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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The Sin That Leads To Death
1 John 5:16 says, "If anyone sees his brother committing 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." [NASB]

I picture a lot of believers with little floating question marks over their head when they read this passage in first John. The Apostle here is teaching that believers ought not to intercede in prayer for those who commit sin leading to death, and we are left, as it were, to piece together what exactly is the "sin that leads to death".

A few quick contextual considerations. First and foremost, verse 16 expresses a qualifying exception to what was said in verses 14 and 15. That is, John has been saying that whatsoever we ask of God we will have, as long as what we ask is in accord with God's will - the exception "as long as it is according to God's will" is then immediately expounded by John, that is, we will not have our petition if we are petitioning God for those who are committing a sin leading to death.

Note that intercessory prayer is the focus here. John is not speaking primarily about asking God for things for ourselves, but rather about how we make petition for others. We conclude by this, amongst other things, that interceding in prayer for others is an anticipated Christian behavior - it is expected that Christians will be engaged in intercessory prayer.

Does your church have an intercessory prayer meeting? You probably don't call it that, but that is what the focus likely is - a time of corporate intercession. If your church doesn't have a formal time of intercessory prayer, then find some way to informally gather with other like minded believers to intercede on behalf of others.

Yet all this instruction, while good and proper, does not answer the question that put the question mark above so many Christian heads with regards to the sin that leads to death. So I will answer that according to whatever light I have been given on the matter.

I confess, I haven't gone off and read the commentaries on this verse before writing this post. Don't get me wrong, I probably read dozens of commentaries on this passage in my walk with the Lord, and perhaps some or all of them have flavoured my understanding, or at least framed it; but I was reading in Jeremiah 14 this morning the passage where God forbids Jeremiah to intercede in prayer for Judah/Jerusalem, and was reminded of this passage in first John, since it similarly prescribed that Jeremiah withhold his intercessory prayers.

First let's listen to Jeremiah's prayer for intercession:

"Although our iniquities testify against us,
   O LORD, act for Your name's sake!
   Truly our apostasies have been many,
   We have sinned against You.
O Hope of Israel,
   Its Savior in time of distress,
   Why are You like a stranger in the land
   Or like a traveler who has pitched his tent for the night?
Why are You like a man dismayed,
   Like a mighty man who cannot save?
   Yet You are in our midst, O LORD,
   And we are called by Your name;
   Do not forsake us!"
Jeremiah covers all the bases there: he confesses the iniquity of the people, he appeals to God on the basis of God's own name, he notes their present distress, and God's ability to save. I mean did Aaron pray such a prayer when he stood between the living and the dead in the wilderness as God's wrath fell upon the congregation? In other words there is nothing "wrong" with Jeremiah's prayer. His intercession for Judah/Jerusalem is not superfluous or heretical, but straight to the point and orthodox, but what is God's answer?

We read that answer in Jeremiah 14:10-11, "Thus says the LORD to this people, 'Even so they have loved to wander; they have not kept their feet in check Therefore the LORD does not accept them; now He will remember their iniquity and call their sins to account.' So the LORD said to me, 'Do not pray for the welfare of this people.' "

Now, this too requires a bit of historical context. It wasn't like God suddenly became unforgiving, or that God was in some way acting out of character. Recall the judgment pronounced beforehand by the Lord against those Israelite who, having known the Lord, turned away and worshipped false gods:

"so that there will not be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations; that there will not be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood. It shall be when he hears the words of this curse, that he will boast, saying, 'I have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart in order to destroy the watered land with the dry.' The LORD shall never be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and His jealousy will burn against that man, and every curse which is written in this book will rest on him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven." [Deuteronomy 29:18-20 NASB]

This was the sin of the people in Jeremiah's day. They had full knowledge of God, and were even worshipping God in pretense (as a matter of external religion), but their hearts were so far from God they were worshipping false gods on the side. When God instructs Jeremiah not to intercede in prayer for Jerusalem/Judah, He is instructing Jeremiah not to pray against God's will, for God has not only determined beforehand but clearly stated beforehand that He will in no way forgive the man whose worship is all pretense and whose heart belongs to something else.

