1 John 5:16-17 Engaging In A Process That Will Help Us Understand This Text

Our text today is 1 John 5:16-17 but we will read 1 John 5:13-17 for context.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God[a] will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.

1 John 5:14-15 speaks about how a Christian who has assurance will be able to pray confidently. John reminded us that if we will pray according to the will of God that He will hear us and if God hears our prayers we will have the requests that we have made to the LORD.

One of the applications that we took from that text was that we need to pray according to the scriptures. It is wise for you and I to go to the Word of God and determine how we ought to be praying about certain things. A believer can pray confidently concerning anything that is God’s will. Therefore, we should search the scriptures as we are praying to determine what the Lord’s will is in all things.

I mention this because in 1 John 5:16-17 we will see that there is a similar responsibility. Let’s take a moment to read 1 John 5:16-17, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.

There are many questions that you and I may have concerning this text. For example, we might ask...

  • What is the sin that leads to death?

  • Is the sin that leads to death a reference to one sin or to a habitual sin that is allowed to continue in heart hardening un-repentance?

  • It is clear that John is speaking to believers in verse 16, but is he still addressing a believer in verse 17 concerning the sin that leads to death?

  • Is John speaking about how this sin leads to physical death or is this about spiritual death?

  • How will we know when we should not pray for someone?

To be honest, this text leaves most commentators never fully able to give the answers to some of these questions definitively. I will admit to you that over the last month my thoughts concerning this text have gone in different directions. One moment I view it one way and the next moment my thoughts are shifting in the other direction.

When we come to a text like this it probably should not surprise us that we have a lot of questions about God’s righteous, justice and equity and how it all works under these sort of conditions. Texts like this one can make us pause and scratch our heads as we consider the implications of what John has said. I venture to guess that there are some here who are already wondering if they have committed the sin that is unto death.

So how are we to understand a text like this when it is so difficult to ascertain exactly what John was saying?

Let me give you four of my presuppositions as I look at a text like this.

  • First, I do not believe that scripture teaches that a genuine believer can loose their salvation. I do not believe that John is teaching that a believer can loose their salvation in this text when he has just said in 1 John 5:13, I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”

  • Secondly, there are examples in scripture when a Christian can become sick and even die prematurely because of some sin. For example…

  • Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira

  • 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 – Taking communion in an unworthy manner


  • Thirdly, there are examples in scripture where unbelievers will experience discipline so severe that it leads to their death. For example…

  • Luke 12:20 – The parable of the rich fool

  • Acts 12: 20-23 – The death of Harod


  • Fourthly, scripture does teach that there is a sin that cannot be forgiven – blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32).

  • Fifth, scripture also teaches that anyone who repents and turns to the LORD will be forgiven of their sins (Acts 3:19; 1 Timothy 1:15-17).

Over the last month I have often wondered why God did not see fit to give us a clear answer to these questions in this text?