What is the sin unto death stated in 1 John 5:16? Is this the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit or the unpardonable sin written in Mark 3:29? Can it be committed by a born-again believer?
1 John 5:16-17
“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.”
Before answering those questions, we will lay down first some of the undeniable truths that were presented to us by the apostle John on those verses:
1. This sin is committed by a brother (or sister) in Christ.
“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.”
When we say “a brother or a sister in Christ,” we mean those people who are born of the Spirit of God (John 3:6). They are our brothers and sisters spiritually. When a person is born of the Spirit (baptized by the Holy Spirit), he/she is a child of God. He/she becomes our brother or sister (Rom. 12:5, Eph. 2:14,19). Being born of His Spirit and becoming His children (Eph. 4:6), we also became the temple of God (Eph. 2:21-22). His habitation. With these, we also became members of His body (1 Cor. 12:13, Eph. 4:4). In summary, they are the people having Eternal Life (John 3:16).
So the Apostle John is telling us here that this sin unto death is committed by those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Those who have Life. Those who are born of the Spirit of God. Those who are His temple and those who are members of His Body. Children of God can commit either the sin not unto death or the sin unto death. This is the first Truth.
2. John advises us that if we see a brother or sister committing a sin unto death, we must not pray for them the prayer that is meant only for those committing the sin not unto death.
“There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.”
3. The Lord will give life to His children who are sinning NOT UNTO DEATH if we will pray for them.
“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.”
In summary, these are the three undisputable truths that we can see in 1 John 5:16-17. I hope you will not forget these as we will going to bring them from time to time as we go along on this study.
WHAT IS DEATH?
Death is the cessation of Life. It is also a separation. Our first death occurs when our spirit and souls separate from our body (Physical Death). The Second Death occurs when the spirit separates from the soul which will happen when the wicked souls will be cast in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14, Ezek.18:4). This is the Spiritual death. The second death will only be experienced by the Goats (not children of God) and not by the Sheep.
Those who have Eternal life (John 3:16) are the children of God. They can never experience the Second Death. This means they cannot lose this Eternal Life. They are eternally secure. If their Eternal life can be lost, then it is not Eternal at all.
Therefore, it is clear that those who have Eternal Life, they cannot experience spiritual death. Children of God cannot lose their eternal life. They can only die physically but they cannot die spiritually.
POPULAR VIEWS ABOUT THE SIN UNTO DEATH
There are many views about what is the sin unto death, but we will only tackle the two most popular views today:
1. THE SIN UNTO DEATH IS THE BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT.
This is the most popular one. Many believers today including ministers believe that the sin unto death is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That if a believer will commit this, he/she will die spiritually. Before we go into this, let’s first take a look about what is this blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
“Verily I say unto you, all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme. But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.”
This is the reason why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is also called the unpardonable sin. The question is, can this sin be committed by people who possess the Spirit of God? Can the children of God who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit commit this sin? The answer is absolutely not. There is only one Spirit that works in us all (Eph. 4:4) and that is the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). That is why if you have that Holy Spirit, it cannot blaspheme against itself.
Those that can commit the unpardonable sin are the people who have no Holy Spirit at all just like the Pharisees and the scribes who have committed this sin in Mark 3:22-29. These people cannot discern the work of the Spirit in the Lord Jesus because they don’t have the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the unpardonable sin cannot be committed by the children of God, it can only be committed by Goats or unsaved people.
Another thing that we should take note of is that, according to the first truth that we have seen above as presented to us by the Apostle John, the sin unto death is committed by a brother (or sister) in Christ (1 John 5:16) or the saved people, while the unpardonable sin is committed by those who are not indwelt by the Spirit of God. That is why the sin unto death is NOT THE UNPARDONABLE SIN or the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. These sins are two different sins. The other is committed by the saved, while the other is committed by the unsaved.
Additional truth that we should take note of is: unsaved people are dead people. They don’t have Eternal Life in them that’s why they cannot commit the sin unto death because in the first place, they are already dead.
2. THE SIN UNTO DEATH IS THE MORTAL SINS
Another view of the sin unto death is the one popularized by Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholics believe that there are two kinds of sins: the Mortal sins and the Venial sins. According to them, mortal sins are sins that cannot be forgiven while venial sins are sins that can be forgiven. For them, the sin unto death is the mortal sin. Their examples of mortal sins are suicide, murder, idolatry and even adultery. Sins other than the ones mentioned they considered as venial sins or forgivable sins.
They believe that those who commit mortal sins are unpardonable that is why by committing these, they sin unto death. They lose their salvation. They die spiritually.
