Amazing Grace: On the “Sin Unto Death,” Jeremiah, and Intercessory Prayer; Part 4


Let’s turn back to the text —

(1Jo 5:16-17 ESV) 16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life — to those who commit sins that do not lead to death.

Therefore, I think we’re misreading “he shall ask, and God will give him life.” He’s a brother. His sin is not the sort that leads to death. Therefore, to “give him life” does not mean “give him eternal life” (which he already has) but something like “strengthen and build him up for eternal life.”

That is, if I see a brother err in a moment of weakness, he’s not at risk of damnation but he needs to be built up and encouraged to better resist sin and do better next time he’s tempted. Sin is no trifling matter. Sin always carry a touch of death, and today’s innocent sin can easily become tomorrow’s hard-hearted, willful sin.

Moreover, even though God forgives a Christian’s sins, those sins have consequences, and they can be truly awful consequence. I may well pray that God relieve my brother of the consequences of his sin — that his wrongful divorce not ruin his children, that he not lose a friend over an unkind word, that his wife forgives him for a betrayal.

(1Jo 3:4 ESV)  4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

John thus teaches us several important lessons —

1. We should pray for the spiritual walk of each other. Grace covers sins, but there is more spiritual power available to us if we are willing to tap it through prayer. As valuable as forgiveness is, perseverance matters, too. We need encouragement of our brothers to make it to the end, and that is both personal encouragement and strength from our brothers’ prayers.

2. Even though a sin is forgiven, it will have consequences, and we should be in fervent prayer that God shield our brothers from the consequences.

3. There is a sin that results in death. It’s rebellion against God, a surrender of the repentance with which we began our life with Jesus, as well as giving up the true Christian faith — particularly that Jesus is the incarnate Messiah and Son of God.

4. Faith in a near-Jesus, such as a Jesus who was not incarnated as the Messiah, does not save.

5. There is a sin that leads to death, that is, sin that takes us out of a secure and confident relationship with Jesus toward death. This sin does not damn — yet. But it pushes us toward damnation. It includes any sin that we indulge in aware of its sinfulness, and it includes any rejection of the essential elements of Christian faith. Doubt does not damn. But doubt can give way to a rejection of faith. Doubt leads to death. Rejection of faith is death.

6. For sins that lead to death, we err greatly when we look the other way, relying on God’s grace or rationalizing that the sin is surely not that big a deal. After all, we think, God’s grace covers it. That attitude is ultimately a lack of love, a refusal to bear the weight of calling friends and brothers to repentance. We’d rather utter a prayer and hope for the best, but John won’t allow us to rationalize.

7. Idolatry is a sin unto death. Sometimes we prefer to honor ourselves over God, making ourselves into idols.

One evidence of this attitude is a refusal to submit to the scriptures as authoritative. From a Christian, such an attitude is sheer arrogance and a rejection of Jesus as Lord. It’s placing one’s personal philosophy in judgment over God.

Another evidence is an unwillingness to submit to God. When the road gets tough, we prefer ourselves to God’s known will. We say the right words and do the right things until the price is too high, and then we choose ourselves. Again, that’s self-worship and therefore idolatry.

8. Now, it’s easy to imagine that we’re all on the road to death because we all sin. But the correct approach is not to look at the sin so much as the direction of the Christian’s life. If you’re growing, you’re safe, even though you may be very far from maturity (2 Pet 1:8-10).

9. On the other hand, if you’re going backwards, further from Jesus than you were a year ago, you’re indulging in sin that leads to death. Either your faith is growing weaker, or your resistance to intentional sin or your confidence in God’s promises has grown weaker. Somehow or other, you are spiritually diseased.

10. Sometimes, those in a weak condition right the ship all by themselves, but more often it requires the help of a beloved brother or sister in Christ. It requires action by someone who loves the diseased Christian enough to intervene.

11. As valuable a resource as prayer is, sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes action is called for. Rebuke and even discipline may well be what our brother needs. That’s not to say that we don’t pray, but that we don’t pretend that prayer is the solution when God is counting on us to do our jobs as loving brothers.

