1 John 5:16-17
16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life–to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.
All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
In our last post, as we were looking at this passage, we admitted to five questions that came to mind. We tried to deal with the first two of the five in our first post. Let’s tackle our last three questions.
- What is sin not leading to death?
- What is the specific sin that leads to death?
- Why are we told not to pray?
Ok – So let’s dive in, but as a quick review, let’s summarize our earlier findings.
- “Does this verse refer to believers?”
- What is meant when the apostle speaks of death?
Onward to our next three questions.
What is a sin not leading to death?
How can John say this? Is not the wages of sin death? Does not the soul that sins die?
Note the indefinite article associated with sin not leading to death. It is “a sin”, a singular sin (?), not necessarily a continuous lifestyle, and not specifically identified. Note also, that this sin is seen by the brother. It is a visible sin, not a sin of thought, but of action or attitude. The Word speaks of the remedy for this situation as the appropriate rebuke of the sinning believer, with the sinful brother’s confession and restitution (if required) offered to God and the offended party.
I would like to add one additional thought before moving on to our next section. Could an Old Testament passage possibly shed some light on John’s reference to “a sin” in this passage? The book of Numbers speaks of unintentional and intentional sin, which may be in the back of John’s mind.
If one person sins unintentionally, he shall offer a female goat a year old for a sin offering.
And the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person who makes a mistake, when he sins unintentionally, to make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven.
As we discuss of sin not leading to death and of sin leading to death, the Numbers passage may provide some background to John’s teaching regarding sin in a covenant family. So let us proceed unto “sin that leads to death”.
What is sin that leads to death?
John now speaks of sin (not “a” sin) that leads to death. No indefinite article here, and no reference to a brother “seeing” this condition of sin.
Let’s return to the passage from Numbers to see if intentional sin is discussed, and the result of this sin.
Numbers 15:30 But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people.
Cut off! Removed from the covenant people. Separated from the covenant people. Separated, my friends. Where have I heard that term before?
Let’s consider a few additional Old Testament verses of the same vein.
one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike.
The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven.
Stubbornness of heart. I would humbly suggest this is the issue in our passage in John, and that this stubbornness of heart leads to an apostacy, or a falling away from faith.
My friends, we need to be open to the Lord’s words, no matter how difficult the message may seem.
I have a friend with whom I chat with, an old friend who I love dearly, but he has informed me that he will not consider some questions I pose to him. Is he in danger of being cut off? I think not, since his desire is to know God deeper personally in his life, and most of the question I ask are of a secondary bible topic. Yet I feel an open and honest discussion of alternate views of the Bible that honor the Lord Jesus will only open up opportunities to know Him better, and to understand His family of believers.
Generally, an attitude of presumption (see Deuteronomy 29:19 above) may be one of the more dangerous positions for a believer to settle into, and allows for a dropping of our guard on many (if not all) of the attacks we may have to fight in our walk with the Master. And what is the result of this stubbornness of heart?
No forgiveness. The Bible actually states “The LORD will not be willing to forgive him“. This is one of the most startling phrases in the Word and when read with a sober mind, should shock each and everyone of us that have tasted that the Lord is good, that He is a merciful and loving God.
But this passage is not the only passage that speaks of unforgiveness towards a covenant people. Consider the following.
Leviticus 20:3 I myself will set my face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given one of his children to Molech, to make my sanctuary unclean and to profane my holy name.
Offering children up in human sacrifice to a false god is worthy of being cut off (separated) from the covenant people.
Leviticus 20:6 “If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.
Looking for spiritual guidance from anyone other than God results in being cut off (separated) from a covenant people.
Leviticus 17:10″If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people.
The blood represents life, and is the God-given opportunity for atonement. The eating of the blood is a direct affront to God’s provision. Result? To be cut off from God’s people.
Leviticus 26:17 ESV – I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you.
This is a verse from a lengthy passage describing the patience of the Lord with His people. See Conditional Security – Leviticus 26:14-45 for a discussion.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel use this same terminology of the Lord setting His face against His people and His nation.
Jeremiah 44:11 ESV – “Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will set my face against you for harm, to cut off all Judah.
Ezekiel 14:8 ESV – And I will set my face against that man; I will make him a sign and a byword and cut him off from the midst of my people, and you shall know that I am the LORD.
Ezekiel 15:7 ESV – And I will set my face against them. Though they escape from the fire, the fire shall yet consume them, and you will know that I am the LORD, when I set my face against them.
Each of the previous verses have spoken of the intent of the Lord in relation to the sin of His people. Jeremiah let’s us know of the reality of the Lord setting His face against His people.
Jeremiah 21:10 ESV – For I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good, declares the LORD: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.’
The reality of this verse occurred during the Babylonian siege and the following captivity, where death reigned down on the Israelites, and many were dragged off to another land. A truly horrific time in the nations history, a time which would sadly be repeated.
In summary, the sin that leads to death is not specifically defined by John, for it may have been an obvious condition brought about by many means, but with one main characteristic.
I would suggest the sin unto death is a falling away from God, from a desire to follow after God, to regard His commands (which are not burdensome – 1 John 5:3) as not worthy to consider, and to return to an existence of living in darkness, rejecting His guidance and provision.
I would suggest this to be a decision by a believer to actively (or passively) walk away from God, to determine to separate himself from the mercy of the Lord.
A continual and persistent willful disobedience to God.
Why are we told not to pray?
In keeping with considering Old Testament references in seeking to understand 1 John 5, when he instructs believers to “not pray” for the believer in this condition, I would offer the following passages.
Jeremiah 7:16 “As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you.
Jeremiah 11:14 “Therefore do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble.
Jeremiah 14:11 The LORD said to me: “Do not pray for the welfare of this people.
Granted, the only person instructed not to pray for the people in the Old Testament is the prophet Jeremiah, and it is instructive that he was the prophet left with the covenant people just prior to their destruction. Up until the end, the Lord was continually looking for those who may return to Him to return. To experience His forgiveness.
Look to the Lord continually. As a spirit of stubbornness against Him rises in your heart, confess, admit your weakness and seek the Lord’s mercy.
After this study, I realize my need of His grace more than ever and pray that those who read this post would be encouraged to seek Him out of love for Him, and not out of fear. He is constantly seeking us and we need to be pliable in His hands for His glory and our good.
For the Lord is good all the time.
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