On Sunday I preached the last message in the series We Know and We Love, looking at he 1st letter John wrote to the churches in modern day Turkey (you can listen to each of the messages by clicking here). We looked at chapter 5v13-21and found that there were some troublesome verses in the passage (16 and 17). After preaching in the morning and after receiving feedback, I reworked this section in the afternoon and preached the following in the evening, it's a long post but here goes:
"Paul now enters the middle of the race – he is now commentating on what he sees and what he hears and he moves on to talk about sin. In particular he talks of something that has been a little tricky to understand throughout the ages. Theologians have debated its meaning and have come up with differing opinions all based on the text and the context! To think that I in the time we have would be able to unpick it so that it satisfies every question would be futile to say the least. However I do think it’s important to have a way of navigating these hard passages and coming to an understanding of how they fit together for yourselves, so if my understanding does not quite cut it for you this is well worth investigating and looking into a little more with study.
So here goes - He talks about a sin that leads to death and a sin that does not lead to death.
To help us here we must remember that he is talking to those who are believers and he is speaking to those who are not yet believing the heresy that is flying around. He is regrounding them in their faith to give them assurance.
I do not believe here that John is at all saying that people who genuinely have accepted Christ as their Lord and Saviour can lose their salvation! Rather He is talking about a sin that shows that these people were not even following Jesus in the first place. Maybe they liked the moral code or the buzz of the people. Maybe they liked the doctrine of grace but didn’t want to back that up with the works that followed, or maybe they liked the works and didn’t get the grace. Maybe they just liked charismatic leaders and followed after men who seemed to have more answers!
So what is John saying?
Let’s break this into two sections. Firstly let’s look at the sin that does not lead to death.
This is the sin that we all experience. As followers of Jesus we know that we mess up that we give into temptation. We get caught out and make mistakes, but let’s remember 1 John 2:2
“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin – But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence – Jesus Christ the Righteous one” YES!!!
So as followers of Christ we can see forgiveness of our sins. Once any sin becomes evident to our brothers or sisters then we are to pray for each other. Whatever that sin might be we are to pray. Maybe it’s lustfulness or inappropriateness with the opposite sex. Maybe it’s drinking too much alcohol, maybe it’s gossiping. We can pray for their reconciliation. We can pray that the Holy Spirit will convict them and that they will repent. We may even do as Paul says in Galatians 6:1 and go and talk to them and restore them gently.
If someone has sinned against us let’s do as Jesus says and go to talk to them about it so that we can seek reconciliation. We can pray together and sort it out. As true followers of Christ we should want to repent as hard as we might find it to turn away from that which we have been doing, we should not want to live with sinfulness in our lives, it is alien to us.
This is the sin that does not lead to death, because it is forgiven. When we repent, sin is forgiven and that repentance leads to life and not death.
So what is the sin that leads to death and why is John indifferent about whether you should pray for it or not?
One commentator writes: “If John’s major emphasis as the letter concludes is that only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God have eternal life, then the sin that leads to death, the death that excludes the sinner from the life of God, must surely be the denial of that saving truth. If this is right then the sin that leads to death does so because, by nature, it rejects the only means by which sin can be forgiven – the atoning death of the incarnate Son of God. This underlines the important truth that it is not that this sin is unpardonable, but that it remains unpardoned. We need to preserve this distinction because so much of the rest of the letter has carefully established it.” (The Message of John's Letters, David Jackman, page 164)
Therefore this sin that leads to death is actually a rejection of Jesus, his deity and his death on the cross to forgive sin. The sin that leads to death is the sin that does not appropriate forgiveness because it rejects the one, the way and the means by which forgiveness comes.
When we are stubborn and hard hearted and don’t repent of sin then we are rejecting the grace of God; we are saying again that we know best we are acting as if we are unbelievers and John says that this is a sin that leads to death. One that leads to hardness of heart and one that leads to a rejection of Jesus, because in our pride we don’t want to own up to what we have done or see that it is indeed wrong.
If this becomes a persistent, ongoing rejection of Jesus and his grace then we need to act accordingly. It’s at this point that we as believers, when we see this happening, when we have done all we can to plead with our brother or sister, need not pray for their restoration or reconciliation through forgiveness of any particular sin they may be involved in. Rather that it’s time to start treating them like an unbeliever as Jesus teaches in Matthew 18 meaning we turn our attention to praying for their salvation! This would be church discipline or as Paul put it – giving over the immoral unrepentant believer to Satan or over to their unrepentant wishes.
Now just a note here, I also know that we can hold on to sin because we don’t think that we can be forgiven of it. We might have thought that it is the unforgivable sin or the sin that cannot be pardoned. We therefore store it up and let it condemn us and it causes us to lose joy and brings distance between us and God and also between us and our brothers and sisters. We don’t want anyone to mention that particular part of our lives in
case anything comes out about it and people really find out who you are!
Brothers and sisters let me say to you today if that is you – do not be hamstrung by the lie of the devil. If you are worried that you have committed some unforgivable sin, then let me say you haven’t – if you had you wouldn’t care about it!!! Whatever you have done come to Jesus, repent and you will be forgiven. He knows about it anyway and he is just waiting for you to acknowledge it is sin, turn to him and lay it at the foot of the cross and leave it there. His death was sufficient to take even your sin. His death has completed the work of destroying the hold that sin can have on us. Come out from condemnation and live in the freedom of your new life."