“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is a sin” (James 4:17)

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is a sin” (James 4:17)img_0502

Have you heard of G.I. Joe? When I was growing up, a popular after school cartoon featured this fictional battle hero. The main character fought evil as he overcame personal obstacles.

I loved it. But what really kept me tuning in every week was the life lesson offered after each episode. G.I. Joe summarized the moral of the story to give viewers a take-home message. No lesson was complete without the reassurance that “knowing is half the battle.”

The reminder that we will inevitably make mistakes until we know better filled me with hope. I loved the lesson, but I loved the encouragement even more.

G.I. Joe might have said “knowledge is power.”

We have the power to make better choices when we have more information, when we know the rules, and when we understand the roles and behaviors expected of us.

But, there’s a flipside to this knowledge.

As James teaches, “whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is a sin” (4:17).

In other words, once we know, we are held to a higher standard of behavior. Once we appreciate what’s expected of us, we should fulfill such expectation. Once we understand the rules, not following through amounts to willfully breaking them.

Knowing gives us the power to make the right choice. But knowing doesn’t guarantee we will make the right choice. It’s still only half the battle. The other half requires that we respond to knowing. We still must choose to do the right thing. We abuse the power of knowing if we “drop the ball” and fail to put what we learned into action.

The good news, if we don’t act when we know we should (e.g. if we don’t speak up for someone who is bullied, if we exchange the truth for a lie, if we defy our parents’ wishes), we need not lose hope.

By genuinely acknowledging that we fell short and asking for forgiveness, we can be set on the right track again.


Discussion Questions

  1. Have you witnessed someone not doing what they were supposed to do? What was your reaction? Has anyone ever witnessed you not doing the right thing? How did you feel about yourself? Based on the lesson from James 4:17, how will you respond next time?


  1. As an example, let’s say someone was very hurt. If you weren’t the one who caused the hurt, would it be wrong for you to walk by and not help? What does James 4:17 say about such a situation?


  1. Now that you know that God expects you to do what you know is right even if you did nothing wrong, how would you respond differently next time you’re faced with a difficult situation? Discuss as a family.



Dear God, give me wisdom to know right from wrong. Help me to use that wisdom to make the right choice in every situation. Do not let me use the excuse that I didn’t do anything wrong. If there’s something I know I could do that would be right, give me the strength to do it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.