The question was posed to me, what do you make of the verse in 1 John 5, that there is a sin that leads to death? Isn’t there sin that is unforgivable? What does this say about the grace message?
In Hebrews 12 he talks about looking at things from the perspective of two mountains, Mt Sinai and Mt Zion. Mt Sinai is the mountain of the law, the mountain of darkness and gloom and terror. Mt Zion is the mountain of grace, the mountain of angels in festal gathering, the heavenly Jerusalem, the spirits of the righteous made perfect. Either we stand at the mountain of law and judge grace, or we stand at the mountain of grace and interpret the law. You can’t stand at both mountains. We are standing at the mountain of grace looking at the whole of 1 John. Let’s look at what this means:
There is a good bit of ambiguity in what he means here:
16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God 1 will give him life – to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; l I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
What exactly is the difference between “a sin” not leading to death, and “sin” that leads to death? He doesn’t really spell this out right here. Also, does he mean physical death, or eternal damnation? The Gr “thanatos” is said in the strong’s lexicon that it could mean literal or figurative death.
What we do have is context. For instance, exactly following we have this:
5:18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
He who was born of God would seem to be Jesus, the only begotten of the Father. Notice that v.18 is not a command, but a promise. He isn’t saying, “stop sinning or else it proves you aren’t born of God.” He states a fact. “He who has been born of God does not keep on sinning.” The operative difference is whether or not one is born of God, whether or not they have come to faith in Christ. There is a similar idea throughout 1 John: 2:3-5, 3:6-8, 3:19-24, 4:7-12. It is practically the theme of the book. If you believe, you will love, you will obey. The operative hinge is belief, and obedience or lack of sin is a fruit.
Here is a question: Let’s assume that John was not schizophrenic, and had a single mind in writing the whole book. The same guy, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote these two verses:
2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but a also for the sins of the whole world.
5:16 There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
Clearly the sin that leads to death is disbelief. It is rejection of the propitiation. It is a discounting of the precious blood of Christ shed for us. 5:18 spells it out – if you are born again you don’t keep on sinning. Belief vs. unbelief is the difference between the two. Otherwise, how could he say in 2:1-2 that if we sin, we have an advocate. The sin unto death is refusing the advocate. As the writer of Hebrews says, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? Christianity is about salvation and forgiveness at its core; if you decide you don’t need or want that, you’re pretty much rejecting such a great salvation. It seems simple.
That being true, in Christ it remains that we are utterly and absolutely saved to the end of eternity, not of ourselves but by Him. As John says, the intention is that we should not sin, and if we sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who died for us. This belief is the rock on which He builds our character and our virtue, and it is because of Him that we do not keep on sinning behaviorally. This is also the interpretation that jives perfectly with all of Paul’s writings, and Hebrews, and the book of John. Scandalous grace is the only real grace, or else grace isn’t grace!