•••by Russell Young
John wrote, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.” (1 John 5:16, NIV)
This is a curious promise written by John. There are many different opinions as to what John meant when he spoke of a sin that does not lead to death. For this writing, however, consideration will be given to the issue of life that John has promised. Is he promising physical life or spiritual life? Throughout his epistle John has been speaking of one’s spiritual health and well-being, not his physical well-being. However, applying the notion of spiritual life or death does not make sense to those who claim that one’s spiritual hope was assured at the time of their confession of faith. They would proclaim that the ‘believer” was saved eternally at that point and this reality cannot be altered. If this is so, how can sin bring about his spiritual death? Consequently, they must attribute the death being spoken about as one’s physical death. And examination of the Scriptures reveals that John might very likely be addressing one’s eternal health or spiritual life. Disobedience, and walking in sin has been revealed to bring about one’s spiritual destruction or death.
John has recorded the Lord’s teaching that one’s doing will either allow him to rise to live or rise to be condemned. “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out-those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” (John 5:28-29, NIV) That is, his practices are what determines his outcome.
Erroneous teaching about the nature and application of God’s “grace” and of “works” has allowed God’s children the freedom to engage in sin without concern for judgment and death. The Word is clear that eternal salvation is only accomplished through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9) Paul taught that we are not to be DECEIVED, a man reaps what he sows. “The one who sows to please his sinful nature from his sinful nature will reap destruction.” (Galatians 6:7-8) Paul also recorded: “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey-whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 5:16) He also taught that the believer was to offer his body in slavery to righteousness which leads to holiness (Romans 6:19), resulting in eternal life. (Romans 6:22) Further in his letter Paul wrote: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)
It is not the gospel message that God’s grace will deliver the confessor into His eternal presence. In order for that to be accomplished he must utilize the resources that have been provided according to God’s grace and mercy and live a life of obedience. Sin is disobedience.
Just before the Lord’s crucifixion He washed the disciple’s feet. Many take this as an act of humility and command to service. It certainly is that, but much more. Peter was appalled and at first would not submit. However, the Lord rebuked him. Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:8) And clarified, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean.” (John 13:10) The soil of daily sins (dirty feet) according to the Lord still needed to be washed clean if the Lord was “to have any part with him.” That is, known sin must be repented and confessed if it is to be forgiven and removed. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:9, NIV)
It is in the context of these understandings that the passage under consideration and the “forgotten ministry” makes sense. If you see your brother (a fellow believer) commit a sin you are to pray for him so that he might have life. It is unfortunate that this ministry is not promoted more within the church. It is both an act of service and of love. The reality of this ministry has been lost in exaggerated and misleading teaching concerning the nature of God’s grace and of His “unconditional” love, but it still remains in force.