Recently someone sent in a question about the sin unto death.
When I was writing my book about The Unforgivable Sin, I originally intended to include chapters on Hebrews 6, 1 John 5:16-17, and other similar passages that cause trouble in the minds of many. If you have read that book, you know that while it deals with some of the popular teachings about the unforgivable sin and the primary text of Matthew 12:31-32, it doesn’t deal with these other passages that are used to teach that certain sins can lead to God’s ultimate rejection. I have plans for a future expanded edition of that book, but that is still many years off.
So until the new version of that book comes out, maybe I can write a few blog posts once in a while about these other passages. I was given the opportunity recently when someone sent in this question about the sin unto death in 1 John 5:16-17:
Got any thoughts on 1 John 5:16-17? What is the Father telling us about the sin unto death? Most ministries I have heard really don’t know and don’t teach on this.
For some reason, when people read the Bible, they tend to put on spiritual-colored glasses so that words which mean one thing in any other context mean something completely different when read in the Bible.
For example (and I have written about this before), take the word “saved.” If you were reading a book on finances, or energy conservation, or health tips, or almost any other topic, and the headlines read “8 Ways to Save!” you would understand that the word “save” has nothing to do with eternal life.
Yet when people read the Bible, they put on their spiritual-colored glasses so that when they read the word “save” they often put a spiritual twist on the word “save” and interpret it as having something to do with eternal life. Most of the time in the Bible, the word “save” (and saved) have nothing to do with eternal life.
The same is true with the word “death.”
Sin Unto Death
If you read an article in a newspaper with the title, “8 Things that Bring Death,” you would know that the article is probably going to talk about 8 things that ruin your health and bring an early death. It might include things like smoking, not exercising, stress, or jumping out of airplanes.
Yet when most people are reading their Bibles (and they have their spiritual-colored glasses on), and read about some sort of sin that brings death, they put a spiritual twist on it, and think it is referring to spiritual death, or losing your eternal life, or something like that. This is what happens when people read about the sin unto death in 1 John 5:16-17.
A similar thing happens, by the way, when people read James 5:19-20 which talks about saving a soul from death. The word “soul” doesn’t mean “spirit;” it means “life.” So to save a soul from death means to save a life from death. And again, if we read without our spiritual-colored glasses, we will remember to read the word “save” as having nothing to do with eternal life and the word “death” as not referring at all to spiritual death or losing eternal life.
Sin Can Cause Death
In other words, James 5:19-20 is saying the exact same thing as 1 John 5:16-17: there are certain sins which can bring death.
But how should we respond to people who commit these sins? Here is where some of the confusion enters, because John seems to instruct his readers not to pray for people who commit sin leading to death. Does this mean that when Christians commit certain sins which may lead to death, we should not pray for them?
In one of his commentaries on 1 John, Zane Hodges points out that all sins ultimately lead to death, so what John is referring to here are “sins for which death is a rapid consequence” (BKC, 902). So when John says, “I am not saying he should pray about that,” Zane Hodges writes, “But this clearly does not forbid prayer even in the most serious cases. But naturally in such cases believers will submit their prayers to the will of God” (BKC, 903).
If this sort of interpretations seems strange to you, just remember that there are groups of people today who do in fact pray for the forgiveness of people who have already died. Apparently, there were people in John’s day who were praying similar prayers. John is saying that such prayers are unnecessary. If a person commits sin that leads to their death, we don’t need to pray about that. Pray instead for those who are still living, no matter how serious their sin might be.
In other words, it is wise for Christians to pray for people who are caught in sin and help rescue them from these sins so that they don’t die. Once a person has died because of sin, we do not need to pray for them any longer, because they are now in the hands of God. Prayer for the sins of the deceased accomplishes nothing.
Examples of Sin Unto Death
When read this way, the verses about the sin unto death not only make more sense in context, but also make sense in light of the rest of Scripture, and in our own experience as well. For example, we all know that there are certain behaviors and actions which can lead a person to an early grave. But aside from that, there are even some sins which may cause God to discipline a person with early death. Those who did not properly observe the Lord’s Supper are another example (1 Cor 11:30).
