1 John 5:16-18
The Sin unto Death
Christianity is a mediated religion. This statement may shock some people who are aware that the Reformation taught us that we need not go before a priest to confess our sins but may go before God without the intervention of another. This is certainly true; our sins are forgiven us only through the person and work of the Mediator between God and man—Jesus Christ. But the Reformation also taught us that every believer is a priest, meaning that every believer may intercede for another believer—and not just for physical ailments but even that God would forgive his brother his sins as is plainly taught here: “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.” We tend to see sin as a matter between a person and his God; that’s because we Americans are rugged individualists. But we may pray to the Father that He forgive our brother’s sins, especially those which may not be so obvious to our brother. This is a very loving and kind thing to do for one another.
But then there is that troublesome line: “There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.” We naturally ask: What is this sin leading to death over which a believer might even choose not to intercede on his brother’s behalf? In light of John’s letter, it would mean: 1) Not believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who came in the flesh; 2) Not following our Lord’s commands; and, 3) Not loving our brothers. We should not see these three as isolated sins but as naturally connected—the one flowing from the other—and as deliberate and determined. This person has no intention to repent. Some call this the sin of apostasy referred to in Hebrews 6:1-8. Regardless, what we seem to have here is a deliberate turning away from the Lord and determination to live in presumptuous sin (see NICNT, 245-49). And please note, John does not command believers not to pray for such a one, only that they are not required to do so, leaving to the individual believer to intercede or leave matters in God’s hands.
Although my ESV Bible separates verse eighteen from the foregoing, I believe these verses go together. “All wrongdoing is sin,” we are told. But lest some doubt, the faithful are reminded that the one born of God “does not keep on sinning.” And why is this? Because “God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” Those born again have a sure heritage founded not on themselves but on the Keeper of their souls. Therefore, let us apply to our Lord and Master in temptation; He is our Refuge and Shield.