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1 John 5:16-17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
16 If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will for him give life, to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.
Here is the meaning of what John meant in a nutshell. All sin leads to death, of course. However, Jesus’ ransom sacrifice can save us from sin and death. (Romans 5:12; 6:23) Thus, a “sin that leads to death” would not be covered by Christ’s ransom. A person who commits willful, knowing, unrepentant sin has a heart and mind so hardened by his imperfection. He is so deep into his sinful path that he will never see the light that can enable him to change his attitude or conduct. This sin “will not be forgiven.” (Matthew 12:31; Luke 12:10) If we are aware of such willful, knowing, unrepentant sin, we should not pray for the person. God is the ultimate Judge as to the heart condition of the sinner. (Jer. 7:16; Matt. 5:44; Ac 7:60) Do not think that this must be some severe type of sin. Think of King Manasseh of Judah. He set up altars to false gods, sacrificed his own sons on the altar, practiced spiritism, and put a carved image in the temple of God. In fact, the Bible says that Manasseh and the people under his influence did “evil more than the nations whom Jehovah destroyed before the sons of Israel.” (UASV) God punished King Manasseh by sending him as a captive in chains to Babylon. – 2 Kings 21:1-9; 2 Chronicles 33:1-11)
Were Manasseh’s sins so egregious that they led to death? Obviously not, for the Bible says of him: “And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of Jehovah his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his forefathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that Jehovah was God.” (2 Chronicles 33:12-13) Therefore, we should not assume that a person is guilty of a sin that leads to death just because it is a severe sin or he has left the faith. It is best to let some time pass to see if the heart attitude of the person is willful, knowing, unrepentant sin or if this is a serious case of stumbling spiritually.
Such a sin that leads to death is not simply a weakness of the imperfect human flesh. This sin is committed willfully, deliberately, unwaveringly, and stubbornly. It is not so much the sin itself, but rather, it is the heart attitude of the sinner that makes his sin unforgivable. This willful, deliberate, unwavering, and stubborn sin is against the Holy Spirit, and so forgiveness is impossible. (Matthew 12:22-32; Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-31) Such sin leads to death, and such sinners will receive eternal destruction in “the second death.” (Revelation 21:8; Matthew 23:15) If one’s sin is in ignorance or because of his human imperfections, he can be forgiven. But for willful, deliberate, unwavering, and stubborn sin, there is no ransom sacrifice: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the accurate knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” (Heb. 10:26-27, UASV) Willful, deliberate, unwavering, and stubborn sin, knowing unmistakably that the Holy Spirit was involved in one’s life, is unforgivable. It is not so much a matter of what the sin is, as it is more of what the heart’s attitude is. It is the extent of neglect and willfulness that is involved that will determine whether it is forgivable or unforgivable.
By Edward D. Andrews