There is also the example of the man who was boasting about sleeping with his stepmother (1 Cor 5:5). In 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 there is a whole list of regenerated people who died as a result of rebellion against God. Then there is the account of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). All of these people committed a sin unto death, that is, a sin that led to their untimely death.
The sin unto death is not a sin to spiritual death, but a sin that leads to an untimely physical death.
John’s advice (as well as that of James) is that when we see a brother or sister caught in a sin that may lead to their death, we should pray for them, plead with them to turn from their ways, and do all we can to help restore this person back into fellowship with God and with one another. If they die as a result of their sin, we can learn from their mistakes and plead with others to turn from similar sins, but we need not pray for those whose sin has led to an untimely death. Such people are already dead, and are with God. So we don’t need to pray for them. We can pray instead for those who are alive and in need of our prayers.
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Deidre Chavira says
That was good!
Can you elaborate on the untimely deaths of them overeating at the lords supper? I dont understand, God punished them because they were gluttons or they died because they were gluttns? I know I’m missing something here. I never understood that passage.
Jeremy Myers says
I am not sure I can elaborate. It seems strange to me as well. Exceedingly strange.
Chris GB says
I think the main sin here is the attitude of dishonouring God by approaching the Lord’s table without due respect. God is very particular about us approaching Him respectfully.
They did not share their food with the poor brothers, means the lack of love.
Lying to the Holy Spirit
Acts 5:1-11 A man named Ananias, and his wife Sapphira
lie to the Holy Spirit
Tony Vance says
Very well put Jeremy. I’ve had a similar take on these verses. Though, I think we should pray for all-our prayers are useless for those who are unrepentant & refuse to heed. That ultimately is the sin unto death (second & spiritual); unrepentant sinners.
Reading the post and the first comment reminded me of a family member in the medical profession who in the 1970’s told a group of us at a family gathering how eight people in her church would die. All had major eating issues (what most people would describe as gluttony in the extreme). This medical professional explained what diseases the eight would probably develop, the progression of their diseases, and how and approximately when they would die.
Within thirty years, much to our amazement, all of the eight had died prematurely as a result of the diseases they had developed, the very diseases the medical professional had predicted. I’ve always thought they died as the end result of gluttony. But now you’re telling me that they died of the “sin unto death”? Surely God would not have “disciplined” those good religious people for eating (way too much)! There must be some misunderstanding here.
Jeremy Myers says
Yes, I have no good explanation for that text either. There is definitely a misunderstanding.
It is a true story and of course I was being a bit cheeky with the comment. The medical professional in the story believed that people do die as a result of the sin of gluttony, but as you might guess thought that sins such as gluttony were minor sins that one paid for with a shortened life. Other, more serious sins, might land one in hell.
Nathaniel Hummel says
I’m sure that a “Saved Christian”, i.e. one who believes and has accepted Christ as his/her savior, will not be deprived of being accepted in Heaven. I can’t recite the verse(s)… but somewhere I’m pretty sure that the Bible says while Bible Believing Christians may lose “rewards” in Heaven, they *will* be in Heaven. OTOH, I also have heard/read some preacher say that while it’s very hard to do, under certain, very narrow circumstances, someone can lose their salvation. I would imagine it would be that they emphatically denied Christ as their savior, in extreme terms, and in a way that, actually, I really can’t imagine… So, it’s a puzzle to me as whether, or not, someone actually can lose their salvation.
I know I’m kind of contradicting myself here… but it’s the best I can do. I’m not the ultimate authority on whether someone can lose their salvation… God and Jesus are, in my humble opinion.
Nathaniel, not thinking of any way/time/or conceivable way that I would ever want to even try to lose my salvation, and hoping all Christians are similarly oriented.
Dave Lucas says
The more i read on your blogs the more it becomes evident to me that those that adhere to a “belief” system similar to yours will be in for a rude awakening on the judgement day.
