THE SIN UNTO DEATH
1 John 5:16-17
INTRO: Our text concerns a very unusual subject. The subject is “The Sin Unto Death.” The previous verses dealt with the great subject of prayer. John continues the theme of prayer and deals with a particular aspect of prayer. There are many facets of prayer, many areas of this important part of the Christian life.
One area of our prayer life needs a great deal of improvement. We need to be diligent in our prayers for each other. In 1 Thessalonians 5:25, Paul admonished the Thessalonians, “Brethren, pray for us.” He needed the prayers of other people just as you and I need for others to pray for us.
I am afraid sometimes we are very selfish in our prayers. We pray for our own requests and the things we want and fail to pray for others who need our prayers. Our text has to do with intercessory prayer as it relates to the matter of sin in the lives of other believers. Here is a twofold division of sin. There is a sin not unto death and there is a sin unto death. There is no attempt on the part of John to minimize any act of sin, for he says in v. 17, “all unrighteousness is sin.” One of the real tragedies of life is the loss of an awareness of sin. All sin is serious! John gives to us in these verses a twofold designation of sin and reveals a wonderful truth about intercessory prayer.
I. THE POSSIBILITY (v. 16).
Christian Observation — “If any man sees . . .” Notice that it does not say, if any hears that his brother has sinned. He is not talking about “Christian gossip.” That is a very dangerous thing to do. Telling what you heard that someone did is one of the favorite indoor sports of Christians. Here he is referring to a Christian who actually, with his own eyes, sees another Christian sin.
Because we are one family in Christ, it is possible for us to observe one another’s faults, failures and areas where we need to grow. If you stay close enough to a person over a period of time, you will discover areas where he needs to be a better Christian. You will discover habits, dispositions, words that hurt the testimony of those who are the finest of Christians.
ILLUS: We are sometimes like the man who was eating Limburger cheese and got it in his mustache. He first stated that the room smelled rotten. Then the front porch, he then stepped out into the yard and exclaimed, “The whole world is rotten!” Have you ever noticed how easy it is to observe sin in the lives of others?
John had observed Simon Peter sin when he denied the Lord. He saw him do something that was totally inconsistent with his relationship to the Lord. That is Christian observation.
Christian Intercession. — What do you do when you observe your brother commit a sin? Some would pick up the phone and call 10 other people to tell them about it. Or say, “I knew they wouldn’t last as a Christian.” There is a tendency on the part of some to become very critical and condemn those who sin.
The Christian attitude is intercession, not condemnation! If you are going to talk about other Christians then do it on your knees. Simon was filled with pride. One of the things that hindered him from being what he should be was the spiritual pride in his life. He thought he was so big, so important. Notice how the Lord Jesus responded to that pride in Luke 22:31-32, “. . . Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, . . .” He did not talk about him, “. . . that thy faith fail thee not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” If you observe a fellow Christian sin then your response is to go to God in prayer.
Christian Restoration — “. . . and He shall give them life.” You can have part in the glorious ministry of Christian restoration. There are many on our church rolls that have not grown in the Lord and have been overtaken in a fault. What is our responsibility toward such a brother or sister? Listen to Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”
God says that prayer from believing Christians can rescue a man from losing his testimony and possibly his life. What if before we could remove anyone from our Sunday School rolls we had to prove that we had persistently interceded for them in prayer for at least as long as they had missed Sunday School?
II. THE PROHIBITION (v. 17).
A Word of Caution. — actually the article “a” should not be in this verse, it is misleading. It gives the idea that John is talking about a specific act of sin. A better translation would be: “there is sin leading to or leaning toward death, there is sin moving in the direction of death.” The word of God states unequivocally that there is a condition of heart and soul and spirit which can result in death. He is not talking about a specific act of sin necessarily, but a condition of the heart. An attitude, a spirit that leads toward death.
What is the sin unto death? Some believe that this is the same as the unpardonable sin spoken of by Jesus. But that can only be committed by the lost person. It is impossible for the saved person to commit this sin.
I believe that John is saying here that there is sin which leads to physical death. It is possible for the Christian to so continue in an attitude of rebellion against God and so allow sin to dwell in his life and hinder the testimony and the effectiveness of his church that the Bible says he can sin unto death and God will take his physical life.
There are examples of this attitude in the Bible. In 1 Corinthians 11:30 we are told, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep (die)” Why? Their sin hinders the church. In 1 Corinthians 5:5, God told about a man who was living in open sin. Paul said, “To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” It is possible to continue in an attitude of rebellion and sin against God that the physical life will be taken.
A Word of Correction. — John says, do not pray for them. I do not know when that time comes. I think we ought to pray for other Christians as much as we can. But if we persist in prayer and get the clear impression from God to stop then we are to stop. God said this about the children of Israel in Jeremiah 7:16, “Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee.”
CONC: A Christian who continues to sin when he has been warned by God is playing with fire! Do not pretend to be what you are not. Do not presume upon the mercy of God because the Scripture teaches there comes a time when God says, it is enough and God ends it all. Would you confess your sin and forsake it today? Recommit your life to Jesus Christ while there is time.
NOTE: This message is a revision of a sermon preached by my late father Ted Wood. It appears (though I can’t be certain) that he may have used Warren Wiersbe’s book "Be Real" for some of his inspiration.