In the concluding message of this series, based on 1 John 5.13-21, we learn that the real purpose of Christmas is to celebrate that God has come in the flesh. This gives us certain assurances about faith and prayer and forgiveness of sin, about which you can learn if you listen here:
There is a section of the passage that deserved more attention than I could give it in this short message. Verse 16 talks about “a sin that does not lead to death” and “a sin that leads to death”. What is John talking about here? In the message, I allude to Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of venial and mortal sins, but is that what is being referred to here? And, in verse 18, John writes that anyone born of God does not continue to sin. How does that square with reality?
The Old Testament knew of sins that were deliberate – open rebellion against God, and punishable by death – and sins that were inadvertent and could be atoned for. (For example, look at Leviticus 4 or Numbers 15.22-29.) Judaism in the time of the writing of 1 John will have retained this understanding, and perhaps it was thus delineated in John’s community of faith. That would help us understand the notion of the sin that leads to death. Trying to guess what that is, on the other hand, is a pointless and fruitless venture. Mark 3.29 refers to the sin against the Holy Spirit; could that be the sin that leads to death? Because John’s context is all about false teaching in this letter, it’s more likely that he is thinking of that: leading people astray in their belief is an unforgivable sin. And then, are we enjoined not to pray about those sins? It’s not clear that John is discouraging praying under any circumstance, but it does seem clear that he thinks there is no hope in prayer for someone who has committed such a sin; such a person would be denying God’s mercy, and the only effective prayer for such a person is to call for repentance and conversion (so says the Expositor’s Bible Commentary).
As to not continuing in sin (v. 18), it has been John’s premise throughout the letter that those who truly are ‘in Christ’ are not going to fall victim to a sinful life. Do we still sin, even though we belong to the Lord? Yes. John’s point is that followers of Jesus should not make sin a pattern, a lifestyle choice, since that would be incompatible with the life to which we have been called.
Hopefully, that will tie up some of the loose ends left by the message. Merry Christmas!