“Sin Leading to Death”
“If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.”1 John 5:16-17
John discusses two classes of sins—those in which there is hope for the sinner and those in which there is no hope. In the first class, prayer may be effective for redemption; in the second, there is no guarantee that prayer will be effective. Thus, the sin unto death is the unpardonable sin (Matthew 12:31, 32). Hence, a sin not unto death is any other sin that the sinner does.
While it is true that all sin, if persisted in, will lead to death (Ezekiel 18:4, 24; James 1:15), there is a difference in the degree to which any particular act of sin will bring a man near to death. The sins committed by those who are genuinely anxious to serve God, but who suffer from weaknesses are completely different from those sins that are deliberately and persistently done against the Lord’s will.
It is more the motive that determines the difference, than the act of sin itself. The minor sin, quickly repented of and forgiven, is a sin not unto death. The sin, fallen into suddenly through failing to connect to the Lord, is not a sin unto death, if followed by sincere repentance; but the refusal to repent makes the ultimate death sure.
This difference in sins is illustrated in the lives of Saul and David. The first sinned, and did not repent (1 Samuel 15:10); the second sinned, but deeply repented (Psalm 51). Saul died, without hope of having eternal life; David was forgiven and given the promise of eternal life.
This does not mean that the Christian should not continue to pray for those who have fallen away, or who have never surrendered to Christ. But John is simply showing that there is no use praying for forgiveness for a sinner who refuses to repent of his sin. Yet, we should continue to pray, for we cannot tell for sure when a man has gone too far.
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In His service,