Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Sin of Neglecting God
Give to the LORD the glory due His name
Question 105 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the First Commandment?” In the second part of the answer, it says, “The sins forbidden in the First Commandment are… the not having and avouching him for God, and our God; the omission or neglect of any thing due to him, required in this commandment; ignorance, forgetfulness, misapprehensions, false opinions… .” Last week we looked at the sin of idolatry, this week we examine the sin of not rendering to God His due.
Humans sin by breaking God’s law. We can break God’s law in two ways: sins of commission: when we do the evil we are forbidden to do; and sins of omission: when we do not do the good we are obligated to do. Today’s question deals with sins of omission. The first sin of omission mentioned is the sin of NOT having and avouching God for God and our God. The reason why NOT having and affirming God and our responsibility before Him are sins, is because all men have this knowledge by nature (Rom. 1:19-21). As we have seen previously, there are no honest atheists. Every person who claims to not know God is deceiving himself. Thus, the sin of not acknowledging and honoring God is a sin of neglecting a known duty. Furthermore, as human beings who know God, we must not only acknowledge who God is, we must accept Him as our God, because He is and we know that He is! When we do not honor Him as our God, we exchange the truth of God for a lie, which is to worship and serve the creature (in this case ourselves), rather than the Creator who alone is inherently blessed forever, amen (Rom. 1:25).
In the military, soldiers are usually required to honor their superior officers by saluting them. In every kind of salute, there are specific rules that determine the location of the hand, the angle of the arm, the position of the legs and feet, the posture, etc. If even one of these rules for the salute is omitted, the soldier has not properly honored his commander. Because of his relationship to his superior officer, the soldier owes him the honor of a full salute, without neglecting any part of it. Moreover, the soldier cannot plead ignorance as a valid excuse, for it is his duty to learn the protocol and performance of the proper salute. Similarly, because of our relationship to God as creatures made in His image and for His good purposes, to neglect to do anything that is His due breaks the First Commandment by omission. Thus, the Catechism teaches that it is a sin of omission to be ignorant of our duty before Him, for it is our duty to learn the protocol and performance of how to properly honor our God.
Likewise, we cannot be excused from our duties to God by forgetting. To forget to honor God is to sinfully allow something less than God to replace God in our thinking. So also misapprehending something about God occurs only when we have not been careful enough to properly apprehend it! Again, if our minds gave God the attention that is appropriate to His exalted being, we could not now and would not ever misapprehend anything about Him. Consequently, we would never entertain a false opinion about God, for we would be careful to only think accurately about Him.
Here, some ask, “But so long as we are limited in our knowledge of God, how can we prevent having some ignorance about Him, or how can we perfectly apprehend Him, or refuse all false opinions about Him?” Such objections are based on an incorrect notion of our duty before God. Consider the angels or the saints in heaven. We know they are without sin, yet we also know that they are limited in knowledge. All finite creatures are, and must always be limited in knowledge. Only the infinite God is omniscient. Thus, we only commit the sin of ignorance, misapprehensions, and forming false opinions when we neglect the duties required of us in properly honoring God in our thinking as limited creatures. God does not now and will never require omniscience from us! He requires us to be faithful with the limited capacity of our brains to fully honor Him according to the amount of revelation we have been given. Thus, in the Old Testament saints could not be faulted for not knowing God’s Triune nature or the name of the Son, for God had not yet clearly revealed those things. Now, however we should know these things for God has revealed them to us. Ask God to increase in your heart a longing to honor Him as He deserves!