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What Is Sin Which Does Not Lead to Death?

Noel Corpuz is a student of the Scriptures, a Bible teacher, a shepherd of God’s flock, but foremost, a Lover of God and His Word.

All unrighteousness is sin, but there is a sin that does not lead to death.

This question was asked in our bible study meeting, “What is sin which does not lead to death?”

The inquiry emanates from 1 John 5:16 which says, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin which does not lead to death, he shall ask (or pray), and He (God) shall give him life. This is for those whose sin does not lead to death.

The same verse further declares, “There is a sin that leads to death. I do not say that he should pray for it.”

Then the next verse 17 proclaims that “All unrighteousness is sin, but there is a sin that does not lead to death.” (1 John 5:17)

However, the apostle did not specify what is this sin that does not lead to death. And what is that sin that leads to death?

All doctrines in the New Testament take root in the Scriptures (The Law and the Prophets). Even Jesus Christ declares that the words that He speaks are not His but His Father’s which were of course written in the Old Testament, by Moses and the Prophets of God. Therefore, in order to answer this question, we search the Scriptures.

First, what is Sin?

Sin is disobedience to God’s commands. Soon after the man was made, God spoke to him (albeit in progression), His intent and expectations. First in the garden in Eden, then, through a set of commands and ordinances which Jesus Christ eventually summed up in these two great commandments:

  1. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)
  2. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:31)

Contains in these are the ten words or ten commandments written by God with His own fingers on two tablets of stone handed to Moses at Mount Sinai.

Then, in order to carry out these commands, God further spoke to Moses in specific detail with statutes and ordinances covering all aspects of a holy life appropriated with facilities and consequences. Blessing of life for obedience, and curse of death for disobedience. This became the Law of God for mankind to live by. We find all these in the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, called the Torah (the Law), affirmed by the prophets of old, then by Christ Himself and His apostles.

This Law defines the righteousness which God demands from His created man. Thus, obedience to His commands is righteousness, and disobedience is unrighteousness. All unrighteousness is sin.

The LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us, as He has to this day. It will be our righteousness if we are careful to keep all these commandments before the LORD our God, just as He has commanded us.” (Deuteronomy 6:24–25)

Then, what is sin that leads to death?

Willful disobedience to God’s command is rebellion against God Himself. It is sin that leads to death as we find God ordaining it right from the first day of man’s existence.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:15–17)

By eating the fruit which God says they should not, mankind entered the downward path of death. “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man (‘s disobedience) and death through sin, so death has spread to all men…” (cf. Romans 5:12, 19)

The LORD God, being merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, does not desire men to perish but that they may come to repentance from their sins. He withheld his direct judgment for a period of time that He can tolerate while providing mankind a way to atone for their iniquities. So, death hovers all of mankind while the pyres of Hell gape down below.

American theologian, Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) painted a vivid illustration of this condition in his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. He says, “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment, out of Hell, but the mere pleasure of God.”

Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the LORD God, but rather that he should turn from his ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:23)

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The apostle Peter affirms this in his second epistle, “The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness. But He is patient with us, because He does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

Yes, God doesn’t want anyone to perish, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16–17)

Way of Salvation in the Old Covenant

Before the advent of the Messiah, God had ordained various kinds of offering to atone for the sins or trespasses of the people in order that they may be restored to God’s favor. The book of Leviticus details these for us (read Leviticus chapters 4 & 5). However, this Old Covenant provision of salvation only covers sins committed unintentionally.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the children of Israel, saying: When a person sins unintentionally against any of the commandments of the Lord that should not be done, and he violates one of them… he shall bring for his sin that he has committed a bull without blemish to the Lord for a sin offering. (Leviticus 4:1–3)

All intentional sins lead to death unless one repents and seeks God’s mercy while death has not come, then this sentence of death is withheld and hovers over the next generation. To the next generation, unless they repent and walk in the ways which God commands, this judgment will fall and they will surely perish. Death comes sooner or later, and sometimes immediately. We see this process in the lives of Adam (Gen. 3:21–24), Cain (Gen. 4:10–16), Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1), David (2 Samuel 12), Ahab (1 Kings 21:25–29), and many other cases too numerous to cover at this instance but worthy to revisit and expound individually for another time.

Way of salvation in the New Covenant

In fulfillment of the promised New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31–34), God sent forth His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ as the all-sufficient sacrificial offering. He is the ultimate and once for all atonement for all the sins of mankind, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Thus, atonement through Jesus Christ is for all past sins committed, whether intentional or unintentional.

