"These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may KNOW that we have eternal life . . . And if WE KNOW that He hears us, whatever we ask, WE KNOW that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him . . . WE KNOW that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him. WE KNOW that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one. And WE KNOW that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that WE MAY KNOW Him who is true . . . " (1 John 5:13-21, NKJV)

Devotion 18 of  32


"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 5:16-17, NKJV).

That this is a remarkable text cannot be denied. It is so remarkable, that many believers have never heard a single word said concerning it. Others are not even aware it is in the Word of God. The text is powerful in every version of Scripture. Allow me to give you a few of them.

"If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal" (RSV).

"If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death" (NASB).

"If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life" (NIV).

"If a man sees his brother doing a sin which is not bad enough for death, let him make a prayer to God, and God will give life to him whose sin was not bad enough for death" (Basic Bible English).

"If you see a Christian brother or sister sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life" (New Living Translation).

"If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that is not a deadly sin, he has only to pray, and God will give life to this brother" (New Jerusalem Bible).

Here, then, is an example of receiving what is asked and a notable example it is. Further, it represents something of great concern to all believers. In it we also see the believer working together with God. Additionally, the importance of being retrieved from sin is seen, and the essentiality of spiritual life. We also see that there are circumstances in which pray is not effective.

The immediate reaction of some to this text is to identify what it does NOT mean. Thus some, supposing to add strength to the text, emphasize that this does not negate the human will, i.e., the will of the transgressor. Whatever truth there may be in that observation, it is marginal, and is not the focus of this text. Nor, indeed, is there the slightest hint that it should be a dominating consideration in our embrace of the text. The thrust of this passage is the will of God, not the will of man.

First, the text confirms a mutual interest of the brethren in one another: "If anyone sees HIS brother sinning." This is not a look-for-a-fault gaze, but one that has a mind to the safe arrival of brethren in glory. Seeing a brother sin is something that saddens the heart, and awakens profound spiritual concern. Even a casual perusal of the Epistles will confirm this is true. In this case, the one beholding the sin does not run to the offender and point out the error of his way Matthew 18 notwithstanding. Here is a time when the one who sees the transgression runs to God, not to men.

Among those with whom I have walked, I have rarely heard this text emphasized. Because there is a marked tendency toward legalism, the emphasis has largely been placed on confrontation and possible expulsion from the assembly. Indeed, those responses are addressed in the Scriptures, and are not to be despised (Matt 18:15-18; 1 Cor 5:4-5; Gal 6:1). However, remember the Spirit has been emphasizing the love of the brethren in this text. He therefore sets before us a primary means through which this love is expressed.

"If any man see his brother sin a sin which is NOT unto death . . . There IS a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it." Immediately the Spirit informs us that ALL SIN IS NOT ALIKE. There is a sin that is "unto death," or that leads to death. Such a transgression mandates the death of the one committing it, and no prayer can avert that decease. As affirmed later in this verse, "There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that." At once we see the seriousness of sin, and the necessity of a distance between ourselves and iniquity. There is a sin that renders prayer for the individual pointless, for a line has been crossed, and death is the sure result. It is not our responsibility to identify such a sin, and that is not the purpose of this text. Those, however, who insist on saying all sin is equal, and one sin is not worse than another, need to scrap such a view. It is dashed to the ground by this text, as well as others.

The Spirit does not precisely define this sin so that it may be catalogued, and thus avoided by mere routine. Nor, does He guarantee that such a sin will be apparent to us. He merely states that we should not expect our prayers to be guaranteed of effectiveness in all cases. There are some cases that cannot be helped by prayer.

We do have some examples in Scripture of sins that led to death. They are sobering when considered, and should instill within us a certain fear of living in a haphazard manner.

THE FLOOD. A large example of such sin can be found in the days of Noah. In that case, sin was so gross, and of such magnitude, that the demise of the entire world came to pass. It was the sin of the people that lead to their death, which was the consequence of their transgression (Gen Gen 6:5-7). Once the decree of death was issued, there was no possibility that it could be reversed. Noah was never told to pray for the people, and there is no record that he did.

ER AND ONAN. Er was Judah's firstborn son. The Scripture tells us "he was wicked in the sight of the Lord." The exact nature of his wickedness is not specified, but the result of it is. It was sin leading to death, for it is written, "and the Lord slew him" (Gen 38:7). According to the Law, Judah told Onan to go in to his brother's wife, in order that she might have seed. When he refused to do consummate this deed it is written, "the thing which he did displeased the LORD; therefore He killed him also" (Gen 38:9-10). His sin also led to his death.

JUDAS. The dreadful sin of Judas necessarily led to his own death. Of him it is written, "from which (the Apostleship) Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place" (Acts 1:25). The very phraseology of the text strikes fear into lethargic hearts. There is a place reserved for those committing such transgressions and it is not in heaven. Further, their sin leads to their death of both body and soul.

ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA. On the surface, the sin of Ananias and Sapphira may not appear to be worthy of death but that is only according to appearance. No exhortation was given to them to repent. They chose to lie to the Holy Spirit and to God, and that led to their death (Acts 5:5-11). No prayer was made for them, and no attempt made to recover them.

SOME AT CORINTH. The church at Corinth came behind in no "gift," but they were dreadfully behind in the matter of spiritual maturity (1 Cor 1:7; 3:1-4).  Of particular note is their conduct at the Lord's table. They were so dishonoring of the Lord, that some of them died because of it. It is written, "For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died" (1 Cor 11:29-30, NRSV).

THE ULTIMATE SIN. There is also the matter of a sin that leads to ultimate condemnation a sin from which recovery is not possible. In this case, spiritual life cannot be conferred upon the transgressing one under any circumstances. The identity of this sin is general, and its details are not provided. "But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin" (Mk 3:29, NIV). Again, Jesus said, "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come" (Matt 12:32). This sin cannot be the rejection of Christ, as some suppose, for that can be forgiven upon repentance and faith. At precisely what point this sin occurs, we do not know. But once it occurs, prayer is of no avail for the person. The sin has led to ultimate death.

Thus the Spirit informs us our prayers are not omnipotent. There are people who cannot be helped by them. That is, however, an exception, and not the rule. He will now tell us what the confident prayer of a righteous man can do.

PRAYER POINT: Father, through Jesus Christ I thank You that the result of all prayer is in Your hands, and not mine.