ASK BOB: “What is the sin that leads to death?”

Before I begin this post I want to share a thank you note I received from Nancy Waddell. We’ve now received 30 responses to our request for a kidney donor!!

“Bob:  Don told me earlier today that we have had over 30 people reach out to us and offer to give me a kidney.  We are overwhelmed by the response!  And extremely grateful for the blog you wrote. I am amazed and thank God that He has made this happen. I also thank you for writing the blog that reached so many people, mostly strangers, and challenged them to help a fellow believer they didn’t know.  I am hoping the transplant occurs so I can live a more normal life (dialysis three times a week is a bummer) but I also know that a new kidney will allow me to go to church regularly, to (my Women’s) Circle like any other normal person and visit grandchildren in Florida. Thanks again.  Love to Judy.  Nancy”

This is another wonderful example that followers of Jesus Christ are the most generous and sacrificial people in the world. Christian people are often accused of being hypocritical, intolerant, judgmental, self-centered, etc. Sadly, sometimes the accusations are accurate. In fact, we are all sinners in need of grace. But God’s people are consistently among the first and the most generous responders to help those in need. The reason is we follow the One who came not to be served but to serve. Way to go people!

Now let’s dramatically switch gears here and answer another Biblical question: 

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ASK BOB: “What is the sin that leads to death?”

QUESTION

Bob,  

Could you explain what 1 John 5:16-17 means when it talks about sin that leads to death and sin that does not lead to death? Is this where the Catholic Church gets its doctrine about venial and mortal sin? Exactly what does this mean? It seems that even a Christian could commit a sin leading to eternal death.   

MY ANSWER

The passage you referred to reads, “If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that.  All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death” (1 John 5:16-17).

Admittedly, this is a difficult passage to understand. Remember, the Bible promises there is no sin that can’t be washed away by the blood of Christ.  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will purify us from ALL unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Since the Bible is the Word of God and it doesn’t contradict itself, I can only conclude that the “sin that leads to death” referred to in this passage is a persistent sin that so numbs the conscience that the sinner loses any desire to confess and repent.

The NIV Study Bible gives this explanation of 1 John 5:16-17, “In the context of this letter directed against Gnostic teaching which denied the incarnation and threw off all moral restraints, it is probable that ‘the sin that leads to death’ refers to the Gnostics’ adamant and persistent denial of the truth and their shameless immorality.  That kind of unrepentant sin leads to spiritual death.”

Some Bible scholars disagree and suggest John is referring to physical death. They argue that just as God struck down Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, He will, on rare occasions, literally take the life of a wayward believer. But I believe the 1 John 5 passage refers to an ongoing, stubborn doctrinal deviation or a repeated immoral behavior that eventually quenches the Spirit of God and leads to spiritual insensitivity and eternal death.

Hebrews 6:4-6 seems to refer to the same persistent, unrepentant sin that hardens the heart. “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be bought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

Jesus spoke of the possibility of blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32) to the point that the offender would not be forgiven.  The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:21-32 of people who became so steeped in sin that God gave them over to the “due penalty for their perversion.”  That’s why the Bible warns us, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:15).

The Catholic Church does refer to 1 John 5:16-17 in its attempt to explain their distinction between mortal sins (sins that separate us from God and will consign us to hell if they are not forgiven through confession to a priest) and venial sins (a relatively slight sin that does not entail damnation of the soul).  In my opinion, the Bible makes no such distinction.

Hope this helps.

– Bob

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