Q. Please help me understand these verses in 1 John 5:16-17: If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life–to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that leads to death.
My thoughts on this are: the sin that leads to death is blaspheming the Holy Spirit which would imply the person committing this sin is not a believer in Christ as his Savior. So praying for him to have life is not an option. But, for any other sin we see a brother committing we can pray for God to give him life (salvation?) and He will?
A. By the context of the passage it’s clear that the person in question is a believer (a brother) and is committing a sin we can “see” or detect. In cases like this John told us to pray and God will give Him life. Since we must each seek forgiveness for our own sins, and since believers already have life, John must have been referring to a prayer of intercession that would cause the Holy Spirit to move the sinner to seek forgiveness. John said that that kind of prayer would be effective. Then he made it clear again that he was speaking of those whose sin does not lead to death. Only believers fit that category.
In saying that there is a sin that leads to death and he’s not talking about that, we have to look to the theme of the letter to understand what he was talking about. John was writing against the gnosticism that was beginning to invade the Church. It held that Jesus was not divine and could not forgive our sins. Only the gaining of secret knowledge could do that. This belief is a sin that leads to death because it eliminates the only remedy for man’s sin. A person who adopted the gnostic view and left the church was identifying himself as a non- believer. Having seen the truth and rejected it for a lie, he was not entitled to a believer’s prayers of intercession.