1Jn 5:16-18 “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.”
The Bible is very clear on the wages of sin; it is death (Rom 6:23). None of Adam’s offspring will escape death (1Cor 15:22). Keeping these Biblical facts in view, it seems obvious that John was not writing here about sin in the context of that which the blood of Jesus cleansed us from eternally. Instead, John is giving us counsel concerning the action we should take when we see our brother walking in error.
When we look at the phrase “sin a sin” we find that these two instances of the word come from slightly different roots. The first word translated as “sin” is defined as “properly to miss the mark (and so not share in the prize), that is, (figuratively) to err, especially (morally) to sin.” The second word translated as sin is defined simply as “sin (properly abstract).” When we see a brother who is missing the mark (Php 3:14) we are to lift that brother up in prayer before God.
As we look at sin here in the context of being “not unto death” or “unto death,” I believe John is dealing with gospel judgment. I know from my own experience that there have been times when I have taken a position on a scripture with all honesty and sincerity; I was honestly and sincerely wrong. I had missed the mark, but thank God I had brothers who lifted me up to God and He gave me life. He quickened me to a better understanding so that I no longer walked in that error. There was chastening by my Heavenly Father and repentance granted from Him; I lived and did not die.
As we have seen in our studies, while some may miss the mark others simply do not desire the mark; they don’t like to retain God in their knowledge (Rom 1:28). They are not seeking after the things of God. There was a time recorded in Jeremiah when God’s people had so despised His way that He commanded the prophet “Pray not for this people for their good (Jer 14:11).” Death was appointed unto them as a nation; not that they all died physically at that time but they were made dead to the unity they had once enjoyed with God and each other (Jer 15:4). While this sin unto death is not about the loss of eternal salvation, it is nonetheless a grievous loss.
There is a sin unto death. When we willfully walk away from the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the only begotten Son of God, this is not missing the mark. Turning aside from the truth means we aren’t pressing to the mark. We are more concerned with our own way than submitting ourselves to God. While this may not cost us our eternal salvation, it certainly takes away our peace, our hope, and our consolation here. We are dead to the joy of His kingdom at hand.
God told Jeremiah not to pray for the good of His people; they did not desire to seek God’s face. During Samuel’s time, there was still a rebellious spirit in the people. They wanted a king like the rest of the world had. This desire grieved Samuel and he was not happy with God’s people either. However, we see a different attitude among the people in that they asked Samuel to pray for them (1Sam 12:19). They acknowledged their sin and Samuel replied to them “God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you (1Sam 12:23).” While we need to recognize that there is a sin unto death, and John says he is not saying that we should pray for it, we need to have clear direction from God through the Holy Spirit if we ever find ourselves failing to pray for our brother.
The scripture plainly teaches us that we are all sinners. John has told us in the beginning of this letter that if we say we have no sin we are a liar and the truth is not in us (1Jn 1:8). Now he is telling us that “whosever is born of God” does not sin. For me, the key to this comes in the next phrase that “he that is begotten of God” keeps himself and the wicked one does not touch him. Whosoever is born of God refers to those in whom the Son has taken up His abode with His Father, and they are led by the Holy Spirit. We, as Adam’s children, cannot keep ourselves. Christ dwelling in us keeps Himself thus giving us the mind of Christ and the desire to press toward the mark. Though we are sinners, our sinful nature cannot touch the nature of Christ.
May we always stand ready to pray for our brother that errs, and may we never take it upon ourselves to not pray for a brother unless expressly forbidden by the Spirit of God!