Well, as we have seen above, those who are saved cannot lose their salvation. Our Salvation is done by our Lord Jesus Christ alone in the cross of Calvary. We have done nothing in order to have. This is why Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that we are saved by Grace and not by our works because we have done nothing to have it. If we have done nothing to have it, none of our actions can also make us lose it. None of our sins can unsaved us. May it be mortal or venial sins.
THE BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION
So what is the correct interpretation about the sin unto death? There is no correct interpretation of any doctrine other than the Biblical interpretation itself. If the interpretation is aligned with the Bible and there is no verse that it contradicts, then that’s the truth. That’s the correct interpretation.
Based on the above, we have known the following truths:
1. The sin unto death is committed by the children of God. Therefore, it is not the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that is only committed by the unsaved people.
2. Saved people cannot lose their salvation. They cannot die spiritually.
Taking into consideration these truths, these will now lead us to the third interpretation which I see as the Biblical one:
Since the sin unto death is only committed by the children of God and children of God cannot die spiritually, then the word “death” in the phrase “the sin unto death” does not refer to the spiritual death, rather it refers to a PHYSICAL DEATH.
That’s why 1 John 5:16-17 actually says:
“If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto (physical) death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto (physical) death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto (physical) death.”
This is the reason why the verse tells us that if we see a brother that is sinning not unto death, we should pray for him that God “shall give him life”. Now the “life” mentioned here is not Spiritual Life or Eternal Life because that man committing this sin is a brother. He has already Eternal life. So that “life” mentioned there is actually PHYSICAL LIFE (Greek: Bios) or Earthly life. So basically, if you pray for that brother, God will extend his life here on Earth. Not that God will give him another Eternal Life.
There is sin which a child of God can commit that will result in our Lord taking him home by physical death. Apostle John told us that all unrighteousness is sin, let us not misunderstand that. But there is sin that when committed by a child of God, has certain element on it which leads to his/her physical death.
EXAMPLES OF SIN UNTO DEATH IN THE BIBLE
There are many examples about this sin unto death given in the Bible that if we will just look unto them carefully, we will know the element that turns ordinary sin into a sin unto death. Below are some of the Biblical examples about the sin unto death:
1. A BROTHER IN FORNICATION WITH HIS FATHER’S WIFE
1 Corinthians 5:1-5
“It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
In this first example of sin unto death, there is a brother among the Church in Corinth who is doing fornication to his father’s wife (stepmother). And Paul is urging the believers for this deed to be taken away from among them. They should pray and mourn for that brother so that he will stop committing that sin. But seeing that the believers have not done it, Paul here emphasized that that brother is committing a sin unto death. Since he cannot take away himself from that sin, Paul advises that it would be better for that brother to die (to deliver his body to Satan for the destruction of his flesh) and to save his spirit.
Indeed, if we can’t keep ourselves away from doing a sin that will destroy the Body of Christ, it is better for us to die physically than the whole Church will be destroyed because of us. This is exactly what the Lord Jesus is telling us in Matthew 5:29-30:
“And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
If a member of the Body of the Lord became a stumbling block to the rest of the members, our Lord will not hesitate to cut us off (kill us physically) from His Body to save other members of His Body. This is the sin unto death.
2. THE LIES OF ANANIAS AND HIS WIFE SAPPHIRA
In the book of Acts 5:1-10, we can read that there is a couple who are members of the Church that sold their property to give unto the Church. But instead of giving the whole amount, they have only given portion of it and declared to the whole Church that what they have given is the whole amount (Acts. 5:3-4). By doing this, they wanted to have reputation among the other members of the Church that they are giving their everything in serving the Lord but are in fact, lying about it.
Peter actually explained to Ananias that it is okay if they can’t give the whole amount to the Church since the sold property is theirs. That decision is within their power (Acts 5:4) and the Church will respect it. But what they did is a pretentious devotion of serving the Lord by lying that they have given their all. This kind of sin is a stumbling block to the Church once known by other members. As a result, they were immediately put to death by the Lord. This is a sin unto death.
3. THE GREED OF ACHAN
What happens to Ananias and Sapphira is very similar to what happens to Achan and his family in Joshua 7. They have taken possession from the spoils of Jericho which the Lord had instructed them not to do. This sin had caused the whole nation of Israel to be defeated in their next battle. The sin of one family had caused the whole nation to suffer. It is for this reason that the Lord commanded that they should be put to death.
3. PARTAKING THE COMMUNION UNWORTHILY
Another example of sin unto death is partaking the communion unworthily. In 1 Corinthians 11:28-30 it says:
“But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.”
