Question: Does John say a Christian can enter the Sin unto Death?

Does John say a Christian can enter the Sin unto Death?

A previous article looked at how James wrote how a Christian could be in the Sin unto Death.1 This article addresses John’s first epistle and how John clearly demonstrates that a believer can be in the Sin unto Death. 

The Gospel of John was written to the world to explain how a person would believe in Jesus and have life in His name (John 20:30-31).  Each of the three epistles of John have a separate purpose.  The first epistle was written to believers regarding the credibility of Jesus as the Christ.  It was written in a time when Gnosticism had taken hold and was drastically influencing the church.  Consequently, John wrote how Jesus was seen, looked upon and touched (1 John 1:1).  The Gnostics believed that Jesus just seemed to be a man, but was really just an aeon as a lower level being from God.  Gnostics taught that He was neither God, nor fully man, but was some kind of spirit being. If that were the case, He could not be the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29), He could not satisfy the righteous requirements of God (1 John 2:2), nor could He be the mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).

Because some people approach 1 John with their theology fixed, they do mental gymnastics to make sense of the letter.  IF people would take the natural, literal, historical and grammatical approach to understanding the meaning of the epistle, the interpretation becomes quite easy.  A key verse in the letter is found in 1 John 2:29.  John writes, “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.”(1 John 2:29)  If the person knows that Jesus is righteous and believers do, because that is part of what makes a person a believer – Jesus is the righteous One- then the one who practices righteousness is born of Him. What about the person who does not practice righteousness, i.e. the one who sins.  Whether the sin is one time or lasts for a few days or weeks, at that point the person is not practicing righteousness. When a person is not practicing righteousness, he is not “born of Him.” In other words, he reveals he is not acting like he is a believer.  When a person is living a spirit-controlled life, then he reveals He has the spirit living through himself and reveals he is “born of Jesus.”

First John is a book of fellowship, not declaring the difference between a believer and an unbeliever.  John makes this clear in the beginning, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) The key is fellowship, not salvation. 

So when John writes in 1 John 5:16, he is writing about a Christian who is out of fellowship with God. In fact, he is in the last stage of the Downward Spiral called the Sin unto Death.  John writes,

  • 16 If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. (1 John 5:16)
People stumble over this verse for two reasons. First, they cannot comprehend how a believer could continue in sin, but that is primarily because they have been taught a theology that does not allow continuous sin in a believer, so they impose that theology on the text.  Secondly, they do not understand the difference between the two words for “ask” and “pray” in the verse.

John writes, like Paul (Gal. 6:1), that if anyone sees a brother sinning a sin, he has some responsibility.  First, note that John calls this person a brother.  He’s not talking about a physical blood brother or a person from the neighborhood. He is talking about a spiritual believer and is called a brother. Secondly, note that brother is “sinning a sin.”  This is not a one time sin, he is “sinning a sin” (present active participle).  In other words it is on-going.  It may be several days, or weeks, or months.  It has to be quite some time, because you observe this is the behavior, not just a one time action. Thirdly, he is sinning a sin, “which does not lead to death.” In this case, he is sinning, but he is not in the final stage of the Downward Spiral.  He could be in the first or second step.  Or he could be in the fourth or fifth step of the Downward Spiral.  The fact is he is not in the stage called the Sin unto Death.2 He may be worried about not paying his bills and is struggling because he wants to provide for his children.  He may have “borrowed” some time from his work, because he was late.  In either case, even though they are both sins, he is still going to church and is somewhat open to the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit.

If a person is in this case, the observing believer should ask God on behalf of this brother.  The word for “ask” (aiteo-) is a Greek word that denotes asking with a humble awareness of authority.  The believer is to humbly ask God for mercy for his brother, recognizing that God may or may not grant his petition.  The Apostle Paul describes this in his letter to Timothy,

  • 24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient,
  • 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth,
  • 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24-26)
God may or may not grant repentance, but John directs the observing believer humbly to approach God and ask. John says that God will give life to the brother.  This is not eternal life, this is operational Christian way of life, for fellowship with God.  When the person repents, confesses his sin and depends once again on the power of the Holy Spirit, then the sinning brother is restored to fellowship life and can serve the Lord. Again, John clarifies that this is for sin, not leading to death or the Sin unto Death.

