Sins Leading to Death

Written by Drew on November 27th, 2006

A few days ago I received a letter from a friend of mine who oversees a congregation that is heavily involved in mission work. Unfortunately, the letter reported bad news. An important work in a foreign country was suffering at the hands of a modern-day Diotrephes, who has seized important assets and has single-handedly managed to arrest a crucial work in an area that badly needs the gospel. Don’t get the wrong idea. My friend took no joy in spreading this bad news; this wasn’t idle gossip. It was news he reluctantly and regretfully had to report. My eyes grazed his words until they fell on the last line. “Pray for him,” it said.

I know what he meant. He wasn’t taking this personal. He loved the other man’s soul, despite the fact that he had become a persecutor of the church. He was prepared to forgive him, should the wayward brother ever return. I understood the sentiments, but I’m not sure they were properly expressed.

John writes about how we should pray for our brethren, saying,

If anyone sees his brother commiting 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 (1 Jn. 5:17-18, emphasis added).

John sets two types of Christians side-by-side in these instructions. All Christians fit into one of these two categories. For one class, we are to pray; for the other, we are not to pray. We may pray for those who commit sins “that do not lead to death.” We are prohibited from praying for those who commit “the sin that leads to death.”

John has already told us who fits into the first category. These are Christians who sin, then confess their sin to God and repent (1 Jn. 1:8-10). These are promised cleansing and forgiveness. Therefore, they have committed sin, but it does not “lead to death,” since they have taken advantage of God’s second law of pardon and have found salvation.

The implication is that those who refuse to confess sin have committed the sin that “leads to death.” We suppose that John tells us not to pray for these because such is futile. God won’t forgive them until they acknowledge they are in the wrong and turn from their evil attitudes and behaviors.

An understanding of this principle is important if we are to deal properly with brethren who have been “overtaken in a fault” (Gal. 6:1-2). More than prayer is needed. (I am sure that the elder I mentioned knows this and that he has done everything possible.) In fact, prayer is impossible until we have taken other, more interactive measures to bring the wayward brother or sister back. These measures are spelled out in the Lord’s formula for church discipline in Matthew 18:15-17 and in other places (1 Cor. 5; Gal. 6:1-2; 2 Thes. 3; Titus 3:10). As I have stated in other places, this entails much more than withdrawing fellowship from the alleged offenders. Rather, the motive should be love and the strategy, intervention. Only then will we be able to reach those who, for whatever reason, have turned their back on God.

I’m reminded of an episode where God admonished Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward” (Ex. 14:15). I wonder how many times He has thought the same thing concerning the leadership of the church today. There is a time for prayer, and there is a time for other measures. May we be able to discern one from the other.


2 Comments so far ↓

  1. russ says:

    Very good!

  2. Jack Wirtz says:

    Accuracy is the foundation of confidence. You quote
    1st John:5:16-18 but credit it to verses 17-18. But, otherwise thank you for your article.

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