1 John 5:16-17 / Sin Unto Death (Sermon notes and Audio)

Posted on August 15, 2014


This is the twenty-fourth in a series of verse-by-verse expositions of the book of 1 John. This message was delivered at Hillcrest Baptist Church on the evening of August 10, 2014. This message deals with that age old question: what is the sin unto death? This post contains an audio recording of my message, along with my sermon notes. Please note that the sermon notes are not a full transcript.

AUDIO – Listen Now:


1Jon 5_16-17


1 John 5:16-17

The “sin unto death” has caused a great deal of discussion and debate over the centuries, and we won’t solve all of those problems today.

We can; however, safely deduce the context of what John was addressing in this portion of his letter.

The big misunderstanding in 1 John, is the assumption that everything in the letter is about Christians, simply because it was written to Christians.

We need to remember one key point. John may be addressing Christians in this letter, but we must conclude that not everyone that he writes about is a Christian.

In fact, he specifically warns about false teachers in this letter. They obviously aren’t true Christians.

Understanding this fact, will eliminate a lot of confusion.

The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), therefore, all sin has resulted in eventual physical death.

But the gift of God is eternal life, meaning that sin can be forgiven by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

With this in mind, John is very likely speaking of spiritual death, which can be averted, rather then physical death, which is the promised result of sin.

It would be impossible to try to name one specific sin which “leads to death”, since John himself didn’t identify it.

More likely he is referring to a pattern of sin, in which one is so entangled, and their heart so hardened, that they will never seek forgiveness.

Such a person has already forsaken God, and is entrenched in their position.

What then, of the word “brother”? Such a person as I’ve just described would be a non-believer, not a brother. It would seem that John is using the term brother in a more generic manner.

In fact, we see in v. 18 that whoever is born of God “does not sin”. One who is born of God would be a true brother.

Brother being used in a generic sense, would not be unheard of for John. In fact, we see some other examples of it in this very letter.

1 John 2:9

1 John 2:11

In these examples, John was explaining how to know that one knows Christ.

1 John 2:3-4

In other words, he was explaining how to tell the difference between a believer and a non-believer.

All the while, he uses the word brother. Why? Because that’s who these people claim to be.

Later in chapter two, he goes on to warn about anti-christs (false teachers). These people are clearly not believers.

One who is in darkness would not truly be a brother of a believer.

1 John 3:16-17

Who John seems to be referring to, are those who claim to be the brethren, but obviously are not. It could well be the false teachers he has warned about.

None of this is to say that believers can’t get so steeped in sin that it leads to their death, they certainly can.

It is the next portion of John’s statement that is curious. “I do not say that he should pray about that.”

Is John simply suggesting that prayer for such an issue is not necessary, or is there an implied command not to pray?

He doesn’t come right out and say not to pray for such a thing, so we may infer that it is our prerogative to pray if we wish. However, there is Biblical precedent for withholding prayer for certain situations.

Jeremiah 7:16-18

Jeremiah 11:14

Jeremiah 14:11

Jesus even withheld prayer for the world.

John 17:9

The decision not to pray for someone should never be taken lightly, and we should tread carefully here.

We should seek discernment, and be sure there is solid Biblical precedent before we decide that a situation will not receive our prayer.

All unrighteousness is sin. This phrase is all encompassing. In fact, one could say that whatever is not from faith is sin.

Romans 14:23

The only way to know righteousness is through faith in Christ, and without faith it is impossible to please Him.

Therefore, even the most noble deeds, done outside of faith, are inherently sinful, because without Christ there is no righteousness.

Romans 3:10

As noted earlier, the context here is not physical death, but spiritual.

Therefore, we can say that there is sin that does not lead to death, because the gift of God is eternal life.

Romans 6:23

This gift is given in Jesus Christ, by His death and resurrection.

Romans 5:8

2 Corinthians 5:21

As such, we can place faith in Christ and His resurrection, and our sin will no longer bring spiritual death.

1 Corinthians 15:26

1 Corinthians 15:55

What better place to be, than in the loving arms of Christ?

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