The Apostle John wrote that there is a sin that leads to death (1 John 5:16). Jesus referred to it as an unforgivable sin (Mark 3:28-29).
Christians have for years debated what that sin is. Some have thought it is murder or adultery; others have said suicide.
Here is the passage in 1 John 5:
If anyone sees his brother committing 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. (1 John 5:16)
The first half of v16 is about Christians who sin (cf. “sees his brother”). A Christian person is someone who has put their faith in Jesus – who died as a propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2).
The penalty for all our sins is paid for by Jesus. Jesus bore God’s judgement on all the sins of all God’s people, so we don’t have to. Jesus dies in our place, so we may be forgiven and life forever. At the heart of the good news of Christianity is Penal Substitutionary Atonement.
Therefore, when a Christian person sins it does not lead to death, i.e. spiritual death.
However, sin still displeases God and is harmful to us.
When we see a Christian brother or sister indulging in sin, we should pray for them, that Jesus would help them, by his indwelling Spirit (cf. 1 John 3:9), to turn from sin and walk in the light. In other words, we should pray that God will give them life.
If you have a Christian friend who is struggling with sin, what a great thing to be able to pray for them.
What a great prayer to pray for your fellow Bible Study members that God would help them to turn from sin and give them life.
What a great prayer to pray for your pastor!
The second half of v16 refers to sin that leads to death.
…There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. (1 John 5:16)
Remember John’s words in 1 John 1:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)
If we turn to Jesus, he promises to forgive all our sins, whatever those sins may be.
The sin that leads to death is unforgiven sin – any sin that is not forgiven will be eternally punished by a holy and just God. It is therefore the sin of refusing to turn to Jesus – the very source of forgiveness.
It is the sin of rejecting Jesus.
It is what is called in the gospels, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Jesus was casting out demons. The religious leaders said that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of the devil.
Jesus answered them by saying that “all sins will be forgiven people, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”. (Mark 3:28-29)
The Holy Spirit’s job and role is to point people to Jesus. Therefore, when anyone rejects Jesus, they blaspheme the Holy Spirit.
If anyone rejects Jesus, how can they be forgiven? They cut themselves off from the very source of forgiveness.
John says in v16 that we don’t have to pray for those that commit sin that leads to death.
John was probably referring to the false teachers or “antichrists” (cf. 1 John 2:22) who were deceiving people by promoting a false gospel and a different Jesus.
Their sin led to death as they rejected the true Jesus.
John wrote that Christians were under no obligation to pray for these false teachers who were working to destroy the church and authentic Christians. Christian people should rather pray for those people being deceived by those teachers.
There is absolutely no sin too big for Jesus to forgive – including murder, adultery or suicide.
The “eternal” sin that is unforgivable and leads to spiritual death is the sin of rejecting Jesus.