However, as John says, “There is a sin leading to death.”  This is the Sin unto Death.  John is not talking about unbelievers here.  John wrote the gospel of John so that the sinning world would respond to the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit and believe in the name of Jesus (John 16:8-11; 20:30-31). John is writing about believers who have descended the Downward Spiral and are in the holding stage called the Sin unto Death. John says, “I do not say that he should pray about that.”  The word for “pray” here is the Greek word ero-tao-, which means “to pray or ask between two equals.”  This is similar to the first word for pray, but that word aiteo- was pray or ask someone on a different authority level.  This word ero-tao- refers to praying or asking a person who is a peer.  John says, “DO NOT approach God as a peer.”  God may or may not grant the request (2 Tim. 2:24-26). When you approach God, do it with fear and intrepidation on behalf of the sinning brother.  Do not add insult to injury by approaching God like He is your buddy.  He is holy, righteous and just.  He deserves all the honor, respect, reverence and fear a person can muster.  Do not approach God casually when you observe a brother who is in the Sin unto Death.

Does John say a Christian can enter the Sin unto Death? Yes.  He teaches a believer can be in the Sin unto Death and he should be helped or turned back to the truth, just as James said should happen,

  • 19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back,
  • 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (Jam. 5:19-20)

What does Paul say about a believer in the Sin unto Death?  That is for the next article.


1See the previously posted article on the Downward Spiral:

2See the following link for a description of the believer’s Downward Spiral: 

Question: Did James say a believer could be in the Sin unto Death?

Did James say a believer could be in the Sin unto Death?

It seems incredible that a believer could even be considered in the Sin unto Death,1because a believer should be pursuing God’s righteousness and seeking to please the Lord in thought, words and actions.  Yet, as seen in the Downward Spiral articles, a believer can continue in sin, even though he is still God’s child and going to heaven.  James is one author that supports the view that a believer can enter the Sin unto Death.

The book of James is written to Jewish believers, who are in the dispersion (Jam. 1:1).  Fifteen times, he calls his audience, “brethren.”  James was written at a time when there were no church buildings. Christians were not kindly treated or respected.  They were considered part of a new cult and ostracized by the mainstream population.

James gives a very practical letter on how to live with a divine perspective. At the end of the letter, James gave a call of hope for those who might stray from the truth of godly living.  James exhorted believers not to trust in their riches (Jam. 5:1-6), to have patience with each other as they waited for the return of the Lord (Jam. 5:7-11), if they were suffering or struggling, to come together for support (Jam. 5:12-15) and to pray together as they worked through conflict (Jam. 5:16-18).  Finally, at the end of his letter he gave these words,

  • 19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back,
  • 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (Jam. 5:19-20)
Let us look at these verses.

            This is a passage regarding believers who have strayed from the truth and have entered the Sin unto Death. First, he is talking to “brethren.”  They are again affirmed as believers. Secondly, James highlights a believer who has strayed from the truth, “…if anyone among you wanders from the truth…”He is referring to a believer from among them and that believer has strayed from the truth of the faith they have believed. The word “strayed” comes from a word (planao-) from which we get planet, because the ancient people thought the planets wandered across the sky. Thirdly, “someone” refers to another believer who cares and is willing to risk rejection by being a part of the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 6:1).  That person comes alongside and guides him to repent (turn him back). At this point confession of sin and restoration of fellowship is assumed.

            Now in verse twenty, James summarizes the blessing the spirit-controlled believer is to the wandering, but now repentant believer, who has been delivered from the Sin unto Death.  James highlights these godly actions.  First, James exhorts believers to affirm the godly actions of the believer who was willing to restore the wandering, “let him know.”  It’s a big deal to restore a believer to the truth, but it is a believer’s responsibility. Secondly, the believer is called “a sinner,” because that is the description of his life at that point.  He is living according to sin, rather than according to the Spirit. It is a similar exhortation that Paul gives to those who are spirit-controlled in their godly actions toward a brother who has crossed the obvious line of sin, but is being restored.  This is not referring to an unbeliever in this case for the reasons stated above (words gain their meaning from context more than their simple definition). Thirdly, the godly believer has “saved his soul from death,” which phrase must be examined.

