What are the sins that don’t lead to death?

A student of our Essential series (lesson #3), after reading the first epistle of John, and taking the quiz which follows the lesson, asked: From 1 John 5:17, what are the sins that don’t lead to death? 

Evidently, there’s some kind of paradox here, a sin that does not lead to death?!… As usual, let’s read the entire passage:

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 does not lead to death. We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. (1 John 5:16-19)

We must be fair – reading the text of John we cannot point out to a specific sin, or sins. Why? Simply, because he doesn’t do it himself, in the first place. It would be quite speculative then to read our views in the text.

What is clear, though, is that for John there are some sins (he is using a generic singular) that lead unto death and some other sins that don’t. A smart reader will immediately sense something here. No wonder your question then…

Sin does bring death!

Now, from other places in the Bible we know that sin, entering this world through Adam, brought death (Genesis 3:19). It is a physical death that takes us to the grave. And it will also bring eternal death for those who do not repent, as they will be separated from God ( Isaiah 59:1-2, Revelation 21:27).

From the reflections of apostle Paul, we know also that the wage of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Most probably, the apostle refers to the second death, the eternal one, since the opposite of it is “eternal life”.

All of us know that Jesus Christ, the Son of God was sent to this world to take away the sins of the world – thus preached the Baptist (John 1:29). Finally, from the golden verse of Scriptures, we know that whoever believes in Jesus should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

So, with this background, we might ask again, what are the sins that don’t lead to death?

It is obvious that every sin has the potential to lead to death. And, for that matter, surely none of them leads to life. However, some of them will not lead to that awful fruition – death. How? By repentance.

From sin to life

There’s probably no better way to explain John that to use his own writings, the same epistle, the same topic. Just a few chapters back… He wrote:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

Evidently, we do sin. Yet we should not despair, but repent. Jesus is our advocate. He, being righteous, is our ransom. And then to all of us, being forgiven, death and sin have no power toward condemnation.

“Healthy awareness of sin”

That is how a commentary sums up the entire issue. I presume that’s what you have. And all of us should. The commentary says:

“The sins committed by those who are genuinely anxious to serve God, but who suffer from a weak will and strong habits, are very different from those sins that are deliberately committed in brazen and willful defiance of God. It is more the attitude and the motive that determine the difference, than the act of sin itself. In this sense, there are distinctions in sins. The minor error, quickly repented of and forgiven, is a sin not unto death. The grievous sin, fallen into suddenly through failure to maintain spiritual power, is still not a sin unto death, if followed by genuine repentance; but refusal to repent makes ultimate death certain.”

Why do you ask, anyway?

I presume you are not asking the starting question in order to find out which sins can be committed, that is to get the pleasures of this world and yet escape the death penalty!

Generally speaking, the faithful people who ask it fear they might commit the unpardonable sin. For it is clear – there’s a sin that leads to death and one that doesn’t.

Once again, the unpardonable sin is when the One who can convict you of sin has no way of entrance to your heart.

Our text, illustrated

Let’s read the text with some in-between-the-lines tentative add-ons (trying not to read our views into it, but to illustrate):

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, {and that brother fights with it, repents of it, is ashamed of it and tries to conquer it}, he shall ask, and God will give him life.

{Again, it is about} those who commit sins that do not lead to death.

{Make no mistake,} there is a sin that leads to death {that one where the person has no regard to it, the Holy Spirit can not move him/her anymore. Is that the case? Then…}

I do not say that one should pray for that {as no one prayed for Pilate to repent of his sin, no prayer for Ananias and Sapphira, no prayer for Judas (man, don’t hang yourself!). Some people have chosen their paths and nothing, not even the Holy Spirit can move them. Yes, God can send affliction and troubles, to awaken them. Yet, as in the end-times, there will be people who will refuse to repent no matter what. That is a sin that leads to death. Don’t waste any time praying. No one prays for the repentance of… Satan.}

{Otherwise, let’s make it clear:} all wrongdoing is sin! {Stay away from that. And if you sin, read again first verses of 1 John, chapter 2 – there’s a way to life, through the blood of Jesus Christ.} But there is sin that does not lead to death. {the one you’ve just repented of}

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning. {Are you born of God? Then you stay away from sin. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.} but he who was born of God {that is Jesus Christ} protects him, {God can protect us} and the evil one cannot touch us.

{Let’s be open:} the world around us lies in the power of the evil one. But we know that we are from God.

“Any sin we commit that we are, by grace, capable of truly confessing and repenting from does not lead to death.”

John Piper


Should I pray then for someone sinning?

We all do sin. The difference is in the attitude. There’s one thing for a former smoker to ask the doctor for a saving surgery on his lungs or even a transplant for a fresh set of healthy lungs. And there is quite outrageous for a smoker to do it while still smoking and planning to continue the awful habit…

A commentary continues:

“This does not mean that we should not continue to pray for those who have drifted from the way of righteousness, or who have never surrendered to the Saviour. It does not mean that there will not be many remarkable conversions as a sequel to long and earnest praying by faithful hearts. But John is showing that there is no use praying for forgiveness for a sinner so long as he refuses to repent of his sin. Yet, while there are any grounds for hope, we should continue to pray, for we cannot tell with certainly when a man has gone too far.”