In short, I don’t see 1 John 5:16-17 as a lesson in despair. Quite the opposite. John’s point is that our place in the lives of our brothers in Christ is sometimes to stand in the gate and cry for repentance.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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13 Responses to Amazing Grace: On the “Sin Unto Death,” Jeremiah, and Intercessory Prayer; Part 4

  1. Gregory Alan Tidwell says:


    I think you have twisted this text because of your overriding agenda to make everyone of your Progressive brethren on their way to heaven in spite of the many heresies they have embraced.

    There is a way that leads to life. (penitent faith in Christ) and there is a way that leads to death. John is making a dichotomy between these two ways.

    This is analogous to the Progressive preoccupation about defining what is and what is not a “salvation issue.” The implication is often made that as long as something is not a “big deal” it does not matter.

    Willfully embracing ANYTHING which is not the will of God. (Even something as “trivial” as instrumental music in worship or fellowshipping the unimmersed) may lead to death.

    I know you want to whitewash all of your Progressive brethren in spite of their many heresies, even those who embrace Universalism and those who embrace Legalism, but in this agenda of inclusiveness you have done violence to the text.


  2. Orion says:

    Gregory said: “Willfully embracing ANYTHING which is not the will of God. (Even something as “trivial” as instrumental music in worship or fellowshipping the unimmersed) may lead to death.”

    How can you be so sure: I seem to recall that Israel having a king was against the will of God. Yet rather that condemn and destroy the Israelites he blessed them, even though they went against his will and selected a king. This seems like a pretty “big deal” to me.

    I would agree with you that we should obey the will of God. However, the examples of God’s will that you use leave me confused as I don’t see in scripture a command either for nor against instrumental music. Just a command to sing.

    How do you know that the GA is the will of God, I see no scriptural justification either for or against a brotherhood journal to keep churches on the straight and narrow. Just that we should study.

    It seem to me that the only difference between an expedient and a sin is whether or not you agree with the issue in question. Maybe your comment should have read: “Willfully embracing ANYTHING which is not the will of Greg. (Even something as “trivial” as instrumental music in worship or fellowshipping the unimmersed) may lead to Greg’s disapproval and/or condemnation.

  3. Jeff B. says:

    Mr. Tidwell,

    You’ve convinced me!! How? Let me count the ways:

    1. You have provided such a thorough and convincing refutation of Jay’s exposition of these passages.

    2. You handled each of his points without resorting to motive-judgments or character assassination.

    3. You displayed complete fairness when you implied that Jay doesn’t believe that “anything which is not the will of God may lead to death”, even though he explicitly teaches this very thing in places like:

    “I had been taught that one sin is enough to cost you your soul and that all sins are equal in the sense that all sins will be enough to damn you. I still believe that, by the way.” (The Holy Spirit & Revolutionary Grace, p. 151).

    “An arrogant, unrepentant heart will damn you, even for “trivial” sins” (The Holy Spirit & Revolutionary Grace, p. 151).

    4. Your skill at “drive-by commenting,” (popping off with an incendiary and pejorative comment without offering substantive points about the issue being discussed, and then refusing to engage in the subsequent discussion) is completely convincing and respectable. Much moreso than if you actually followed through with completing a substantive conversation about grace (you know, in a blog format with a couple of speakers from each side of the issue.) Nope drive-by comments are much more convincing.

    So thanks, Mr. Tidwell. Your impeccable example of what defending the faith should look like has convinced, and thus converted me! If only there was an invitation song being sung right now, I would surely go forward and repent!

  4. Jeff B. says:

    Grrr … still trying to figure out HTML code.

  5. John says:

    …and one group of CoC says willfully embracing multiple communion cups leads to death; among them, some say willfully embracing giving thanks before breaking the bread (then some say afterward) leads to death.Aother group says the support of nursing homes leads to death; that having a kitchen in the church building leads to death. Some from certain preaching schools say combining acts of worship, such as singing while taking communion, leads to death. Others of this group say chain prayers lead to death. Whew!! That’s a workout!

