Sin That Leads To Death: How Do We Understand This?

This is probably one of the most controversial topic in the Bible. So what is this sin that leads to death? If this is the case, then surely there is also a sin that does not lead to death? What does this death referring to? Is this spiritual or physical? 1 What is the interpretation of this in context with John’s writing? 

There is no question about God being forgiving. He can even forgive once we realize and acknowledge our sins that we have blasphemed the Holy Spirit. For anybody to think that God cannot forgive despite ones admittance, is to attack the very nature of God being merciful. Did not God taught us to forgive seventy times seven? 2 In fact, His grace is so much abounding even when a believer is struggling with his sins. 3 As Paul writes, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20) Is it true that a believer can struggle with his personal sins? I believed so because Paul mentioned his experience in this passage,

15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

Romans 7:15-17 

However, He will never let His children continue on sinning. If that person is truly a child of God, then the Lord has a way of disciplining His erring children. The author of Hebrews say, “The Lord disciplines everyone he loves. He severely disciplines everyone he accepts as his child” 4 If this is the case, then I will leave that person in the hands of God. They could either be expose, go through major ailment in relation to that sinful practice, or worst his life be taken abruptly. I hope his sin will not reach the tipping point just like how John explains, “If you see another believer committing a sin that doesn’t lead to death, you should pray that God would give that person life. This is true for those who commit sins that don’t lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I’m not telling you to pray about that. Every kind of wrongdoing is sin, yet there are sins that don’t lead to death” (1 Jn. 5:16-17). This happened to the sexually immoral believer in Corinth as Paul writes,

1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. 3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 

There is also another case in the Corinthian church where Paul warned them to examine themselves first before they partake the Lord’s Supper. When they come together as a church there are divisions and factions. They do not care about the others but proceeds on eating ahead. They do not follow the Lord’s example by giving His life to them. And in doing this selfish actions repeatedly, they sin against the Lord leading them to be weak, sick, and finally death knocks at their door.

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

1 Corinthians 11:27-30

It is no wonder that James also commands those who are sick to check if they have committed any sins. And if they did, confession of sins to a spiritually mature believer can help so physical healing could take place.

14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

James 5:14-16

I fully understand the context of 1 John 1:5-6 that if we claim to have a relationship with God but walk in darkness then we are are lying and do not practice the truth. This is granting that a person claims to have “fellowship” with God but continues to walk in darkness without any changes at all. However, this is quite different with the sinning believer in the Corinthian church where his struggle is in the area of temptation who has not totally abandoned the truth. No wonder, Paul told them to hand over this sinning believer in the very hands of Satan so the ultimate form of God’s discipline can be applied. 

Another example of disciplining in the form of a sin leading to death can be seen in the lives of Ananias and Sapphira as Luke recounts in his historical narrative below,

1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. 7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

Acts 5:1-11

It is possible to assume that this is not just a one time judgment that happened to the couple but a habit that culminated to a sin that led to their physical death? An example of this kind of judgment in the Old Testament can be read about Onan where the Lord put him to death because he wasted his semen on the ground knowing that his offspring will not be his. 

9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. 10 And what he did was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and he put him to death also.

Genesis 38:9-10

 You will notice that Onan did not just do this once but it says “whenever he went to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground.” This is a repeated action that finally led to his physical death. 5 The Lord is overbearing but once your sin reach it’s peak then God has the prerogative to take you out of this world. I fully agree that God is a God of love. But He is also a just God that will not tolerate sin in the lives of HIs children. A time will come when even the unbelievers will face God’s judgment if they will continue their hardness and impenitent heart.

4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and 5 patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

Romans 2:4-5

But one thing is for sure, judgment will begin in God’s house. 6 This judgment or punishment was almost experienced by King David himself when he committed sin against God by adultery and murder. He almost died because of physical ailment as he himself writes,

1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah 5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah 6 Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him.

Psalm 32:1-6

If you noticed, his physical body and strength was affected that he was already groaning. Fortunately, David humbled himself leading him to confessed and acknowledged his sins before God. This could happen in the lives of every sinning and erring believer. Honestly, I don’t want to wait for my wicked deeds to be exposed, rather I want to deal with it right away before God. I am not saying that every believer who dies early are committing some sinful acts for that would be judgmental of us. We are not here to point our fingers at anyone. Let the Lord examine our hearts and motives. After all, God is our final judge.  

“I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

Jeremiah 17:10

Footnotes:

1 In the theological worldview of Reformed Arminians, the physical death will not lead to condemnation but spiritual death will. A Christian who habitually sins without heeding God’s warning will possibly met physical death as a form of divine disciplining. However, a person who renounces Christ as Lord, God, and Savior will surely forfeit his eternal life. On the otherhand, the Classic Calvinists believed that it is impossible to call a continuously sinning person a believer. Maybe he is not a believer to start with.  

2 Matt. 18:21-22

3 Let me qualify that there is a difference between a believer struggling or fighting against sin and an alleged believer using grace as a license for sin. The former is a legitimate follower of Christ but the latter is superficial. 

4 Heb. 12:6, God’s Word Translation.

5 According to The Bible Knowledge Commentary, “However, Onan repeatedly use the law for sexual gratification. He took advantage of the situation, but refused the responsibility that went with it. So God took his life too.” John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, “The Bible Knowledge Commentary,” (USA: Victor Books, 1985), 88.

6 See 1 Pet. 4:17, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”

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