What sin does not result in death, according to 1 John 5:16–17?

In 1 John 5:16–17, what does it say about the sin that does not result in death?

John wrote his gospel with the hope that its readers would put their faith in Jesus and be given eternal life (John 20:30–31). In his first letter, he wanted to assure Christians that their faith in Jesus would not be in vain (1 John 5:13). It is in the context of John’s desire for Christians to have assurance in their salvation through Christ that he specifies two categories of sin. There is a sin that does not result in death, and there is another that does.

If you witness a brother or sister committing a sin that does not lead to death, pray for them, and God will give them life; this is the message that John is referring to in the chapter we just read. I am referring to the sinners whose actions do not result in eternal damnation. There’s a sin that guarantees an early grave. In no way am I suggesting you make it a matter of prayer. Sin encompasses every act of crime, yet not all transgression results in eternal damnation (1 John 5:16–17).

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We know we have everlasting life because our trust in Jesus Christ has restored our fellowship with God. And John says that because of that connection, we may be sure that God will grant our requests if they are in line with His will (1 John 5:14). For our requests to be granted, they must be in line with what God has made clear to us as His wants. When we make a request that is in line with His desires, we are making a request that He should be answering. John elaborates by saying that God always grants our wishes when we pray in this way (1 John 5:15). Every believer is commanded to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and in John 14:12-14, Jesus explains that such prayers bring glory to the Father via the Son. Praying in Jesus’ name is asking God for what Jesus would want. But in 1 John 5, we find out that there is a sin that does not lead to death, and this has implications for what we should and should not be asking for.

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John (and Jesus) add a caveat to prayer that must be taken into account. It is a common misconception that God would grant us every wish without conditions. In the name of Jesus, He promises to provide for the petitioned matter in accordance with His desire. It is not true that by using the words “in Jesus’ name” in our prayers we would be guaranteed a positive response from God. If we desire what God has said He wants, we should ask for it. However, John specifies a few requests we shouldn’t make. In this context, he gives an illustration. When a brother sins, but it is not a sin that leads to death, the one who sees it should pray for the brother’s forgiveness to God (1 John 5:16). However, there is a sin that does lead to death, and John does not advocate praying for those who commit that sin (1 John 5:16). While agreeing that all sin is wickedness, John makes a distinction between these two types of sin (1 John 5:17).

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Sin that does not result in death is distinguished by John from sin that does result in death. This contrast is used to show that a believer should not expect God to grant any request that is not in line with God’s will. This is a basic and easily understood idea. This paragraph is difficult to read since John does not specify the sins he is referring to elsewhere in the Bible. He makes references to these faults as if his readers already know what he means. In light of this, rather than trying to determine the precise nature of the sin that does not lead to death and the sin that does, it is perhaps preferable to just recognize the principle being taught regarding prayer, which John does convey in the context.

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