    Gregg, what makes this whole thing so sad, those who believe what I have stated above, do just like yourself. They look back at the ones more legalistic than themselves and say “That kind of thinking makes no scriptual sense”. The only time the “same thing” is spoken. Again, how sad.

  6. Charles McLean says:

    Greg wrote: “Willfully embracing ANYTHING which is not the will of God. (Even something as “trivial” as instrumental music in worship or fellowshipping the unimmersed) may lead to death.”
    First of all, Greg needs to tell us what the heck “MAY lead to death” really means. “May”, in this case, seems to mean, “I don’t really know if it does or not, but you should be terrified anyway.” “May”? John is much more definite. If something is MAYBE eternally fatal, Greg owes us more detail. The fact that banjos and baptism are the only things reviewed on the hit parade so far is, I am quite sure, sheer coincidence. Curiously, “willfully embracing” judgment, factions, divisiveness, and unbelief do not appear to make the list of things which MAY get you killed.

    The major problem here is that Greg’s assertion directly contradicts his own doctrine. If embracing ANYTHING which is not God’s will can prove fatal, this requires that we be told by God EVERYTHING which is not His will, so we will not err therein. Does God want you to get married to that nice lady or not? Does God want you to take that job or not? Does God want you to eat three orders of boiled shrimp or not? Does he want you to watch that re-run of “Dirty Harry” or not? Is it God’s will that you read the Gospel Advocate? (And please don’t blithely tell me that God doesn’t care either way– SHOW ME where GOD tells us He doesn’t care. Anthing less is just intellectual laziness.)

    And this reveals the main problem: as Greg does not believe that God speaks outside the canon of scripture, and these questions about God’s will are unanswerable via the scripture, Greg is holding himself (and us) to a standard which he not only does not know, he sincerely believes we CANNOT know it. Greg has offered us an impossibility. Hence, the introduction of the weasel-word “may” in his dire warning of damnation.

    Now, Greg did not invent this doctrinal POV; it’s been around a long time in the CoC. But the historic solution offered to this little dilemma remains quite unsatisfactory. So far, the answer has always been, “WE will tell you what’s against God’s will, and what IS God’s will, and what He doesn’t care about. The fact that such answers are not clearly stated in scripture and the fact that we don’t believe in extra-biblical revelation does not slow us down a bit. (This logical contradiction may be the rhetorical equivalent of hitting a bridge abutment, but we can ignore that.) We have put forth our opinions and interpretations and conclusions and traditions as divine utterance for so long that there’s really no difference between what God says and what we say.”

  7. (This starts out in left field but comes home at the end)
    According to recent publications in human and social psychology on the topic of the origins of human morality, God (or any other deity of choice) is optional at human discretion, but recommended as being useful in further development of group/tribe formation and constructive competition to benefit achieving a common goal. The claim should come as no surprise that this behavior developed along with a larger brain during human evolution. Studies have targeted the recent political scene, since there seems to be increased friction and division, characterized by vilification of the opposition, labeling and name calling as a derogatory method of condemnation, presuppositions and preformed opinions overriding consideration of new information, positioning for protection of self-interest, etc. A recent book published this month is “The Righteous Mind – Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” by Jonathan Haidt. Haidt makes an analysis of the scene and then some recommendations that our nation could benefit from if the energies of both political conservatives and liberals could be redirected into a more constructive direction.

    These characteristics of probably the best of humanism in many cases exceed the acceptable standards of behavior in the church. This is relevant to what? The case is being made (on another blog) that humanistic thinking and behavior has invaded the church and diluted out the work of the Holy Spirit. Any wonder when the church is ineffective and disrespected – that’s what the scriptures repeatedly told the people of God to turn away from. The church is supposed to demonstrate righteous behavior to the world, not receive correction from humanism. So, where’s the Spirit? Conked out back in the first century, or lost in the competitive rush to duplicate a capitalistic world-view?

