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Sin Unto Death


1 John 5:16 If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.

Our next study on ominous verses in the Bible comes from none other than John— “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Although John’s Gospel and epistles are known for their emphasis on God’s love, here we see a verse that should strike terror to the heart of any believer— “There is a sin unto death.” Although it is clear from the context that this verse is directed toward believers, we must ascertain what this sin is, and what kind of death is John talking about.

John 21:20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?

We have already studied, in previous chapters, that there is no sin for which a believer cannot be forgiven; and the only sin that cannot be forgiven by an unbeliever is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit and reject His testimony concerning Jesus.[1] However, these verses plainly teach that either some sin or a certain kind of sin brings serious consequences. We know that “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men”; so we see that there is no mysterious diabolical sin, which when committed brings death. Many people throughout the Scriptures, believers and unbelievers alike, were struck dead by God for their sins. Korah[2], Nabal[3], Ananias and Sapphira[4], Herod[5], and others all received immediate physical death for their sins—and none of their sins were similar or committed under similar circumstances. Korah was sent down to the pit for his rebellion against Moses; Nabal was struck dead because of his hardness of heart toward David; Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead because they lied to the Holy Ghost; and Herod because he failed to give God His rightful glory.

Matt 12:31 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.
And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.

Therefore, from the standpoint of Scripture, there is no one particular sin that brings about the death of a believer. What we do see however, is how the attitude of a believer’s heart can bring about this judgment. The “sin unto death” is the continual, unremorseful, unrepentant practicing of known sin by a believer; who, in the hardness of their heart, has turned their back upon God. We have already seen how that a believer can become complacent and cold towards God and the things of God by not maintaining their spiritual condition[6]; how they can fail the grace of God when they stop availing themselves of the means of grace[7]; and how committing presumptuous sins leads to the great transgression[8]. Everything we have studied in previous chapters brings a believer to the point where their lifestyle becomes intolerable to God; and He must deal with them by the most drastic of means. There is a point in a believer’s life when they will not turn from their sin; and the damage they are doing to themselves and the cause of Christ must be restrained. There is a line that a believer can cross when God will irreversibly choose to act upon their lives by taking them out of this world.

2 Chr 36:15 And the LORD God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place:
16 But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets,
until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy.

Deut 8:19 And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the LORD thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish.
20 As the nations which the LORD destroyeth before your face, so shall ye perish; because ye would not be obedient unto the voice of the LORD your God.

1 Cor 11:30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.
31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.

Now, we have made this point so many times that we feel we are needlessly repeating ourselves— “unto death” has nothing to do with a believer’s eternal state. No matter how bad a child of God becomes, Christ saves them “to the uttermost”—or as someone has said “to the guttermost.” How good we are or how bad we become, never did have, or ever will have anything to do with our salvation. The sacrifice of Christ paid for every sin that every believer will ever commit. God cannot and “will not impute sin” to the account of any child of God. Our sin causes much grief and suffering to ourselves, to others, and to God; but it cannot cause us to lose eternal life.

Heb 7:25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

Heb 10:12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;

Rom 4:3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

‘Howbeit,’ some may argue, ‘what if a believer gives up their faith in Christ? If we are saved by faith we can surely be lost again if we lose that faith.’ If a Christian ever had anything to do with their salvation, including having faith in Christ, we might concede the possibility. However, the Scriptures plainly teach that a believer’s faith came as a gift from God. Unredeemed and unspiritual men cannot conjure up true saving faith by themselves. God must produce the faith by which we are saved, and God sustains that faith. I don’t believe it is possible for a true child of God to ever deny their experience of salvation which brought them to Christ. They may, in the hardness and bitterness of their carnal mind, say that they no longer believe; but if they were ever truly saved to begin with, they know in the depth of their hearts that Christ is their Saviour.

Eph 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Heb 12:2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jude 1:24 Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,
25 To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.

Furthermore, in spite a believer’s disbelief and disavowal of Christ—“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” It is also by the Holy Spirit that we are “sealed unto the day of redemption.” Jesus Himself testified that of those which the Father had given Him “none of them is lost”; “neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand”; “and they shall never perish.” Therefore, no power in earth or hell can separate a true child of God from Christ—no demon, no sin, not even their own unbelief and rebellion.

Rom 8:16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

Eph 4:30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.

John 17:12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.

John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

Rom 8:38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So then, the “unto death” that John is warning about is the death of the body; and although we all expect to experience physical death, he is talking about the premature ending of a believer’s life that comes about by the hand of God. Many believers refuse to believe that God has anything to do with sickness, suffering, and death; but the proof of the Scriptures is overwhelming. Many want to attribute all of the evil of this life, including death, to the power of Satan; but Satan is only a pawn in the hand of the Sovereign God. Nothing touches the life of a child of God unless God permits it—including Satan, sickness, evil, accidents, or death.

Job 1:8 And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?
9 Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?
10 Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.
11 But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.
12 And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

Job 2:3 And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.
4 And Satan answered the LORD, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.
5 But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.
6 And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.
7 So went Satan forth from the presence of the LORD, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.

Isa 45:5 I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:
6 That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.
7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace,
and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

The next thing we will consider is—what means does God use to bring about this untimely death? God may use a natural means such as the unhealthy lifestyle of His disobedient children and\or a disease; or He may use instant heart failure, a freak accident, murder, and even suicide. Those saints may never be aware of their impending judgment or the circumstances in which they are going to die. They may, like Ananias and Sapphira, in an instance fall down dead; or they may “pine away” for many years in ill health until death comes.

Jer 2:19 Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the LORD thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord GOD of hosts.

Deut 28:20 The LORD shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly; because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me.
21 The LORD shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee, until he have consumed thee from off the land, whither thou goest to possess it.
The LORD shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish.

27 The LORD will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, and with the emerods, and with the scab, and with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed.
The LORD shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart:

35 The LORD shall smite thee in the knees, and in the legs, with a sore botch that cannot be healed, from the sole of thy foot unto the top of thy head.

Eze 24:23 And your tires shall be upon your heads, and your shoes upon your feet: ye shall not mourn nor weep; but ye shall pine away for your iniquities, and mourn one toward another.

How far can a believer sink in sin and rebellion before prayer and the grace of God cannot restore them? It is hard to say, but I doubt that anyone who is spending their time reading this book has reached that point. As long as a believer still feels some pangs of conscience, and as long as they have some desire for restoration, the “sin unto death” has not been committed. Only those who have hardened themselves beyond the call of the Holy Spirit are in danger of going too far. For this reason, the Bible’s message for those who are troubled by this passage of Scripture is to “Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.” God is always ready to restore a wayward child if that believer is willing to “forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts” and “return unto the LORD.” God “will have mercy upon” them and “he will abundantly pardon” them. A true child of God need not despair because there is always hope in God. Therefore keep praying, keep seeking God’s face, and keep knocking on Heaven’s door until restoration comes.

Isa 55:6 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Luke 15:20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

1 Per 1:13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;

Matt 7:7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.


[1] Chapter 1, Blasphemy Against the Holy Ghost

[2] Numbers 16

[3] 1 Sam 25

[4] Acts 5

[5] Acts 12

[6] Chapter 6, How shall we escape—Heb 2:1-3

[7] Chapter 5, Failing the Grace of God—Heb 12:15-17

[8] Chapter 8, The Great Transgression

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