As we can read from those verses, partaking the communion unworthily had caused believers in the Church in Corinth to be weak, sickly and many even died (sleep). This is why we need to be careful in performing and partaking in the Lord’s communion. We need to partake it rightly and worthily, discerning the Lord’s Body (Church) so that we will not commit the sin unto death. Communion means being one with the Lord’s Body. If you are doing it without discerning the Lord’s body, then you might be committing the sin unto death.
4. MAKING THE WORDS OF THE MINISTERS AS OUR STANDARD
Our next example is the story of the young prophet and old prophet of God in 1 Kings 13:11-25.
There was a young prophet of God who was sent by the Lord to Bethel to perform a specific task for Him. After performing that task, the Word of God instructed that young prophet not to return again from the same way where he had already gone. He is also not allowed to drink nor eat in that place where he had already left (1 Kings 13:16-17). So he used another way in order to leave that place.
Then an old prophet of God from that same place hasten to catch up with him along the way and invited him to go back to drink and eat at his house. At first, the young prophet was hesitant and he told the old prophet that the Word of God does not allow him to do so. Then the old prophet insisted that he is also a prophet of the Lord and that an angel of God commanded him to bring the young prophet back to his house. But in actually, the old prophet was lying and was only testing the young prophet. After hearing the lie, the young prophet agreed to go back with the old prophet and to eat in his house.
The Word of the Lord then came to the young prophet and told him that because he has disobeyed his Word, his carcass will not reach his home. And sure enough, along his way home, the young prophet was devoured by a lion.
The sin that the young prophet had committed here is a sin unto death. It is the sin of knowing the Word of God by heart, it was revealed to you, still, you choose to listen to the words of the ministers of God even if they are not in line with His Word just because they are true ministers of the Lord. You are making their words your standard instead of the Word. Anyone who is making the words of the prophet, apostle or other ministers of God as their standard, they are committing a sin worthy of death.
The young prophet in this story symbolizes a revelation from God that is not yet revealed before. Revelation from God is progressive. It should not return from whence it came from. It should continue Its journey just like a fresh carcass offered by the Lord to His Eagles in every ages. (This is also the reason why in Genesis 24:6, Abraham warned Eliezer not to bring Isaac back to Ur, the place where Abraham came from. Isaac here symbolizes the revelation/truth that should never come back). The old prophet here symbolizes a revelation that was already revealed in the past age.
Oftentimes, progressive revelation from God cannot work among the believers today because believers are stuck on the words of the old ministers of God. They won’t listen to the young ministers whom God is using today because they can’t progress from the old ones. Believers will often say:
“We cannot accept that teaching because it was never taught by the prophet/apostle of God.”
“That so called new revelation you have is not a revelation from God because it was never revealed to the prophet/apostle of God.”
“If what you have is a true revelation, then it should go back (be in line) with the words/revelation of the prophet/apostle of God.”
Well, how can It be in line with the revelation of the prophet/apostle of God if in the first place, it was never revealed to them? It is totally new! What we should look at is if it is in line with the Word. Because even if you can’t find it from the words of the prophet/apostle of God, as long as it is in the Word, then that’s a revelation from God. Our standard should be the Word, not the words of the ministers of God.
Revelation should be progressive. It is a fresh carcass that should reach its intended destination of Eagles. It should never go back. Too bad, in this story, the carcass of the young prophet never reaches home.
So these are only some of the examples of sin unto death in the Bible. We can still find many examples of this but I think, this would suffice.
To summarize, the sin unto death is not specific sins like suicide, murder, idolatry or adultery as proposed by the Roman Catholics. This sin can be any sin. Any sin can become a sin unto death. What makes an ordinary sin become a sin unto death? It’s by knowing clearly that what you are doing is wrong and is against the will of God and other members of His body are suffering because of you doing that sin, but you still do it willfully despite all of that. THAT IS THE SIN UNTO DEATH. The Lord will have no choice but to kill you physically.
As we can see also from our given examples, death did not always come suddenly. It came suddenly to Ananias, Sapphira, Achan and the Young Prophet but it did not to the adulterous brother and the members of the Church in Corinth who are partaking the communion unworthily. Some of them got weak first, then became sickly and finally died. You may ask: Why is this? The determining factor for this is the Lord. He alone knows if He needs to call us home quickly after committing that sin or He will still give us a chance to repent.
