Q: What is the sin leading to death?
The apostle John told Christians, “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death” (1 Jn. 5:16–17).
The word if refers to a hypothetical situation. John revealed nothing about the one praying, the sinner, or the sin. However, he did emphasize the importance and obligation of praying for a Christian who sins.
The apostle told us the result of such prayer: “He [the Lord] will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death” (v. 16). The one interceding for the sinning believer should pray that the sinner sees the error of his way and confesses his sin. God will respond by providing life.
The word life does not refer to being regenerated but, rather, to spiritual restoration and revival, resulting in the wayward Christian’s renewed commitment to live for the Savior.
Three times John mentioned a sin that does not lead “to death” (vv. 16–17) and once, a “sin leading to death” (v. 16). Scripture does not identify the sin leading to death, but commentators have presented various views. Some teach it is a sin that will receive the immediate punishment of physical death. Examples include the swift deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–10) and the deaths of those who profaned the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:30).
Others believe the sin refers to the practice of false teachers who separated from the church and rejected Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God. They would be cut off from forgiveness and, subsequently, from salvation. Still others believe the sin may be one particular sin or a state of sin that an individual has no intention of leaving. Thus, the sin “leading to death” is a willful, ongoing practice of a particular sin for which the individual never repents. Finally, some believe it is a sin someone continually commits that will culminate in his death.
John never identified the sin. What we do know is that God alone chooses or determines when an unrepentant sinner should die. He tells us, “I do not say that he should pray about that” (1 Jn. 5:16), meaning, there is no directive to pray for someone in such a situation.