After Jesus Christ’s ascension and the Holy Spirit was outpoured, the apostle Peter confidently concluded his preaching with these words:

“Therefore, let all the house of Israel assuredly know that God has made this Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

When they heard this, they were stung in the heart and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:36–38)

“There is no salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Now, to be clear I must remark that there are two classes of sins:

  1. The sin of commission — an act of disobeying God by doing what God forbids us from doing as in “Thou shalt not…”
  2. The sin of omission — an act of disobeying God by not doing what God commands us to do, as in “Thou shalt…”

Nevertheless, both are sins that lead to eternal death, if not atoned for by the blood of Jesus Christ before the time. The time of your death or the time of Jesus Christ’s return, whichever comes first. When is that time? No one knows except God, the Heavenly Father.

A sin that is knowingly, intentionally, and willfully committed is a sin that leads to death.

11 But if any man hates his neighbor, and lies in wait for him, and rises up against him, and mortally strikes him, causing him to die, and flees to one of these cities, 12 then the elders of his city must send and fetch him from there, and deliver him to the hand of the avenger of blood, so that he may die. 13 Your eye must not pity him, but you must remove the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, so that it may go well with you.

For one who commits this kind of sin, the apostle says that we should not intercede on his behalf. For whoever practices sin is of the devil.

Whoever has been born of God does not practice sin, for His seed remains in him. And he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God (1 John 3:9). By this, you will know who are the children of God and the children of the devil.

So, what is this sin that does not lead to death?

Opposite of what I just before laid out, a sin that does not lead to death is one that is committed unknowingly, unintentionally, accidentally, and without premeditation. For such, there is a refuge or protection provided.

Here are the Scriptures which God set as a law for this sin.

(Deuteronomy 19:1–10)

1 When the LORD your God has cut off the nations, whose land the LORD your God is giving you, and you dispossess them, and dwell in their cities, and in their houses, 2 you shall set apart three cities for yourselves in the midst of your land, which the LORD your God is giving you to possess. 3 You shall prepare a roadway for yourself, and divide the territory of your land into three parts, which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, so that every manslayer may flee there.

4 This is the word concerning the manslayer who will flee there, so that he may live: Whoever kills his neighbor unintentionally, whom he did not hate previously, 5 like when a man goes into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and his hand raises the axe to cut down the tree, and the axe head slips from the handle and lands on his neighbor causing him to die, then he may flee to one of those cities, and live. 6 Otherwise the avenger of blood might, while he is angry, pursue the manslayer and overtake him (because the way is long) and kill him, even though he was not worthy of death (since he did not hate him previously). 7 Therefore, I command you, saying, “You shall set apart three cities for yourselves.”

8 If the LORD your God enlarges your borders as He promised your fathers, and gives you all the land which He promised to give to your fathers, 9 and if you will carefully keep all these commandments, which I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to always walk in His ways, then you must add three cities more for yourself, besides these three. 10 Then innocent blood will not be shed in your land, which the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, and blood guiltiness be on you.

Hear the story of King Abimelek

(Excerpt from Genesis chapter 20)

As Abraham journeyed toward the Negev, he sojourned in Gerar. Then Abraham said about Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” So Abimelek, king of Gerar, sent for her and took Sarah.

But God came to Abimelek in a dream by night and said to him, “You are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.”

But Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will You slay a righteous nation? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and did not even she herself say, ‘He is my brother’? In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands, I have done this.”

And God said to him in a dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also kept you from sinning against Me. Therefore, I did not let you touch her. Therefore return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet and he will pray for you. Moreover, you will live. However, if you do not return her, know that you will surely die, you and all who are yours.”

So Abimelek rose early in the morning, and called all his servants and told them all these things, and the men were very afraid…

(I recommend reading the whole chapter 20 of Genesis for the complete story).

…Then Abimelek took sheep, oxen, and male and female servants, gave them to Abraham, and returned his wife Sarah to him.

Now, for this kind of sin John says, If anyone sees his brother commit a sin which does not lead to death, he shall ask (or pray), and He (God) shall give him life. This is for those whose sin does not lead to death (1 John 5:16).

To conclude

Let me end with these two statements…

The sin willfully committed is a sin that leads to death, eternal death, if not atoned for before the time of physical death or the time of Jesus Christ’s return.

The sin that is unknowingly, unintentionally, even accidentally committed is a sin that does not lead to death. God knows the heart of man.

And with this benediction… (Ezekiel 18:21–24)

“But if the wicked turns (repent) from all his sins that he has committed, and keeps all My statutes, and does that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live. He shall not die. All his transgressions that he has committed, they shall not be remembered against him. Because of his righteousness that he has done, he shall live.”

“Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” says the LORD God, “but rather that he should turn from his ways and live?”

“But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All his righteousness that he has done shall not be remembered for his trespass that he has committed and in his sin that he has done. In them he shall die.”

May this study give you a clearer understanding of this text. Peace to you all! Amen.

© 2022 Noel Corpuz

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