One thing is for sure, if you know you have committed this sin and the Lord did not call you home yet, then you still have a chance to correct your ways. He is still giving you a chance to repent. In fact, the adulterous man in our first example has grabbed this chance. According to apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, this man Has committed the sin unto death. But after that admonition of Paul, that man had repented his ways and turned away from doing the adulterous act again. And so the Lord spared him. In fact, in the follow-up letter of Paul to the Corinthians, in 2 Corinthians 2:6-9, he had urged the believers to forgive that brother which is formerly an adulterer.
This also the reason why you should think a hundred times, no not just a hundred times but think many many times before you decide to disfellowship someone. That brother or sister may have committed a sin unto death BUT IT IS NOT YOUR ROLE TO SEPARATE HIM/HER FROM THE BODY OF CHRIST. It is the role of Christ alone. Let the Lord do the punishing of sins and let us do our part of doing what we can in order to help that brother/sister overcome that sin and to repent so that the Lord will preserve his/her life.
Again, if we have committed this sin unto death and we are still alive, our Lord is still giving us a chance to repent from it. Remember that our Lord is full of mercy. Perhaps our sickness today is given to us to make us realize this. But I must also clarify here that not all sickness, weakness and premature deaths came from this sin. Some of our sicknesses are given to us by our Lord so that His strength can be made perfect in us (2 Cor. 12:7-9). And not because we have committed this sin.
WHAT IS THE SIN NOT UNTO DEATH?
At this point, let’s talk about the sin NOT unto death which the Apostle John has also described in 1 John 5:16-17.
The sin NOT unto death is actually the opposite of the sin unto death. If the sin unto death is clearly knowing that what you are doing is wrong but you still willfully do it, the sin not unto death on the other hand, is not clearly knowing that it is wrong or you may have a vague understanding of its implications or no awareness at all about how bad it is.
This kind of sin is usually committed by those who are babes (newly born-again people) in the Body of Christ. They are still learning and growing in the Word that’s why the Apostle John advises us that if we see a brother committing a sin which is not unto death, we should pray for him so that the Lord will give him life (physically).
That prayer is of course for that brother to realize (understands) that what he is doing is wrong and will eventually lead him to death (physically). If the Lord will give him that understanding (revelation) then that’s definitely life for him, meaning, he is being prevented from dying physically. Our Lord will withhold the judgment of physical weakness and grant the opportunity for continuity of life. This is how powerful prayer is. It saves lives. That’s why we should pray for them. What he should do next after realizing that what he is doing is wrong is to stop doing it right away. Repentance reverses judgment.
This sin unto death is what the Apostle Paul told Titus that we can read in Titus 3:10-11:
“A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.”
Here is a brother determined to go on his way despite telling him that what he is doing is wrong and is grieving the Holy Spirit in him. It has also greatly affected other members of the Body of Christ. Therefore, the Lord will deal with him. Perhaps the Lord will deal with him patiently by giving him first weakness or sickness, and that he will repent. But if not, then our Lord will take him home.
As an example based on my personal experience, I can see this as me and my brother Renan playing outside our house when we were young. When quarrel between us breaks, our mother would often tell us: “If you don’t behave yourself, I will have no choice but to get you inside the house. You are only disgracing our family to our neighbors when you are outside.” Then we would tell her: “Sorry mom, we will not do it again.” But after a while, quarreling breaks again and our mother will come out of our house and says, “Now that’s enough. You need to go home now. I just can’t trust you anymore outside.” We will then beg for her to let us stay a little more outside and we would even promise her again that we will behave ourselves. But this time, our mother is already determined and will tell us: “No, I have given you a chance but you are still doing it. You must now come home. I just can’t trust you here anymore.”
This is what the Lord is actually saying to us. As the Body of Christ, we are His Temple. He dwells in us. The word “dwell” means “to settle down or to make one’s self at home.“ We are the dwelling place of our Lord because our Lord wanted to be at home with us, to be comfortable and to be at ease. “That Christ might be at home in your hearts (Eph. 3:17)” means that our hearts will be in tune with Him as He dwells within it. That He feels at home. There is no struggle, nor strain, nor grieving of His Spirit in us nor embarrassment for Him. He is proud of dwelling in us. This is what we should be. But sometimes, the opposite of this is what is happening.
I hope we do realize that as we proclaim that we are the dwelling place of our Lord Jesus, His whole reputation is also at stake in our behaviors. Everything we say or do reflects the character and the being of our Lord to other people around us because we represent Him here on Earth. No wonder He watches us attentively. No wonder He corrects us every time we do things against His will. If there is a willful determination in us to disgrace Him in the eyes of others, He will not hesitate to tell us:
“All right, that’s enough. I can’t trust you here anymore. Come home now.” And indeed, home we go.
May the Lord continue to reveal us His truth is my prayer. God bless.
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