Today is going to be a “teaching day”. The verses today are difficult to understand, and many theologians have come up with various interpretations. As you know, my passion is that you read Scriptures completely – not just look at verses here and there. We need to know what God is telling us. I must admit, I’d like to skip over some verses because they are difficult, but here we go:
John 5: 16 – 17 NLT
“If you see a fellow believer sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life. But there is a sin that leads to death, and I am not saying you should pray for those who commit it. 17 All wicked actions are sin, but not every sin leads to death.”
Those verses that are quite puzzling, actually rather scary. We are going to look at what Charles Swindoll has to say in his commentary Living Insights 1 John.
“But what, exactly, does John mean by “a sin leading to death” and “a sin not leading to death”? To what sin, specifically, is he referring? Is it a single sin? Or a category of sins? And what kind of “death” is this? Physical death? Spiritual death? …
First, we need to determine whether John was referring to a specific sin – or to a type of sin – or to a certain duration of sin. If this is a specific sin, it could be a reference to what Jesus calls the “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (Mark 3: 29). On the seriousness of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, William Hendriksen writes, “when a man has become hardened, so that he has made up his mind not to pay any attention to the promptings of the Spirit, not even to listen to his pleading and warning voice, he has placed himself on the road that leads to perdition. He has sinned the sin “unto death”. If this is the kind of sin “unto death” John meant in verses 16 to 17, then the kind of “death” John meant was eternal damnation – the death of the unsaved.
However, it is equally plausible that John was referring not to a specific kind or quality of sin, but to a situation in which a person’s persistent sin ultimately results in their being punished by physical death as judgement from the Lord. We see examples of this in the New Testament, as in the cases of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5: 1 – 11).” (page 132, Living Insights 1 John)
Just so you don’t have to look it up, this account in Acts occurred in the early church when they were collecting money to help those in need. Everyone had decided that their belongings were not their own, but God’s gift to them, and so should be shared.
“All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.” (Acts 4: 32 – 25)
Ananias and his wife decided to bring some of their money and claim it was everything they had. Peter, under the Holy Spirit, questioned what they were doing. “Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. 4 The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!”” (Acts 5: 3 – 4)
This resulted in the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. God stepped into this situation in the early church to emphasize his presence. You didn’t try to deceive God, and that early church needed to know that.
Personally, I have always thought verses 16 to 17 in 1 John talked about someone who refused to acknowledge that Jesus was God’s son, someone who turned their back on any belief in God and the Bible. That would result in eternal separation from God. Charles Swindoll’s first explanation is the one that resonates with me.
That God would punish a believer by removing them from physical life, is a possibility, but I don’t think we have to be anxious thinking God is watching and ready to pounce on us for sins we commit. There are so many verses in the Bible that tell us that God forgives – even in 1 John. “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1:9) I remember as a young teenager, reading those verses about a “sin unto death” and being quite scared. If I lied, would God strike me dead? As years have passed, I have come to know that God is loving and forgiving. When we are in a relationship with him, we continue to grow closer to him. Let’s look at some verses that talk about God’s forgiveness.
“But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear you.” Psalm 130: 4
“Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight.” Romans 4: 7
“I am writing to you who are God’s children because your sins have been forgiven through Jesus.” 1 John 2: 12
Our song for today reflects the fear about these verses – You Never Are by Francesca Battistelli.