    The reason for this comment is to thank the brother for posting comment #1 in this string. This comment of relative brevity (especially compared to mine) uses some of the better identifiable examples of political labeling (five times), name calling, presupposed judging, assumption condemnation, topic isolation for general rebuttal, and other forms of commonly used, but less than moral, humanistic reasoning. This makes for a useful reference. From this sample, I will also be examining the Gospel Advocate as another potential resource.
    Thank you.

  8. Royce Ogle says:

    Just Greg being Greg.

    Jay if Greg is your “favorite conservative church of Christ preacher” please, please don’t expose your readers to your least favorite.

    Why did Jesus come and die if violating something not even the Bible addresses will undo the atonement? What should be alarming to people is that one of the most well known ministers in the churches of Christ publically insults the work of Christ routinely.

    In our brotherhood trivial matters get far to much attention while the greatest themes of the Bible are largely ignored.

  9. Charles McLean says:

    I like Theo’s post, if it is a bit of the long slow curve ball. I have been challenged a couple of times by preachers on arch-conservative CoC sites specifically regarding the use of logic, and I am happy to oblige. After discussing the wide range of fallacy and disingenuity found in the general conservative reasoning, the discussion invariably winds up at John 9:34. Every single time.

    I never consider myself to have “won” anything in these discussions, for nothing changes for the positive. All I have done is to spend an hour trying to unclog a septic line with nothing to show for my effort but the smell on my hands.

  10. ” … it is a bit of the long slow curve ball.”
    Charles, I like that. Excellent description. Unfortunately, that’s the good pitch. Too often my other pitches either never “break” and end up hitting the batter, or else they go wild and launch into phantom space.

  11. Adam Legler says:

    Reading the comments of the last two posts in this series has been refreshing to me. I’ve been so sick of (in my humble, honest opinion) judgmental, super techincal, name calling behavior that I was about to sadly stop following Jay’s blog. I know those who engage in this behavior are not the only ones here, but they have seemed to be the ones who make the most noise. It is such immature behavior coming from (as best I can tell) people who should be mentors to most of us. Not people who are quick to tell you how wrong you are then disregard you when they don’t like what you say. How is that being light or salt? You never know who my be reading this blog.

    Forgive me if I come across too harsh. I’ve just been tired of the same old legalistic thinking that is more in line with the Pharisee of Luke 18:9-14 than that of the tax collector in the same passage who was justified when worshipping God and does nothing to build us up or prepare us to engage a lost world. Our soceity has no need or room for that type of thinking which is showing itself to be a sinking ship, and not ironcially so! It’s so bias, ill informed and political. I know we all agree that Jesus died for our sins and being his disciple is no light thing. But there is so much we are missing if we don’t understand what God’s grace and freedom mean.

    You can just ask my friend who came out of 20 yrs of drug addicition. He knows the moment he was saved (before he was actually baptized, oh no!), because of what he had been through and how is life has changed since then. And that was more than 2 yrs ago. So his sobriety has been a real thing. When I bring up these traditional C of C arguments to him he just shakes his head. He knows firsthand that the real argument should be going on with those who were like him. They are ugly, stinky, lost, and uniformed on what true freedom in Christ really means. Much different than us “progressives” who have no problem reaching people like him because we are not caught up in traditions and are willing to work with Christians from other tribes and the like. Something a legalist is not allowed to do.

    We have lost people inside and outside of the church who knowingly or unknowingly are lost because of the spirit and way we’ve traditionally gone about things. Jay’s blog does a great job of pointing us towards the heart and Spirit of God in a well researched, thought out way. It’s, again, refreshing to hear that coming from other commentators here as well.

  12. Pingback: The Fork in the Road: In Reply to Greg’s Comment | One In Jesus

  13. eric says:

    I really like the fact that you covered the point on confronting brothers with sinful behavior. It is lazy to look the other way while a brother goes down a dangerous road. It should be approached with a lot of prayer and consideration on how to gently restore one another. Often the person best for the task is the one most likely to look the other way out of a desire not to offend a close friend. Not something I enjoy but have had to do. And others have done the same for me and I praise God for them.

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