It's one of the least understood concepts in the Bible .... and one of the most apparently mysterious passages in the New Testament. Many people have expressed an opinion about it, and the Roman Catholic Church claims to have it all figured out; but most preachers tend to avoid it entirely. However, the fact that it's often misunderstood shouldn't scare us away: it should spur us on to further study.
I'm talking about the "sin unto death" mentioned in the first epistle of John: 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. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death (1 John 5:16-17).
In discussing this subject, let's try to avoid "theology" altogether, and keep it simple. Instead of being intimidated, let's approach the passage with common sense, informed by the other passages in the Bible that help us sort things out. After all, the Bible interprets itself, and that's really the only interpretation that matters!
The immediate context of this verse (1 John 5:14-18) is prayer: instructions in prayer, to be specific. One of the great promises of the Bible is found in 1 John 5:14, 15. But immediately after that, John tells us that there's something that we probably shouldn't pray for: and it involves a brother or sister who is committing the sin unto death.
Well, what is the sin unto death? John tells us quite clearly what it isn't: All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death. If you want a good definition of sin, there it is: "all unrighteousness." Everything from murder, to foolish, wandering thoughts, to sins of omission, such as not sharing the Gospel with others. Anything that's not righteous, in God's sight, is sin. But, as the verse says, these things are not "the sin unto death."
(It must be noted, of course, that all sin leads to death, in the spiritual sense. That's basic Bible truth: For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord [Romans 6:23]. All men and women are sinners by nature and by choice, and eternal death is their reward, unless they've received Jesus Christ as Saviour, according to John 1:12. But that's not what this passage is referring to. This passage is talking about a sin, or a type of sin, that can be committed by a Christian [a "brother," 5:16], and leads to physical death.)
There are certain things that a Christian can do that God simply won't tolerate. One example was the story of Ananias and Sapphira, in Acts 5, during the very earliest days of the Christian church.
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things (Acts 5:1-11).
So, is "the sin unto death" lying to the Holy Spirit? Well, it certainly was in the case of this greedy couple. But we must remember that Acts is a "transitional" book: it takes us from the earthly ministry of Jesus to the Church Age, in which we live. Not everything in Acts applies to people living in our time. As we'll see, we should be very grateful for this! In any case, the account of Ananias and Sapphira - - - two active members of the church - - - demonstrates that God will not always wink at sin. Sometimes, He'll simply kill a sinning Christian. The point was not lost on the early church, as indicated in verse 11!
Another example of God allowing death to come to some Christians, as a consequence of their actions, is found in 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul is giving instructions for conducting the Lord's Supper, or communion. The Corinthian church was, far and away, the most carnal first century church mentioned in the Bible; and, in the case of the Lord's Supper, some of its members were participating in a carefree, lighthearted, even drunken manner, instead of a thoughtful and reverent manner. And Paul says:
For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep
(1 Cor. 11:26-30). That's not a reference to "sleeping off" a drunk; it's a standard Biblical metaphor for physical death.
Again, we should be thankful that God isn't dealing with us, today, the way He dealt with the first century church! Some people may pout because God isn't giving certain spectacular gifts, as He did then; on the other hand, He isn't killing people for thinking about the football game while they're taking communion. And, as far as Ananias and Sapphira are concerned, let's not mystify or complicate what they did: they lied to the Holy Spirit - - - and, if you're a Christian, so have you. You don't believe it? You mean that you've always done exactly what you promised God that you'd do? You've never fudged on a commitment that you made to Him? You've never promised to abandon a sin, and then gone back to it? Right. There's "lying" and there's "lying," is that what you think?
I've listed these examples simply to demonstrate that God will indeed discipline some of His children with physical death. He's done it in the past, and He does it today. That's where the "sin unto death" comes in.
Let me be very clear: I'm not saying that lying to the Holy Spirit, or taking the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner, are the "sin unto death" of 1 John 5, as applied to the Church Age today. These things may, in some cases, be involved; but the sin unto death can't be limited to a specific act.
In addition, the sin unto death is not the "unforgivable sin" mentioned in Matthew 12:31, 32. Because these sins sound so fearsome (which they are), people often assume that they're the same. But they're not. The "unforgivable sin" has nothing to do with the "sin unto death," and, in fact, would require a separate post to explain. If you're worried about the "unforgivable sin," relax: you've never committed it. You can't commit it. But, as I say, the explanation will have to wait for another time.
The Roman Catholics use 1 John 5 to buttress their ludicrous, man-made teaching of "mortal sins" and "venial sins." Venial sins are supposed to be the "little" ones. "Mortal sins," identified by Catholics as adultery and murder and such things, are the "sin unto death," and will send you to Hell - - - unless a Roman Catholic priest absolves you. This interpretation is, literally, a damned lie, and is so far beneath contempt that we need not consider it further.
So, once again, what is the sin unto death? Enough of what it's not; what is it?
In our day, it doesn't consist of a single, specific act. A single act of fornication, or gluttony, or murder, or gossip, won't result in death (not usually: I'm not limiting God here, and He can discipline His children as He chooses). Rather, the sin unto death consists of a protracted, habitual way of living that deeply displeases the Lord. It may involve the sins mentioned, if the adultery or gossip becomes the pattern of one's life; or it may consist of sins of omission: not skipping church a few times, or letting dust gather on the Bible for a month, but simply living in a totally carnal manner in a habitual way. If you skip your prayers, or get in bed with the wrong person, God stands ready and eager to help you overcome the sin and the guilt. But if this becomes the dominant pattern of your life.....
