God's Word For You is a free Bible Study site committed to bringing you studies firmly grounded in the Bible – the Word of God. Holding a reformed, conservative, evangelical perspective this site affirms that God has provided in Jesus Christ his eternal Son, a way of salvation in which we can live in his presence guilt free, acquitted and at peace.




In 1John 3:21 & 22 John briefly referred to prayer. There he spoke of our confidence before God. This confidence - was grounded in the absence of condemnation that is ours because of the salvation we have in Christ Jesus.

In 5:14 & 15 John again speaks of our confidence in prayer, this time this confidence issues from the truth stated in verse 13: that those who believe in the name of the Son of God know that they have eternal life. Because we know this, we are also confident of free, uninhibited access to God – ‘this is the confidence we have in approaching God’, and with that is also the confidence –

That if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.

That if he hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have what we asked of him.

John now mentions a particular prayer that believers will pray – prayer for a ‘brother’ who commits ‘a sin that does not lead to death’. What John actually wrote was ‘if anyone sees his brother sinning (present tense – inferring some continuity of the sin) a sin not unto death he will ask and he will give to him life ...’ John is not commanding this prayer, rather he is assuming that believers will pray for this ‘brother’, and by that prayer will give him life.

John makes a firm distinction in these verses between ‘sin that does not lead to death’ (that is, sin that can be forgiven and cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ), and ‘sin that leads to death’ (that is, sin that cannot be forgiven).

What is this ‘sin that leads to death’? And why does it exclude a person from forgiveness and from eternal life?

And who is this ‘brother’ who is sinning? Is he a ‘Christian brother’ and already a believer? Or is he a ‘brother human being’ and not a believer? And who is it who is committing the ‘sin that leads to death’?

These are difficult questions.

The answer that has the least problems is to assume (1) that the ‘sin that does not lead to death’ is the sin of a person who has already received Jesus Christ, and has therefore also received eternal life and forgiveness; and (2) that the person whose sin ‘leads to death’ is someone who has clearly heard and understood God’s truth but has made a deliberate and permanent choice to reject that truth.

There seems to be a point of no return, a point of defiant rejection of God, beyond which both prayer and preaching are to be withheld. This is evident in a number of Bible passages:

Through Amos, God said to a rebellious, idolatrous Israel, said ‘The days are coming ... when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD’ – Amos 8:11.

Three times God told Jeremiah not to pray for the Israelites who had deliberately replaced God with idols – ‘So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you’ - Jeremiah 7:16; see also 11:14 & 14:11.

Jesus said ‘Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs’ – Matthew 7:6.

Jesus instructed his disciples to cease preaching to those who would not listen – Matthew 10:11 – 15.

Jesus deliberately withheld the truth from those who persisted in rejecting him – Matthew 13:10 – 17.

Jesus said to his disciples about the Pharisees ‘Leave them; they are blind guides’ – Matthew 15:14.

John has already told us about people who deliberately turned their backs on the gospel of Jesus Christ – ‘They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us’ – 2:18, 19. And he has told us about the ‘many false prophets who have gone out into the world’ who do ‘not acknowledge Jesus’, who are aligned with ‘the spirit of the antichrist’, and who ‘speak from the viewpoint of the world’ – 4:1 – 6.

In Matthew 12:31 & 32 Jesus referred to a sin that will not be forgiven in this age or in the age to come. He called it ‘blasphemy against the Spirit’ and speaking ‘against the Holy Spirit’.

It is the Holy Spirit who communicates the truth about Jesus Christ (John 15:26; 16:12 – 15). It is the Holy Spirit who convicts the world of guilt (John 16:6 – 11). If a person continues to reject this work of the Holy Spirit, treating it with contempt, saying it’s just human ideas, that person simply cannot be forgiven. God does not grant universal forgiveness. God grants forgiveness only those who believe in Jesus Christ, his Son.

So John says ‘I am not saying that he should pray about that’ - that is, about God forgiving the 'sin that leads to death'. While we have confidence that God forgives the sins of believers, we cannot have any confidence that God will forgive those who reject his Son. Indeed, we know that he will not.

But ought we pray for such people at all? We should pray that the Spirit of God will, through the Word of God about the Son of God, ‘open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God’ – only then may they receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ – Acts 26:18.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2022