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What is the "sin unto death" that is in 1 John 5:16-17?

Our question today is: what is the sin unto death that the apostle John talks about in 1 John 5:16-17? If there is a sin unto death how can I avoid it? Let’s take a look at what the verses say and then work our way through them to the answer to our question.

“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 5:14-17

Now, to start out, the first thing we can say about these verses is that God takes sin seriously—so much so that there is here described a “sin leading to death.” Sin is not a light-hearted thing before God. Quite the opposite, sin is viewed by God as something that assaults the soul and smears the witness of His children. All sin committed by believers will be disciplined by the Lord but, if one of His children chooses to continue in a lifestyle of sin in an unconfessed and unrepentant way, according to the apostle John, God may decide to end their lives on earth. This principle is illustrated in the New Testament in the cases of Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5:1-11, of the immoral man in 1 Corinthians 5:5, and with those who had taken part in the Lord’s Supper in an irreverent way in 1 Corinthians 11:30.

Of course, the contrast in these verses includes “sin not leading to death.” So, what is the difference between sins that the Lord deems worthy of death and those He does not. Simply put, the “sin which does not lead to death” is sin that is confessed and repented of before the Lord. The prime example of a godly man sinning—and yet confessing and repenting of those sins is King David. He lusted after Bathsheba, committed adultery with her, murdered her husband, and covered it up for almost a year. If ever someone deserved the death penalty by God for his actions, it would have been David! Instead, we find the mercy of God being poured out only after David’s confession saying, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Then the prophet Nathan issues the pardon from the Lord — “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” Following this encounter there is discipline from the Lord because of David’s sinful actions, but the sweet psalter of Israel does not die.

My friend, these verses teach us that there is great danger in a believer in Jesus Christ continuing to live in a lifestyle of unconfessed and unrepentant sin. The answer to our question today should have a profound impact upon our walk with God—When you and I stumble and sin in our walk with the Lord, may we be quick to confess and repent of that sin. It is the highest principle of wisdom to keep short accounts with the Lord when it comes to dealing with our sin. May the Lord keep us ever close to His side!

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