The “sin unto death” is simple. ignore the Holy Spirit’s call in your heart to repent and follow Jesus and you will NOT be saved.
As for death…we are already dead(in our sins)unless we receive the Holy Spirit, are born again to the new life in Christ and follow Him by the leading of the holy Spirit that dwells in our heart.
“For some reason, when people read the Bible, they tend to put on spiritual-colored glasses so that words which mean one thing in any other context mean something completely different when read in the Bible.”
I’m almost speechless with that thought from you. Did not Jesus say:
63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.
2 Timothy 3:16
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
It seems you do not understand that every book written by man will burn, but not the words of God, catalogued in the Bible, never to pass away.
If we aren’t to pray for people who are ignoring the Spirt’s call to them… how do we know who these people are that are doing that? We just stop praying for them if we can figure out who’s sinning like that??? 🤔
Excellent article, thank you! Really great explanation of what is going on here.
Sometimes, we put on the “spiritual-colored glasses” — and sometimes, we forget to take them off:
1. “Prayer for the sins of the deceased accomplishes nothing.” Only in the same sense that prayer in all its forms accomplishes nothing. Prayer is communication, and it is its own joy and reward. Father gave it as a gift to YOU (and me, and so on). Prayer changes nothing, by which I mean, our prayer does not alter Father’s plan for creation. We don’t get Him to “change His mind” (as if!). At best, we are called by Father to pray according to His will for what shall be (though it is not us, but His Spirit in us, that does this type of praying — for we do not know how to pray for what shall be, simply because we do not know what shall be, see Romans 8:26).
2. It is therefore acceptable to pray for the dead. And why wouldn’t it be?
Jeremy Myers says
I actually believe that prayer accomplishes much (James 5:16). It does, of course, work on us as well to bring us into conformity to God’s will.
So I just don’t know why we would pray for the dead. What do they need that we would pray for? There are so many needs among the living, I think that is where we should focus on prayers.
“For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten.Their love, their hate
and their jealousy have long since vanished;never again will they have a part
in anything that happens under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 9:5-6. There is no point in praying for the dead, because they are sleeping. They are not in heaven or in hell, they are sleeping in the grave.
Aidan McLaughlin says
Praying for the dead: can I point out a bit of scripture here. Jesus said to a possible disciple recruit. “Let the dead Bury the dead you follow me”. So looks like 2 types of dead. But simple enough to understand. The dead person doing the burying was living but dead in sin. The dead person getting buried was just plain dead dead. I have no idea whatsoever if the dead dead man was saved, born again or Martian. Though have strong suspicions he wasn’t Martian. But my guess is that dead not dead man doing the burial was none of the three. Just my two pence worth. Sorry if difficult to understand. But then scripture is a bit technical and hard to understand also. More so to the unregenerated human I would summise. And the sin onto death. I am a saved, born again, spirit filled man. I smoke 20 cigarettes each day. I am not in the least proud of this. And would love to have more strength to stop this addiction. It will lead to death. I know that yet still feel unable to stop. So that’s a practical example of sin un to death. And there is many many many more like it out there. Gluttony is nearly an accepted normal practice not even recognised as sin in our generation. Or obesity to give it it, s modern name. It also is a sin that leads un to death. So if you want to include me in your prayers for the strength to give up my smoking addictions I would be grateful. If I do not give up I will die due to this habit. And I am so grateful that my eternity has been settled already despite my addiction. Amen
We might pray for the dead if we believe it will benefit them in the resurrection.
Thanks for explaining this. Reading it from Kenya!!! and it blesses me and people around me
The Body,Soul and Spirit,we know the body goes to dust.The spirit return to GOD while the soul is judged.1:why is the soul condemn for sin commited by the body2:if the spirit we have is the breath of GOD in Us why does sin still ve power over man3:in genesis we know of the body formed from dust,the spirit breathed into man what about the soul?