Christians have no business living like non-Christians. If a man or woman comes to Christ (really comes to Christ), and then sinks into a life of fleshly or intellectual sin, or ignores God's word and God's work, for the rest of their life - - - well, then that life might be shortened.
"Backsliding" (the scriptural term is getting out of fellowship with God) isn't the sin unto death - - - but, if it persists, without confession or repentance, for years and decades, it may become intolerable to God. At that point, He will decide that a Christian is, literally, of no earthly use to Him, and take them Home. They'll go to Heaven; you can't lose your salvation. But you can lose everything else: your health, your family, your freedom, and, in this case, your physical life.
This raises a number of questions, which can't all be answered in this post: it's already long enough, God knows! For example: in this Laodicean age, it seems that untold numbers of genuinely saved Christians are living totally carnal lives. Why isn't God killing them? Well, maybe He is killing some. (He's also allowing the death of many godly, Christ-honoring Christians.) But the answer is that God is longsuffering, and unimaginably merciful. He doesn't punish the sin unto death in every case.
But He does in some. And here's where those "weird" instructions of verse 5:16 comes in: 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.
If you see a brother or sister living in a sinful manner, should you pray for that person? Absolutely: and, if they accept God's help in abandoning their sin, your prayers will have played a part in preserving their physical life. God will be "giving life." But if you see a brother or sister (a member of your church, a co-worker, or, God forbid, a spouse or child) simply ignoring God's will on a consistent, protracted basis, for years .... then your prayers would be better spent on someone else. God doesn't forbid you to pray for such people; He says that it's not required. "I do not say that he shall pray for it."
If it's someone dear to you, of course, you will pray. How could you not? So many of us have spouses, parents, or children in this position: genuinely saved, but not doing a lick of good for (and maybe actually harming) the cause of Christ. Your heart demands that you pray for them; but God's word does not.
One more thing. Does it sound "mean" or vindictive for God to slay a Christian who's in this position? Think again. It's an act of mercy. If, God forbid, I quit living for Christ, and go back to my old way of life, God won't be doing me any favors by letting me pursue my old nature. How much better to be taken Home, where, even without any robes of righteousness, I'll be conformed to His Image!
Praise God for His righteousness - - - and his mercy!
(NOTE: I am aware that this passage also has a prophetic interpretation, relating to conditions during the Great Tribulation. But, for practical reasons, I've limited the discussion to the here and now.)
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Friday, August 26, 2011
Once again, the proponents of the "religion of peace" ply our ears with their sweet murmurings. Anyone who has heard the Muslims say that "jihad" merely means "an inner struggle for godliness," or some such tripe, should listen to the words of these peaceful and beneficent followers of Muhammad. Much can be learned from them.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
It's hard for any Christian to say what their favorite hymn is, because there are so many from which to choose. (Determining "the best hymn" is a truly fruitless task, because such judgments are subjective; but I tend to agree with the man who said that Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" would be the only song penned by man that would be sung in Heaven. Of course, the words to that one weren't penned by man!) In any case, here's my own favorite. I think. Except for another one I could mention. Anyway, this is my story, and possibly yours, and it means everything to me. Sung by an unidentified congregation, here is one of Charles Wesley's finest hymns, with accompanying lyrics. I hope you enjoy it!
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
And now, an interesting look at the concept of "evangelism" as it is practiced in the "religion of peace." In this video, a Muslim "cleric," the Right Reverend Mahmoud Al-Masri, giddily recounts the conversion of a non-Muslim based upon a deliberate misrepresentation of what the "religion" actually teaches. Observe his giggling, beaming description of this intentional prevarication: this man (if such he can be called) is proud of the cleverness of Islamic deceit.
In Islam, this tactic is called "Taqiyya." It is well known to most Muslims, and forms a central part of their interactions with non-Muslims. In the words of Warner MacKenzie:
"The word "Taqiyya" literally means: 'Concealing, precaution, guarding.' It is employed in disguising one's beliefs, intentions, convictions, ideas, feelings, opinions or strategies. In practical terms it is manifested as dissimulation, lying, deceiving, vexing and confounding with the intention of deflecting attention, foiling or pre-emptive blocking. It is currently employed in fending off and neutralising any criticism of Islam or Muslims.
"Falsehoods told to prevent the denigration of Islam, to protect oneself, or to promote the cause of Islam are sanctioned in the Qur'an and Sunna, including lying under oath in testimony before a court, deceiving by making distorted statements to the media such as the claim that Islam is a 'religion of peace'. A Muslim is even permitted to deny or denounce his faith if, in so doing, he protects or furthers the interests of Islam, so long as he remains faithful to Islam in his heart." (emphasis added)
For the complete article by MacKenzie, go here. And, by all means, remember this concept next time you hear a Muslim saying such things as, "Jihad merely means the inner struggle for godliness." These savages would climb a tree to lie, when they could stay on the ground and tell the truth.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Last week, the latest efforts of Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, and the Manchester United soccer team were replaced as the web's most popular and controversial videos. The newest Internet phenomenon was not another sluttish rock song or a sports clip, but a simple historical presentation by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon of Israel. In this brief, entertaining video, Ayalon had the temerity to say that Judea and Samaria, the so-called "West Bank," were not "occupied territories," but rather "disputed territories," over which the Palestinians have no historical or legal authority.
Naturally, the Usual Suspects went absolutely ballistic. Predictably, representatives of the so-called "Palestinian Authority" (i.e., the Philistine squatters) denounced the video; but it was even more bitterly damned by the Western Jew-haters in such august outlets as The Huffington Post and the Atlantic Monthly, which was a very good magazine about eighty years ago.
But Ayalon hasn't backed down, and stands by the video. Judge for yourself, and enjoy it!