Exploring 1 John Session 31 1 John 5:16-17
In our 31st exploration of 1 John we
come to the most controversial teaching in John’s letter. It concerns fatal sin. If we stay within the confines of the
situation that motivated John to write and keep our speculation confined to
what he has already written, we may come to the proper understanding of John’s instruction.
By the end of this session, we are going to
discover what a fatal sin is. Recalling
John’s strict dualism we are also going to make a distinction between the love
we extend to family members and those in a Jesus denying world.
1 John 5:16-17 (MSG)
For instance, if we see a Christian believer
sinning (clearly I'm not talking about those who make a practice of sin in a
way that is "fatal," leading to eternal death), we ask for God's help
and he gladly gives it, gives life to the sinner whose sin is not fatal. There
is such a thing as a fatal sin, and I'm not urging you to pray about that.
Everything we do wrong is sin, but not all sin is fatal.
The “For Instance” refers back to verses 14 and 15
“And how bold and free we then become in his
presence, freely asking according to his will, sure that he's listening. 15 And
if we're confident that he's listening, we know that what we've asked for is as
good as ours” (1 John 5:14-15 (MSG).
Since God hears our prayers when we see a brother
or sister being unloving, we are to ask God to intervene. That certainly makes sense for we are to
encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11), bear one another’s burdens
(Galatians 6:2), and to turn one another from sin (James 5:20).
Galatians 6:1 (MSG)
If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore
him, saving your critical comments for yourself.
When we pray for God to intervene in the life of
another it’s called intercessory prayer.
We stand before God and plead their case. We ask people to pray for us, to stand in the
gap and ask that God bestow his favor on our life. One of my idiosyncrasies, I think that’s where
the word idiot comes from, is that I believe your prayers for me are more
efficacious than my prayers for myself. Intercessory
prayer is one reason why the fellowship within the congregation is so
important. We need others to be praying for us. To be sure and say with
confidence, “I know you are praying for me” is extremely comforting, and
We frequently pray for the salvation of others,
for their liberation from a Jesus denying world, that they acknowledge their
need for a savior, believe that the savior they need is Jesus, so that they are
willing to make a commitment to be a follower of Jesus and bold enough to ask
God to accept their faith. We frequently
pray that the spiritually dead are brought to life, that those walking in
darkness will hear the wooing of the Holy Spirit and enter into the light. If you are hearing me, even if we have never
meet, I have prayed for you that you come to a place of acknowledging,
believing, committing, and asking. Has
God answered my intercessory prayer for you?
If so please let me know, I want to encourage you as you learn to walk
in the light.
When we see a brother or sister sinning we are to
intervene. First, by asking God to step
in and open eyes, to restore the one who has wandered into error. Second, by remembering that prayer is preparatory,
in prayer we ask for the resources we need to do God’s will. We pray to align ourselves with the mind of
Christ so that we know how best to confront with love, with gentleness, so that
the brother or sister realize that we have their best motivating our actions. We are not judging, we are encouraging them
“Everything we do wrong is sin, but not all sin is
fatal.” When we sin, when we disobey,
failing to be a lover of God and a lover of others, we have an advocate who
pleads our case (1 John 2:1), when we intercede we stand with Jesus and plead
for the restoration of the one in error,
We intercede that they see their error, repent, confess, and are
restored. That they 1 John 1:9 it!.
Sinners, those who do not know God, find eternal
life through Jesus. We pray for those
who do not know Jesus that they come to the knowledge of God. We know that God forgives sins and as we walk
in the light as Jesus is in the light we are purified of all unrighteousness,
we are transformed into being lovers.
But John says that there is a fatal sin, one that leads to eternal
death and we are not urged to pray that those committing such a sin.
I'm not talking about those who make a practice of sin in a way that is
"fatal," leading to eternal death… There is such a thing as a fatal
sin, and I'm not urging you to pray about that.
The fatal sin that leads to eternal death is
apostasy. Apostasy is exactly the fatal
sin that the Gnostic Christians committed. Apostasy happens when a person
abandons or renounces what John has referred to as the original message, the
John 3:16 & Philippians 2:7-8 & Hebrews
"This is how much God loved the world: He
gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be
destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life “When the time came, he set aside the
privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having
become human, he stayed human…he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died
a selfless, obedient death…” “It was a
perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people. By
that single offering, he did everything that needed to be done for everyone who
takes part in the purifying process.”
Those that became Gnostic Christians, were first
Christians, they first believed that Jesus is fully human and fully
divine. They accepted John’s revelation
of the gospel. Then they were swayed
into error, they rejected this foundational truth that makes the atonement, the
perfecting and purifying love of God possible.