            Words have basic meanings.  The word “saved” has a basic meaning of “deliverance.”  When a person is saved, he is delivered from condemnation.  When it refers to the believer who is “saved” from worldly viewpoint and living, it refers to the sanctification process and deliverance from self-control to spirit-control in life. Paul states, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18; cf. 2 Cor. 2:15).  Paul said he was “being saved” (present passive participle) as an on going process which God was working in his life. Paul was talking about sanctification, not positional salvation.

In the same way, the word “death” has a basic meaning of “separation.” There are actually nine different meanings of death in Scripture, depending on the context.  For example, it can refer to physical death (Gen. 24:67), or spiritual death (Gen. 2:17), or divinely operational death (Jam. 2:17). The context determines the meaning of the word.

            When James says that the spiritual believer “will save a soul from death,” he is referring to deliverance from the Sin unto Death.  The believer is already saved and so cannot be spiritually saved again.  That wandering believer is also in the Sin unto Death, the condition where he is facing the misery of a life of sin before he is taken out of earthly living and enters into the heavenly realm.  The godly believer will deliver that person from the final stage of the Sin unto Death. The godly believer also “covers a multitude of sins.”

            When a person is in the Sin unto Death, he is living a life of sin in carnality.  When that person is delivered from carnality, the person is restored to fellowship with God and spirit-controlled living, rather than sin-controlled living.  Hence, the multitude of sins is discontinued (covered).

            Does James teach a believer can enter the Sin unto Death? Yes.  James not only teaches a believer can enter that stage, but can be delivered from that by a godly believer who is willing to risk coming alongside the scoffer.  May God grant us mercy and love as we might be willing to help a believer return to the truth of God’s word in one area of life or in many areas of life.


1There are three articles posted on the Downward Spiral.  One summarizes the Downward Spiral:

The second records the Downward Spiral for the unbeliever:

And the third records the Downward Spiral of the believer:

Question: What is the Downward Spiral of the unbeliever?

            Everyone knows an unbeliever can be sinful.  There are unbelievers like Hitler who are responsible for the murders of millions.  There are far more civilized unbelievers like Madalyn Murray O’hare, who may have not hurt anyone physically, but have spiritually deceived thousands with the American Atheists organization she founded.  Why is this even important?  It’s important to understand the downward spiral of an unbeliever and understand the spiritual bridge that needs to be built in order to share the gospel.  Continue reading

Question: What is the Downward Spiral?

What is the Downward Spiral?

The Downward Spiral is a practical, theological concept that is important for every believer.  It describes the stages a person descends away from God as he chooses sin instead of faith.  The Downward Spiral is a pattern the Apostle Paul describes in two passages of Scripture; one for the unbeliever and one for the believer.

            Whenever a person acts independently of the Lord, he begins the Downward Spiral.  As he continues to seek understanding, purpose and contentment apart from God, he will continue down the spiral until he gets to the stage called the Sin unto Death.  At this point, the person stays in the Sin unto Death, until God takes him home in grace to be in heaven (the believer) or removes him from earth to torments until the Great White Throne judgment (the unbeliever).

            There are seven steps of the Downward Spiral and they follow the acrostic NEBISCOS (this is no reflection on the food manufacturing company – Nabisco). Each of the letters in the word NEBISCOS refer to a step in the Downward Spiral,

N – Negative Volition

E – Emptiness of the Soul

B – Blackout of the Soul

I – Induced Ignorance

S – Separation from God

C – Callousness of the Soul

O – Occupation with Evil

S – Sin unto Death

I do not consider the final stage of Sin unto Death as a step, but as the holding pattern for the person who is living his life in rejection of God’s plan, purpose and will.

            The Downward Spiral is explained in two passages: Romans 1:20-23 and Ephesians 4:17-19.  Romans 1:20-32 is the passage used to explain the Downward Spiral for the unbeliever,

·         20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,
·         21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
·         22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
·         23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man– and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
·         24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves,
·         25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
·         26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.
·         27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
·         28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;
·         29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers,
·         30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
·         31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful;
·         32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.  (Rom 1:20-32)

Ephesians 4:17-19 is the passage used to explain the Downward Spiral for the believer,

·         17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind,
·         18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart;
·         19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. (Eph. 4:17-19)

The next two articles, posts to this blog, will describe each of these passages related to the Downward Spiral and how both passages describe the exact same steps, even though one is for the unbeliever and one is for the believer.  Can a believer descend same Downward Spiral as the unbeliever?  Yes he can and you can refer to that post. to understand more.