Jeremiah wasn't allowed to intercede in prayer because that intercession ran contrary to God's promise to judge their particular sin in a particular way. In order for God to answer Jeremiah's prayer, He would have had to repent of His promised judgment. That's a no-can-do.

Now, back to first John, and the sin that leads to death.

I suspect that a lot of commentaries connect, the sin that leads to death with the unforgivable sin of attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to demons (i.e. blaspheming the Holy Spirit). This would then be an injunction by John against praying for those who are irrevocably damned by their having blasphemed the Holy Spirit. That interpretation is not without merit. Even if it isn't what John meant, it is still a "correct" understanding. In other words, it doesn't matter if that is what the text is talking about, it's still something that makes sense biblically.

I think in the context of first John, the sin that leads to death is apostasy, meaning that God will intercede for all kinds of things, but not apostasy - which is exactly what we see throughout the OT as well.

It is fitting therefore that John closes the letter with an appeal to keep oneself from false gods (idols). In the OT the Israelites turned away from the true God to worship false gods made of wood and stone - the continued to worship the real God in pretense, but not from their heart. In the NT, I believe the sin of apostasy is the same. Here the false gods that John is concerned about flow from newer heresies such as gnosticism etc. When any person hears the true gospel, and then turns away from it in order to pursue a false gospel, it becomes (as the author of Hebrews writes) impossible to renew them again to repentance.

What should we pull from this? Well, at the very least, we ought to see that God considers it an abomination for a person to profess faith, leave that faith, then attempt to be reconciled to that faith again, and subsequently, that we should not pray for apostates for this reason. I think that is what John was getting at. They went out from us, because they were not of us. John didn't call for prayer that these might return to the true faith, but rather calls us to -not- intercede for those who leave the faith.

I am sure I suffer from many illusions, but one I believe I do not suffer from is the illusion that everyone understands the word of God equally. I expect that the grand majority of believers have a rather fuzzy image of God, and this because they either do not spend enough time in God's word, or because they are unwilling to believe God's word when it comes against the image of God that is popular in our culture. The idea that God will not forgive a sin is incomprehensible to many in this generation, but not to all.

When John writes that we ought not to pray for those committing a sin that leads to death, it may seem severe or even harsh or even hateful to some. But to me it seems glorious, and God centered. How can I ask God to compromise His glory unless I value it less than I ought?


posted by Daniel @ 6:15 AM  
  • At 5:51 PM, August 25, 2010, Blogger David said…

    This is quite timely for me. Let’s take it out of the hypothetical.

    I have a friend who was a Congregational pastor, very evangelical, and very zealous for the church and the gospel. We were very like-minded on most things theological, and enjoyed good fellowship and discussion. Then he became enthralled with N. T. Wright, began slipping in his understanding of justification, and recently, to my utter shock, resigned from his church and converted to Catholicism.

    There is no question that he formerly understood — even better than most pastors — and assented to the true gospel. Now, he explicitly denies both sola Scriptura and sola fide.

    Shall I not pray for him?

  • At 6:36 PM, August 25, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    David, I would pray for him so long as he continues to seek Christ. As the scripture says, to his own Master he stands or falls. If He belongs to God the Lord will chastise and rebuke him for his error, and if he was never saved, then let him be to you as an unbeliever, and pray accordingly.

    A man who believed that he was saved by faith alone, then later decides that he is saved by faith plus works has erred after the fact, confusing justification and sanctification. His doctrine is heresy, but he himself is not necessarily an apostate.

    That's my first kick at the cat at least.

  • At 7:51 PM, August 25, 2010, Blogger David said…

    I'm afraid I don't think it's Christ he's seeking.

  • At 10:32 PM, August 25, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    David, I also am not convinced that he is seeking Christ, at least not Christ as described by scripture alone.

    yet so long as there is room for doubt, I would continue to pray.

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