16 If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. (NIV)
1 John 5:1 - 21
ESV - 1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.
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The only sin that leads to death is the sin against the Holy Ghost, which is mentioned in Matthew 12:31. I'm going to leave a list of other texts that mention the same thing: Mark 3:28-29, Luke 12:10, Heb. 6:4, Heb. 10:26-29, and Acts 7:51. I have always been taught that if you fear you have sinned against the Holy Ghost, that is proof enough that you have not, for the sin against the Holy Ghost is one from which you will not turn back. This sin can be traced through 7 steps. It is not until the 6th step that it is unpardonable, and it can only be committed by someone who has known the truth and departed from it, because a sin in ignorance cannot be unforgivable. 1. Grieving the Holy Spirit: the sin of unconcern (Eph. 4:30) This is when a person does something when they know better, as with Saul in 1 Sam. 13:9. 2. Vexing the Holy Spirit: sin against a warning conscience (Is. 63:10) This is when you've been instructed against something and do it anyways, although still trying to pacify your conscience, as with Manasseh in 2 Kings 21:3. 3. Quenching the Holy Spirit: drowning the conscience (1 Thess. 5:19) This is when you rationalize that a particular action is merited, and still enjoy fellowship with the church but do it as a raging hypocrite, as with Saul in 1 Sam. 18:9,11,20-25. 4. Resisting the Holy Spirit: open rebellion (Acts 7:51) This is when you no longer try to pacify your conscience or hide your sin. Often church membership is broken and the person is not afraid to be seen in sin, as with Manasseh in 2 Kings 21:7. 5. Despising the Holy Spirit: seared conscience (Acts 13:41) This is very close to finally committing the sin. The person despises religion and morality, but can still be brought back, as with Manasseh in 2 Chr. 33:6. 6. Despiting the Holy Spirit: open and unmitigated rebellion (Heb. 10:29) This is when someone is living and glorifying in their shame and openly mocking and scoffing at the work of the Holy Spirit. At this point, the day of grace is past. There are no more examples from Manasseh at this point because he was saved, but this can be seen of Saul in 1 Sam. 28:6 when God would not answer him and in verse 8 when he went to the devil for help, and in verse 16 where it says the Lord had become his enemy. 7. Blaspheming the Holy Spirit: Completely hardened (Matt. 12:31) At this point it is evident by the person's walk, talk, and thought that the Holy Spirit has been blasphemed. They are living in open rebellion against the kingdom of Heaven, as Saul in 1 Sam. 31:3,4. For the wording, the texts will make the most sense if they are read from the KJV.
In my opinion, John is speaking of spiritual or eternal death, and the sin to which he is referring is thus an individual's final and unalterable rejection of placement of faith in Christ for salvation and eternal life. To me, this is indicated by the lack of a parallel mention of God's ability to intervene on such an individual's behalf in response to prayer (as noted in the first sentence of verse 16), since the individual would not be praying for such intervention, nor would God grant it against the individual's expressed will, even in response to the prayers of others.
I John 5:16-17 mentions the ‘sin leading to death.’ Some think it means loss of eternal life. And still others believe it is the unpardonable sin of Matthew 12:31. For one thing, the passage is about believers as indicated by the word ‘brother.’ Because of this, it cannot refer to eternal life, or the possibility of losing it. And it cannot be the unpardonable sin. Death is not spiritual death either, but it means physical death. The ‘sin leading to death’ is not specified, but it speaks of a serious matter that means a person is subject to immediate judgment. All sins eventually lead to death, but some sins lead to an immediate death. There are examples of this in the Scriptures. In Acts 5:1-11, Ananias and Sapphira sinned by lying to the Holy Spirit about selling land and keeping back part of the proceeds. They each experienced an immediate and untimely death. I Corinthians 10:1-13 mentions a great number of people who died as the result of rebelling against God. They were not unbelievers. They had been regenerated and had enjoyed the blessings of God. But they had become idolaters, they had committed sexual immorality, and they had complained. All of these can be said to have committed a sin unto death. Another example would be those Paul mentioned as “many sleep” meaning they had died, I Corinthians 11:30. Their sin was they had improperly observed the Lord’s Supper, I Corinthians 11:21, 22, 27-30. They had not considered the importance of the body of Christ, but went ahead and served themselves, taking the bread and cup in an unworthy manner. Also, there was the believer, who sinned with his father’s wife, I Corinthians 5:1-5. Paul addressed the church of Corinth to “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved [delivered] in the day of the Lord Jesus.” He likely would have had died prematurely, except he repented and was restored. James 5:16-17 covers the same thing. Believers can turn those who wander from the truth and save (or deliver) that soul (or life) from death. God may cause a believer to die immediately for certain sins, but believers have the responsibility to be watchful for each other. John’s point is that prayer for the believer can lead to restoration if it is a sin that does not lead to death. Apparently, there may have been a gift of discernment for a person to know it was not a sin leading to death. While sins may not always be discernible to believers, God knows and warns that there is a line that one can cross. John says about sin leading to death, “I do not say that he should pray about that.” It is not a command to not pray, but it indicates God may not intervene about this matter. Believers ought to pray and intervene when they can, that a wayward believer may not suffer a premature death.
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