Bible Study

1 John Bible Study, 28: The Sin That Leads to Death

Today’s passage: 1 John 5:16–17

Focus verse: There is a sin that leads to death. (1 John 5:16)

Today’s passage teaches us some unusual things about prayer. 

First, John encourages us to pray for others when we notice sin in their lives. This isn’t all people, but our brothers and sisters in Jesus. Then God will give them life. I don’t think I’ve ever prayed for others in this way.

Even so, I’ve heard the plaintive prayers of parents over the sins of a wayward child.

Yet this praying for the sins of others isn’t just John’s idea. James gives a similar instruction. He tells us to confess our sins to each other and pray for one another. Then we’ll receive healing (James 5:16).

I’ve joined in with these kinds of prayers, but it’s always because the person I’m praying for has requested it.

John and James want us to pray for the sins of other believers. Therefore, we should.

Yet these prayers are for sins that don’t lead to death. John suggests that we don’t pray for the sins of others that do lead to death.

What is a sin that leads to death? The question is enough to give us pause.

The Bible has accounts of sin that lead to immediate death.

There are Ananias and Sapphira, whom God strikes down for lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1–10).

There is also Herod, whom the Lord strikes down for accepting glory for himself and not giving it to God (Acts 12:21–23).

A third example of immediate death occurs when Korah stirs up dissidents to oppose the leadership of Moses. God is not pleased and punishes some of them by opening the ground to swallow them.

Then he sends fire from heaven to consume the rest (Numbers 16:1–35).

This sin that leads to death could also relate to the unpardonable sin that Jesus talks about: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The context is the religious teachers who claim Jesus drives out demons because Beelzebul, the prince of demons, possesses him.

They say this instead of giving the credit to Jesus—or implicitly the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:24–32, Mark 3:22–30, and Luke 12:10).

The unpardonable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It dismisses or even denies Holy Spirit power and his work to produce signs and wonders.

It worries me when I hear people claim that the evidentiary works of the Holy Spirit ended with the age of the apostles and no longer exist in our world today. In essence they dismiss the Holy Spirit.

Are they in danger of blasphemy against him and committing the unpardonable sin?

On an imperative level, the sin that leads to death is the sin of rejecting Jesus as the Son of God and as our Messiah. Yet, as we discussed in yesterday’s reading, it’s God’s will that none should perish, so we should pray for their salvation.

Keep in mind, though, that once a person who has spurned Jesus is dead, their decision is final, and our prayers cannot overcome their permanent rejection of the Messiah. Their choice has led to their eternal death.

These ideas of sins that lead to death are all speculation, for we can’t know for sure, but we should exercise care to guard against each one.


  1. How can we best pray for the sins of other Christians? 
  2. Beyond that, how else can we pray for other believers?
  3. How should we react to the sins that lead to death?
  4. If we are a true follower of Jesus, do we need to worry about the sin that leads to death? Why?
  5. What should be our proper perspective of Holy Spirit power?

Discover more about sin and death in Romans 6:23, Romans 8:1–2, and Romans 8:10.

Tips: Check out our tips to use this online Bible study for your church, small group, Sunday school class, or family discussion. It’s also ideal for personal study. Come back each Monday for a new lesson.

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Discover practical, insightful, and encouraging truths in Love One Another, a devotional Bible study to foster a deeper appreciation for the two greatest commandments: To love God and to love others.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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