1 John 5:16–17
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.
This is one of the most frightening and difficult passages in all of scripture. While it directly speaks of someone who commits a sin which does not lead to death, it implies that there is a special kind of sin that does lead to death. This sin is so severe that John indicates that there’s no point in even praying about it.
And he doesn’t tell us what that sin is. Yikes. Here are the clues.
- This sin is an act that someone might see (detect, actually. That could mean hear.)
- It’s not worth praying about. That means the sinner is a lost cause.
- All unrighteousness is sin, but this one is different; there is sin not leading to death.
This is the oft analyzed topic known as “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.” The other standard references on this are Jesus’s description of it in the synoptic gospels (Matthew 12:24–32, Mark 3:28–30 and Luke 12:10) plus two descriptions in Hebrews.
Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: … “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.” — Matthew 12:24–25a, 31
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. — Hebrews 6:4–6a
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. — Hebrews 10:26–27
There are also some telling cases in scripture: Judas Iscariot and Ananias and Sapphira. Contrast them to simple enemies. We are called to pray for our enemies—even Saul could become Paul the apostle—yet Judas repented to no avail. Ananias and Sapphira weren’t even given a chance to repent.
It’s the cases that can be redeemed that point to the solution. It matters how informed the sinner is.
Sins committed in ignorance are forgivable.
This should spawn compassion for non-believers. They know not what they do.
These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. The Weekend DEEPs are written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.