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What is 'a sin which is not unto death,' and 'a sin which is unto death.' (I John 5:16-17, ASV)?
Answer by Bill Cavender

John, the aged, and last living-in-the-flesh apostle of Jesus, wrote: "If any man see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and God will give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: not concerning this do I say that he should make request. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death" (I John 5:16-17, ASV).

Already, in this general epistle (letter) to all believers, John had taught us that Christians, God's children, can and will receive mercy and forgiveness for our sins, when we "confess" them. He wrote, "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our's only, but also for the sins of the whole world" ( 1:7-2:2).

The word "confess" is the Greek word "homologeo," "to speak the same thing ("homo," same, and "lego," to speak), to assent, accord, agree with, to confess by way of admitting oneself guilty of what one is accused of, the result of inward conviction" (W.E. Vine). When we "confess" our sins, we are "owning up to" and admitting what our heavenly Father says about us, that we sin and fall short of God's will and glory, and need mercy and pardon. If we say we have no sin, we are self-deceived and God's truth is not in us - for He says we do sin! If we say we have not sinned (since becoming believers, His children), we make Him a liar and His word is not in us - for He says we have sinned and do sin! He does not want us to sin, but reminds us that when we do, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us in the blood of Jesus - when we "confess" our sins, when we agree with Him and acknowledge that He is correct about us, that we do sin and need forgiveness

It should be obvious and clear to all believers, children of God in Jesus Christ, that we need to "confess" our sins, for we do commit them. There are three ways we commit sin, each and every one of us: (!) "Hamartia," "to miss the mark" - the acts, deeds, that we do which are violations of God's express will in the Testament, the SINS we commit. His law is the "mark" set for us; when we disobey it, we "miss the mark," we sin. (2) "Paraptoma," "a false step, deviation, blunder, offence, etc.," all of the mistakes, errors, misjudgments, "sticking our foot in our mouth," that we do through life. We need to "confess" these and ask forgiveness. (3) "Opheile" (or "Ophelia" and "Opheilema"), "debt, due, that which is owed or legally due, what is owed which has not been paid," etc. These are the spiritual debts that we owe to God and man which we have not paid and are not paying (James 4:17; Matthew 25:41-46; Luke 12:47; etc.) This is the "sin of neglect," the failure to do what we should do for God and to our fellow man. Jesus taught us to pray (in His model prayer, when He was teaching His disciples, and us, HOW to pray and WHAT to include in our prayers; He was NOT praying, yet folks erroneously call these instructions "The Lord's Prayer!) for forgiveness of "our sins," "our trespasses," and "our debts" (Matthew 6:5-15; Luke 11:1-13). Ours sins are of the mind and of the flesh; sins "of doing" and sins "of not doing." All of God's children need to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5; I Corinthians 11:28; 9:27; Galatians 6:1-5), see our sins, blunders, and debts, repent of them, and confess them. If so, forgiveness will be the result.

The "we, our, us, ye, any man, little children" (1 John 1:7-2:2) are believers, God's children, Christians. The "whole world" is all the world of men, unbelievers. Jesus died for them, for all sinners in all the world, to save them from their sins (Luke 19:10). He also died that God's "little children," you and I, could be cleansed by His blood, from the sins, trespasses and debts of which we are guilty after we become God's chiuldren. We truly need such forgiveness. No human being lives a perfect, sinless life in this world cursed by sin. Our Savious did so but we do not!

So, having said that earlier in his epistle, John the apostle tells us that our prayers, prayed in accordance with our Father's will, are heard by Him and are answered. Every prayer is heard and answered, in His own good time and in His own way, by His will. He teaches us to "ask" in faith, knowing that our Father is, that our Father hears, that our Father can do something about it, and that our Father will do something about it. Our lot is to "ask" and His is to answer. He does not allow us to dictate the terms and answers of His response to us! "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he heareth us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him" (I John 5:14-15).

Having said all of this in 1:7-2:2 and 5:14-15, and having told us that "sin is transgression of God's law" (3:4), and that "all unrighteousness is sin" (5:17), he tells us that when we "ask" for our "brother," our fellow-believer, fellow-child of God, and for his forgiveness, if we see him commiting sin,"sinning a sin which is not unto death," we may pray for him and God will be merciful to him and forgive him. Therefore this "sin not unto death" is any sin a child of God may commit, and from which he repents ("changes the mind"), "confesses," and turns away from, quits commiting the sin. We may "ask" for the forgiveness of the penitent, confessing brother or sister. But if we see our brother (or sister) in the Lord commiting a sin, any sin, of which he/she will not repent, will not confess it, will not cease to commit it, then we are NOT to pray for such a one. This is the "sin unto death," a sin, any sin, of a child of God, persisted in, continued in, and which is not repented of and confessed. God will not forgive the impentitent sinful brother or sister, His child, who will not repent.

The wise man said, "He that covereth his sin shall not prosper; but whosoever confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:19). James said, "Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working" (James 5:16, ASV). We are of God, being His children through faith in Jesus our Saviour and by obedience to His will (Galatians 3:26-29; Acts 2:37-41; 8:26-39; 18:8, etc.). We are to refrain from sin and resist it. We are to yield our minds and bodies to God and to His service (Romans 6:1-7, 12-13, 16-18; 12:1-2; Galatians 5:16-23); I John 5:18-21).

Next Question - Question #10: Does the Bible teach 'the sinner's prayer,' and, if so, where can I find it in the Bible?

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