forgiveness. Israel was forgiven on credit as they looked forward in faith to the Savior who’d one day pay the full punishment due for their sins. Today, God’s people are saved on debit because the price has already been paid.

We’re saved from our sins of both omission and commission through faith in the precious blood of Christ.

And because Christians are fully forgiven, we can now offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). This means actively choosing to use our giftings for God’s service instead of neglecting them or using them for selfish motives (vv. 3–8). It means walking in Christian love, repenting from sin, purposefully rejecting evil, and putting on persistent prayer and care for others (vv. 9–21).

You can practice repenting from sins of omission by making it a point to take action, perhaps by having a neighbor over for a meal, giving an older saint a ride to church, or setting aside intentional time for prayer. As Paul writes in Ephesians 5:2, “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”


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