Sin unto death is a situation where v the person is completely enamored, consumed asnd in love with sin. They are totally given over to sin and have no desire to come out of it. They’d rather die than live without the lust and desire in their sinful lives. Their minds are set like a flint and they see no wrong in choosing to live c and die outside of God ‘s love.
Hey Jeremy, does the Johannine usage of “sin and death” have any bearing on your interpretation. In both the Gospel of John and 1 John, the usage of sin in connection to death and life seems to always refer to eternal/spiritual death, rather than physical death. This seems to bear the most weight in properly interpreting the passage in 1 John 5:116-17. Obviously as well the massive amount of support from the commentaries seems to back this up even further. Your view is definitely a valid one, but it is supported outside of Johannine writings and not within it. I know all of Scripture is God’s Word, but certainly the human authors use similar concepts/wording throughout their respective writings.
Jeremy Myers says
Yes, I studied the Johannine use of sin and death, and did not see that most of the uses refer to spiritual death. But even if they did, the immediate context of a word has stronger bearing on its meaning than more remote contexts.
Nathaniel Hummel says
Personally, and I’m not holding myself out as a Bible scholar, but from my armchair understanding of the Bible, I can’t think of any way that a forgiven Christian could lose their salvation. It seems to me that either you’re “forgiven” by believing in Jesus and His Shed, Redemptive Blood on the Cross, or as a disbeliever you are not forgiven. While some (and probably many) Christians may like to “play God” by judging others, it seems to me that it’s not my place to so do. Otherwise, metaphorically, it would be like someone going up to God and Jesus’ thrones in Heaven and asking them to relinquish their thrones and power and taking over.
Nathaniel, I can’t imagine that ever happening…
Nathaniel, Not going to happen, I’m quite sure.
Jake G. says
Hi Jeremy, what do you believe cusses a person to lose his/her salvation?
Do you believe that a true saved Christian, can choose to continue to wilfully live in sin, can still be considered a true Christian and inherit the kingdom of God, according to the truth of gods word?
Do you believe there is eternity in haven or hell according to the bible?
Do you agree that marriage is of one man and one woman on till death according to the truth of gods word?
Jeremy Myers says
When speaking of ‘eternal life’ I prefer not to use the word “saved” or “salvation” (since the Bible doesn’t do this either). I believe that once a person has eternal life, it cannot ever be lost (or else it has the wrong name).
At death our eternity is set in stone according to the life that we lived here on earth. Once we get to heaven no one or any thing can yank us out and the same for the souls who make it to hell – no one can take them out of hell.
As for this side of eternity I firmly believe that we can loose our salvation as there are way too many warnings in the Bible about apostacy (forsaking God altogether) backsliding, being a cast away, turning your back on God will not get you into heaven. If we think that we can accept Jesus gift of salvation and then live like the devil and live in sin you are doing despite to spirit of grace.
Hebrews 10:26 says For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.
Vs 29 Of how much sorer punishment suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, and hath done despite to the Spirit of grace.
Romans 3:24 says: Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
To accept Jesus gift is to live a life for Him with a changed heart. Repent ye therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. Acts 3:19
Aidan McLaughlin says
Oooooo. Just read of the blogs on here that mentioned that you Jeremy would be in for a shock on judgement day. Just doesn’t get it does he. The pillock! Today is judgement day. Yesterday was judgement day. In fact the hr jesus give up his spirit for us was the beginning of “judgement day”.
Aidan McLaughlin says
And yes we can pray for the dead. The walking dead. The dead but fully conscious in their sin dead.
Very helpful as I have been pondering the question about whether it “is always God’s will to heal” in this life
dr.samuel t sharma says
I am interested to study on this topic dear sir,please share according to the scripture
Sinning unto death is God being merciful. He knows the beginning from the end; He knows if one of His own is about to go so far as to squander their salvation and in His mercy takes their life so as not to spend eternity in hell.
Sherry Briggs says
I’m so glad I came across your explanation of sins that lead to death.
I was confused and scared not knowing if I had committed a sin that would keep me from God.
Brian Horton says
Well articulated; faithful and truthful, from my Christian understanding and bible exegesis.