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Sins that Lead to Death
Robert Wurtz II
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. (1 John 5:16–17 ESV)
“John has drawn the lines between believers and unbelievers as clearly as possible.” (H. Marshall)
There is a carelessness regarding salvation and pleasing God that infiltrated what might be called “Christendom” over the last 100 years. The doctrines of Eternal Security or “Once Saved Always Saved” is largely to blame because it numbs the conscience to any concern about one’s salvation. It is effectively an insurance policy for the soul that millions have trusted rather than taking seriously the numerous warnings about continuing in damnable sins or making our calling and election sure.
Also to blame is the hyper-grace message that ignores or dismisses the same scriptures as Eternal Security (OSAS) prevalent in the Charismatic Movement. The notion that “God doesn’t see your sin, He sees Jesus” or “God is not mad at you He is mad about you” are damnable heresies. Eternal Security, Hyper-Grace, and other like doctrines numb the conscience with a false sense of assurance of salvation. Professing believers can embrace sin confidently knowing that God is still “mad about them” and not “mad at them” (1 Cor. 10:22, James 4:5 NKJV, Psalm 7:11). The epistle of First John was written to show that such doctrines are mythology, not theology.
Notice in our passage there is a progression to a person’s sin that must be caught early before it becomes a sin unto death. The person has not yet committed a sin leading to death but they are clearly in need of intervention. An individual must sense that they are in danger and allow God to employ measures in the saving of their soul. Once rebellion towards God sets in, the person not only becomes the enemy of God, but they become their own worst enemy. Like a sheep who has fallen onto a ledge, they may jump to their death if someone tries too hard to intervene.
Solomon once wrote, “He that wins souls is wise.” The problem is that many reject help once they reach a certain point in their rebellion. God is patient and will chasten the person to bring correction. If we pray, we should pray according to the person’s condition. Don’t pray that God makes their life easy or relieves their pain. We need to work with God in awakening them from their spiritual slumber. Our part, especially when it comes to elders (leaders), is not to “sweep unrepentant sin under a rug” to help the rebellious save face. They must be dealt with for their own good and the good of the churches.
“As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” (1 Timothy 5:20 ESV)
Our job is to do our part to make the person see their sin for what it is. We should avoid them and not eat with them while they are in rebellion (1 Cor. 5:11). When I’ve done this in the past the person typically will say, “He abandoned me” or some other cynical reaction not realizing that I was obeying God (Romans 16:17). Don’t be swayed by these comments. Their only hope is for everyone to do their part and obey God in this regard. King Saul wanted Samuel to accompany him in public so that the people wouldn’t know what he had done and that God had rejected him for it. When Samuel walked away, Saul grabbed his clothes and tore them (1 Samuel 15:27). Furthermore, sometimes a person should be to be turned over to Satan to bring them to repentance (1 Corinthians 5:5).
Modern Day Indifference
In centuries past, and in the early years of the Church, when a child of God saw a brother or sister sinning they tried to intervene. Paul even confronted Peter for hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11). He didn’t subscribe to the view that says, “Just pray for him.” Modern readers may see this Galatian event in a negative light, but it was an act of utmost love and concern. Rather than confronting, believers today are numb to the danger so they sense little need to intervene. Moreover, some are tempted to try and “pray them back into the kingdom” without realizing that the only recourse is the sinner’s personal repentance. They have to come to themselves (Luke 15:17-20). My praying doesn’t save sinners.
Additionally, it is folly for the rebellious to say, “Just pray for me” and continue downhill towards total ruin and death (Acts 8:24, 1 Samuel 15). Prayer and repentance are something they must do. Nobody else can do it for them.
The chief characteristic of an unbeliever is that they sin and then refuse to acknowledge it (1 John 1:8, 10). Like the fig leaves that Adam and Eve sewed together to cover their nakedness, denial is the ancient way sinners cover their sins. Yet occasionally, sin is found among believers who refuse to acknowledge their sins and turn from them. Unrepentant sin eventually leads to chastening from God. Common methods of chastening include sickness or death (Acts 5:1–11; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 11:29–30; 1 Tim 1:20; James 5:15; Revelation 2:23).
John uses the phrase “sin that leads to death,” in which he refers to behaviors that are incompatible with walking in the light and being born of God. He repeatedly warns his readers about sins that lead to death though he doesn’t frame his words the same. He says things like, “Whosoever hates his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:15) Clearly, this is a sin unto death. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15) This is also a sin unto death.
John emphasizes the godly behaviors of the born again. Renunciation of sin, love for one another, and rejecting worldliness are some examples. A person who refuses these directives walks in the opposite of light and life: darkness and death. Therefore, to reject Christ’s teachings is to reject Christ. Let that sink in.
Before we can prescribe a remedy, we must understand the disease. (William Allen)
One of the tragedies of modern times is that it’s rare to find teachers, preachers, and writers who share the same concern for the danger of sin that the apostles had. The time would fail to list all the New Testament warnings that should highly alarm the rebellious. Yet rather than warn them we often comfort and pray for them. Where is the minister who would declare with Jesus, “Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” (John 5:14) It’s like there is a bounty on negative feelings so they are intolerable. Because of this we risk working against God and not with Him in the conversion of sinners.
Paul and John
Paul agrees with John and speaks of a commonly overlooked condition of “professing to know God but in works denying Him” (Titus 1:15). Denying Christ is a sin unto death. Moreover, actions and words have to match when it comes to the profession of faith. Everyone who names the name of Christ must depart from iniquity (2 Timothy 2:19). One does not become a child of God by merely saying they are one, though many have tried it. You will know them by their fruits, said the Lord Jesus (Matthew 7:16). Deliberate and unconfessed sin leads to apostasy and is evidence of the presence of the spirit of this age (spirit of antichrist).
Unrepentance (Regretting Getting Saved)
To deliberately sin as described above is to turn away from God. This is UN-repentance and works-based apostasy. Understand that there is a sense in which all sin is deliberate. Temptation presents itself, and a believer may sin and temporarily act unrighteously. However, John and Paul are not referring to this kind of sin. Instead, he is addressing the kind of high-handed disregard of Christ’s teachings that trods them underfoot.
Imagine that God has revealed to someone that they hate their brother or sister in Christ. As we have said, this is a sin unto death. Rather than repent and turn from the sin, like the rich young ruler and his possessions, they go away sorrowfully, clutching their hatred and bitterness. Jesus gives people an ultimatum: repent or perish (Luke 13:3-5). If they reject repentance, they start to perish. There is nothing that a fellow believer can do. God has already dealt with the person all He is going to. He has given them a choice, and they chose hatred. There is no point in praying for them. Repentance is their only hope.
Prayer is out of order when repentance is required. The same can be said of blessing a person in need when you have the means to help them (James 2:16). Imagine the folly of a rebellious child back-talking his parent, and rather than allowing the parent to discipline them, someone suggests “praying about it.” If that happened in your house, with your child, you would probably show the person the door. Why? Because the solution for rebellion is never prayer, it is always repentance. Did Jesus suggest praying for the rich young ruler? Nay verily. He used it as a teaching moment to warn about greed. Instead, pray for people like Peter, who wanted to be faithful but faced the trial of his lifetime and didn’t know it (Luke 22:32).
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