Exploring 1 John Session 31 1 John 5:16-17


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 encouraging.  

 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 to righteousness.  

 “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. 

 “…clearly 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 gospel: 

John 3:16 & Philippians 2:7-8 & Hebrews 10:14 (MSG)

"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.

Family First

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 first consideration.

 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 be inviting.   

 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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