Twenty minutes from https://twitter.com/WelshRev at https://www.facebook.com/TyrBugail for https://www.facebook.com/Grace.Wales.online , https://welshrev.blogspot.com/and https://yGRWP.com
A transcript is available on this website and a DIY Sunday Service Kit around this Bible exposition is available here:
1 John 5:16-20
Scandals rock ‘the church’ … and what are we to think about it?
I mean, how can you POSSIBLY be saved if you go on sinning like that?
You can understand the question arising in general and you can understand it arising in this cotext.
John has just been talking about the blessèd assurance of the Christian in vv. 13-15.
It was GREAT to look through that and reflect on it last time.
But then there’s this nagging suspicion in the background, isn’t there … perhaps about us but perhaps about that other person … about whether some other (possibly prominent) professing Christian does actually have ANY good GROUNDS for assurance?
After all, repentance is a fruit of the gift of faith that God puts in the individual Christian’s heart, and it is on the basis of what we come to believe
· about sin,
· about ourselves and crucially
· about Christ
that we turn from sin and trust in Him!
So, if sin is still there … what is that saying?
No PLEASE do not panic yet.
Both John, who is described as the Lord’s belovèd disciple and the Apostle Paul too have been open about this issue … Paul particularly clear about his own sin and sinfulness and his own tussle to sort out this question … so we are in very good, faithful company if we are feeling challenged about this.
It is actually probably more concerning if we are not feeling challenged about this!
So what has John got to say about it?
Vv. 16-17 “If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.”
What’s going on here?
Three things to say that are important.
Firstly, the right response - what we DO when someone’s caught in a sin.
• The right response - what we do, v. 16a
V. 16 ““If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray …”
Now again, as last week, that ‘if’ in the sentence (‘if you see a brother sin’) is the Greek word ἐάν (ean) and it introduces (as in 1 John 5:14) a third-class condition, but this time, with the future indicative (αἰτήσει, aitēsei).
This is a construction known as the “more probable future.”
It describes what is to be expected under certain circumstances.
So it’s a bit like this: if a person sees his Christian brother committing a sin not leading to death (which is something that probably will happen), then … (here we go …)
… then he should make intercession for the sinning brother (“he should ask…”), and life will be granted to the sinner in answer to the request.
You will remember that John has already pointed out in 5:14-15 that if believers make requests of God in accordance with His will, they may have confidence that they will receive the requests they have asked for.
We know that it is the absolute passion of God’s heart to rescue souls savingly from the grip of sin and satan, so what we have here is clearly expressive of His will and therefore this is a specific instance where
a) ask according to His will, and you
b) will receive a positive response to the prayer … v. 16: “pray and God will give them life”.
So John is saying something like this: when you see some brother or sister sin … which you probably will do … the right thing is not to throw up your hands in holier-than-thou horror, much less conclude that Christianity doesn’t ‘work’.
If the apostle Paul can write in Romans 7 about being a wretched man because of the tussles he has with sin in his own heart and yet go on to do the powerful things for God he went on to do, then clearly that would be, giving up in despair would be the wrong way to react.
No, John (seasoned old Christian warrior that he was … he’s been there, done that and got the battle scars) …
John writes that our response to this situation should be to pray because the restoration of the person that’s slidden back is the deep desire of the holy will of God.
A Christian minister had a friend who had a specialised military background.
(Let me make clear from the outset I’m neither of these men!)
That friend of his had been greatly helped over the years by a prominent Christian preacher and come to faith.
And then that big Christian preacher died and the truth about that big preacher came out.
Let’s just say that it wasn’t altogether a pretty pile of truth that came out.
That Christian minister was concerned that his ex-soldier friend would be shaken by this.
So he did the pastoral, caring thing that you’d expect him to do and raised the issue in case the ex-soldier had been shaken in his faith.
And the soldier replied that in the course of his military training, which equipped him to fight on through tough and dangerous situations, he’d learned to just soak it up and carry on, undeterred.