Rejecting this truth they committed apostasy. They accepted a gospel that was really no
gospel at all (Galatians 1:7-9).
1 John 2:19 (MSG)
They left us, but they were never really with us.
If they had been, they would have stuck it out with us, loyal to the end. In
leaving, they showed their true colors, showed they never did belong.
In recent days you may have been made aware of
various leaders in the Church, renouncing the faith. What a heartache. They were with us, one of us, part of us,
then they decided to desert us, to renounce the faith, turn their back on their
commitment to Jesus, their commitment to each of us. Apostasy is spiritually fatal.
Such a person has rejected God’s three-fold
testimony concerning His Son. This is the
fatal sin which John warns us of; it is rejecting the Son; “whoever has the
Son has life; whoever rejects the Son, rejects life” (1 John 5:12 (MSG).
Hebrews 6:4-6 (MSG)
Once people have seen the light, gotten a taste of
heaven and been part of the work of the Holy Spirit, once they've personally
experienced the sheer goodness of God's Word and the powers breaking in on
us—if then they turn their backs on it, washing their hands of the whole thing,
well, they can't start over as if nothing happened. That's impossible.
This is John’s fatal sin: “everyone who refuses to
confess faith in Jesus has nothing in common with God. This is the spirit of
antichrist that you heard was coming…”
(1 John 4:3 (MSG).
At one time, the ones who left confessed faith in
Jesus, they believed the gospel that Jesus fully God, fully human, made
atonement, but now they have partaken of an anti-Christ spirit, denying their
former faith. The apostle Peter says of
our former brothers and sisters in Christ:
2 Peter 2:20-22 (MSG)
If they've escaped from the slum of sin by
experiencing our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ, and then slid back into that
same old life again, they're worse than if they had never left. Better not to
have started out on the straight road to God than to start out and then turn
back, repudiating the experience and the holy command. They prove the point of
the proverbs, "A dog goes back to its own vomit," and, "A
scrubbed-up pig heads for the mud."
“Repudiating the experience” is not merely falling
into temptation and sinning, rather it is retracting one's testimony that Jesus
is the way the truth and the life, it is disavowing one’s faith. Repudiation is far worse than being found
faithless, it actually rejecting the faith.
John tells us don’t even pray for the
apostate. That seems rather
unloving. Could it be that there is a
special favor we extend to our brothers and sisters in Christ that is not
offered to those outside the body of Christ, that we treat family different from
outsiders? That’s the direction I am
leaning. We are to love others, but not necessarily
loving everyone equally. We are to meet
the needs of others, but our brothers and sisters take priority over those who
are members of the Jesus denying world. While
everyone is to be treated with respect those of the family of God are given our
preferential treatment. While we are to
meet the needs of others, it is those of the family of God who are to get our
In Acts, we have a glimpse of this notion of the family
first. “And all the believers lived in a
wonderful harmony, holding everything in common” Acts 2:44 (MSG). “And so it turned out that not a person among
them was needy” (Acts 4:34 (MSG). Family
first occurred while the doors were open to others. The love we have for one another is magnetic
(John 13:35). When we minister to
outsiders we do so with the hope of introducing them to Jesus. The lifestyle of the follower of Jesus is to
It seems to me that John is telling us not to even
associate with apostates, not to waste our time and energy on those who have
left the faith. Let God take care of them and instead spend our resources in
areas that are in alignment with the will of God.
In counseling this question of having committed a
fatal sin has come up. There are
situations where people have been so frustrated that they gave up practicing
the faith, they gave up on reading the scripture, they gave up on prayer, they
gave up meeting together, they gave up using their abilities to glorify God,
they gave up celebrating the goodness of the Almighty, they gave up obedience
but they did not renounce the faith. The
old term for this is to backslide, falling back into the old way of living your
life. It’s a miserable place to be. From a backslidden state you can harden your
heart and renounce God, become apostate.
But you can also be called back into fellowship, you can be reclaimed. If you have backslidden, repent, 1 John 1:9
it, and draw close to God and His family.
If you are concerned you have committed a fatal sin, I suggest that your
concern is evidence that you have not.
Remembering John’s strict dualism, the “either”
“or,” the “one way or the other,” with no middle ground, no gray, we know that
apostasy is a fatal sin. For the one who
knew the Truth and then rejected the Truth John tells us don’t treat them like
family, treat them as an outsider.
The case has been made that it’s family first. Then let the crumbs of love fall off the
table (Matthew 15:27). Always make room
for the one who seeks to become part of the family, while still maintaining
preferential treatment for your brothers and sisters in Christ.
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