Now, I’ve got no beef with that in his case … because you could argue that in that particular situation the disgraced Christian leader was now departed, and it was too late to be praying he’d be restored.
But there can be that sort of fatalistic ‘oh well, then, not my problem, carry on’ approach taken to this situation where there’s still life and therefore hope for that person who has dishonoured the Name of Jesus by their choices.
On the other hand, it is often the case that time and effort is spent on condemning the sinful conduct and distancing ourselves from the sinner in case we are held guilty by association.
THAT is not entirely what the Lord looks for from us, says John in these verses.
For the Christian, the stumble and the fall of a Christian brother or sister is a call to very swift and decisive action … the sort of action that facilitates the solution that is actually God’s best outcome.
Just as that soldier we were talking about would have had it engrained in him in his training to be swift to run towards the sound of gunfire and engage in contact with the enemy, so John writes here:
“If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life”
Get IN there and repel the enemy from the breach that has been made in the Church’s walls with the spiritual weapons of our warfare that we’re provided with.
John typically tells us what TO do and balances it with the thing NOT to do …
• What WE don’t do, vv. 16-17
Here says John is the thing you should be careful NOT to do:
Vv. 16 “I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that.”
This jumping into the breach in the situation that’s to be expected when a brother or sister sins … that jumping in by tackling the spiritual problem with the spiritual weapon of praying according to God’s will … has a single, big and glaring yet definite exception.
Do NOT pray this way about the sin that leads to death.
Discernment is going to be needed before charging determinedly at the breach that’s been made in the wall.
That’s because it MAY not be the Church’s wall the has actually been breached, because this person may be finally showing up as ‘not Church’ after all.
This is something the Lord prepares His disciples for in the parables of the Kingdom … the most obvious instance being the Parable of the Sower and the Soils where the seed sown is good but gets a very varied reception!
Let’s be clear, a Kingdom is a defined entity … it has a perimeter and beyond that lies what you might call ‘Abroad’.
The Kingdom of God is defined, of course, not by a geographical boundary but its boundaries of loyalty or disloyalty to the King.
So look at the balance expressed in this second part of v. 16:
1. There are those whose sin doesn’t lead to death and John is talking about those in the visible Church who belong to this cohort
2. There are those in the visible Church whose sin very definitely does lead to death … and it is NOT God’s will that we should pour out prayer in that specific context.
What on earth can this be then, this sin that leads to death?
Much ink has been spilled and many sensitive consciences bruised and battered in trying to work out what the sin that leads to death might be, and whether they have committed it or not … with devastating consequences for their comfortable assurance of salvation.
What John DOES say here is that we aren’t to pray that the sin of these people should be forgiven, but he doesn’t define what the particular sin is that he’s got in mind.
He doesn’t need to.
There is sin that leads to death and there is sin that does not lead to death.
What’s the difference?
• The sin that does/ does not lead to death
V. 17 “All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.”
John is dissociating two different things here.
All wrongdoing … no matter what it is … is sin.
And the wages of sin is death, right?
But there is sin that doesn’t lead to its just desserts in death.
What sin is that?
Well John spells that out just up the page with the great over-arching, over-riding truth expressed in 1 John 5:12 “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
The sin that does not lead to death, then is the sin that is covered!
It is the sin that is described way back in 1 John 1:8-9
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
So … I’m trying here to cut through all the deeply woven speculation and rationalisation that goes on … we often find ourselves trying to fight our way out of the wet paper bag of medieval monastic theology with its hierarchy of sins - that hierarchy of sins born of its works-based theology of salvation.
For many writers this is a case in point – they keep on asking ‘what sin can be so high up the hierarchy that you can’t be forgiven for it’ and that is not Biblical but comes straight out of the man-made Roman doctrines of man-made religion!
What IS that sin?
Here it is:
The sin that leads to death is known and clung-to sin.
It is unconfessed sin … the sin we’re not prepared to turn from to Christ.
And we know that to be the case because way back at the start John made it crystal clear that if we CONFESS our sin (rather than denying our sin) He is faithful and just (both of those) and He will FORGIVE our sins, more than that He will go on to PURIFY us from all unrighteousness!
So having said all you’ve said about obedience to God being one of the crucial authenticating fruits of faith, how can you now go on to say a thing like this, John?!
Here comes John’s rationale in vv. 18-20 … and this really is important.
1 John 5:18-20 “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.
19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true.
And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”
You may have noticed in there that John lists three things that ‘we know’
• Those born of God are safe, v. 18
V. 18 ““We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.”
The first foundation of the rationale for what John has said about the sin that leads to death (and the sin that doesn’t) is that the person who is born of God does not continue to sin.
There’s the thing.
The refusal to repent, this holding out in rebellion against God, is not something you’ll find happening with those who are authentically born of God.
The born-again believer has been given a new heart.
That person has the Law of God written in their new heart.
So that person does NOT continue in hardness of heart … this refusal to repent … living in lawless disobedience to God.
It would be contrary to their new nature.
On the contrary, “the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.”
There’s the thing.
The authentically born-again believer cannot be harmed by the attacks of the Enemy of souls because (be assured of this) the One Who was born of God (Jesus the unique Son) keeps them safe.
There’s a cosmic contrast to be aware of at this point … the second ‘we know’.
• We are children of God and it’s the WORLD that’s controlled by the
evil one, v. 19
V. 19 “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”
There’s the thing.
There’s where the dividing line is drawn.
Salvation is binary on the issue of salvation.
We are the children of God … even though we sin we’re not controlled by it because our new nature means that we keep turning back to God from it.
But the whole world around us DOES continue to sin, however they verbally identify THEMSELVES spiritually, because the whole world is in the control of the evil one.
· Authentic Christianity is in one camp.
· ‘The whole world’ (as John puts it) is under the evil one … refusing repentance and continuing in sin as the fruit of that fundamental, base-line rebellion against God.
The key thing about all of this, then, is to recognise the authentic sign of that changed heart, the true source not the sign of eternal life …
• The true source (not the sign) of eternal life, v. 20
V. 20 “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”
John speaks of obedience to God as an authenticating sign of salvation,
but not salvation’s source.
It is totally crucial to
distinguish the sign of salvation (obedience, love, sound doctrine and so on repeatedly spelled out in this book)
from its source (being in Jesus).
That’s the difference between a religion of works and a ‘by grace through faith alone’ salvation that hitches your horse in simple trust to Christ’s chariot of salvation.
1. The Son of man has come … on His mission of atonement and to the repentant sinner as He comes He brings salvation
2. He has given us the insight and understanding we need in order to know Him … the One Who is the Way truth and life to us, and
3. We are united to God by being ‘in’ His Son Jesus Who IS the true God AND eternal life in and of Himself, and that eternal life became OURS because we are in Him.
So what do we learn from this for those situations where apparent Christians are caught out in some serious-looking sin?
Firstly expect sin to rear its head in genuine believers.
Secondly take VERY seriously your responsibility for the brother or sister you see sin.
It is God’s hot WILL that such a person should be restored … and our prayers for that are crucial in God’s plan for it
Thirdly, remember that when we pray according to His will God will hear us (because that’s in the immediately preceding context).
Fourthly, there is sin in apparent believers that does actually lead to death.
It is the sin that refuses to repent and thereby proves that this is not a person with a new heart.
They’re still running on a broken component there.
For such a person, of course, we do not pray for forgiveness (John forbids that) but what we DO pray for them is for the new birth which will give them a new heart and with it a newly installed desire that brings about the return to repentance!
Finally and fifthly, none of this should rattle our assurance, because where the Gospel applies the following is also true:
“We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true.
And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”
I hope that helps.
And I pray that you will have a very good week.