Reality Check: The One Prayer That God Doesn’t Answer
As we conclude our series on 1 John, we examine 1 John 5:16–21.
One thing you can “be sure of is that your sins will find you out.” you can hide sin for a season, but it will always find you. It reminds me of the young couple about to get married.
The young man went to his dad and said, “I’m a bit apprehensive about getting married, Dad”. “why, son”, said the dad. “well, I’ve got terribly smelly feet dad and it’ll be so embarrassing when my wife finds out”. “don’t worry about it, son, just be sure to go to bed with your socks on and she’ll never notice the smell. You’ll be fine”. Meanwhile, the young lady goes to her mother and tells her, “I’m a bit worried about getting married, mom, because I’ve got terrible bad breath in the mornings and it’ll be so embarrassing when my husband finds out”. Mom says to her daughter, “don’t worry, dear. All you need to do is, be sure not to open your mouth first thing in the morning. Don’t say a single word until you’ve been to the bathroom and brushed your teeth.” The wedding goes off fine and for six months they each manage to keep their secrets safe. Then one morning at about 5.00 am, the young husband wakes up and suddenly realizes one of his socks has come off in bed. He frantically rummages around under the bed clothes trying to find this elusive smelly sock when suddenly his young wife wakes up. As he pops his head out from under the blankets she says to him, “what on earth are you doing”? He replies, “oh no, you’ve eaten one of my socks”!
You can hide something for a while, but when you least expect it you will be exposed.
John shows us that we can sin for a season, but it doesn’t come without a cost. A Christian that keeps on sinning will suffer two punishments: discipline or death.
1 John 5:16–21,
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. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. 18 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. 19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know shim who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
1. Eliminate sin from your life
The verse reads, “if anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life” (1 John 5:16). Apparently, this idea was familiar to the first century believers, but is somewhat of a mystery to us. All sin leads to spiritual death or separation from God. But there are some sins that lead to physical death.
First of all, John is talking about believers. The one committing the sin unto death is a brother which is his title for a follower of Christ.
Early Church father Tertullian taught that Christians could not commit sins such as: murder, idolatry, fraud, denial of Christ, blasphemy, adultery, and fornication because God would not forgive these sins. The Roman Catholic Church categorizes sins into venial sins, which can be forgiven, and mortal sins that result in spiritual death. Unfortunately, the Bible makes no such distinction. And if Tertullian’s list was correct, men in the Bible such as David, solomon, peter, and paul would all be in hell!
We have four options for interpreting the sin that leads to death: murder, apostasy, blasphemy against the holy spirit, or unbridled, continuous sin.
- We know that murder cannot be the sin that leads to death because David wouldn’t have lived.
- We know that it probably is not apostasy since tat genuine believers don’t leave the faith.
- We know that blasphemy of the holy spirit was restricted to the generation that Jesus was speaking to. They people had just finished calling Jesus beelzebub. They labeled a holy vessel unholy. The problem is that they cut themselves off from the only means by which they could be saved. If you are drowning and I throw you a life preserver and your response it, “I hate life preservers.” You are dead because it’s the only means by which you can be saved. I get this from Jesus’ response: “this adulterous and wicked generation.”
So what it is? Before I tell you what I think it is, let me talk about what happens when someone sins. When an unbeliever sins, he or she “stores up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” according to Romans. 2:5.
When a believer sins, one of 2 things happen:
A. Discipline from sin
Hebrews 12:5, “my son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 it is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 if you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the father of spirits and live? 10 for they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
- Moses was disciplined by not being allowed to enter the promise land.
- David was disciplined and not to build the temple.
- Samson lost his power, his hair, and ultimately, his life.
- Jonah refused to speak for the Lord and was eaten by a whale.
- Peter was disciplined several times by Jesus.
God forgives our sins. However, God will discipline us when we sin. There are consequences for sin. Think twice before you engage in sin.
B. Death from sin
Sin, if continued, may end in physical death. Does the Bible contain examples of this? Yes. There was a situation in Corinth where God chastened some believers for taking the Lord’s supper in an unworthy manner. As a result, they became sick and ill. Some even died (1 Corinthians 11:30). Ananias and Sapphira, did not lose their salvation, but their physical life on earth was ended. They sold a piece of property and pretended to give all of the proceeds to the Church when in reality they kept back part of the money for themselves. They lied by saying they gave all the money to the Church, and God struck each of them dead on the spot. I don’t think the “sin unto death” is a single, isolated act. It is acts of sin that are repeated over and over by the disobedient child of God. Notice that John says, “if a man sees his brother.” this indicates an open action against God which affected the entire congregation. He just got finished talking about having our prayers answered in verse 14. He then encourages us to pray for believers who are in sin. However, there is sin where our prayers will not be heard. It is the sins of a believer who is on the path to death. John says that we need not pray for such a person. There is no remedy. Instead of the believer continuing to waste his life and drag Christ’s name through the mud, God removes them from the world.
John Macarthur, “no intercessory prayer will be effective for those who have committed such deliberate high-handed sin. God’s discipline with physical death is inevitable in such cases as he seeks to preserve the purity of his Church.”
One commentator said it best: “a person who persists in sin, who rejoices in sin, who never thinks of temptation as a sin, who has no regret for sinning, who glories in his sin, who boasts in his sin, who is proud of his sin, who is proud that he knows how to get away with his sin, and who delights in sin.”
“Now in life it is a fact of experience that there are two kinds of sinners. So long as a man in his heart of hearts hates sin and hates himself for sinning, so long as he knows that he is sinning, he is never beyond repentance, and, therefore, never beyond forgiveness; but once a man begins to revel in sin, and to make sin the deliberate policy of his life, and loses all sense of the terror and the awfulness of sin, and also the feeling of self-disgust, he is on the way to death, for he is on the way to a state where the idea of repentance will not, and cannot enter his head. The sin unto death is the state of the man who has listened to sin so often, and refused to listen to God so often, that he has come to a state when he loves his sin, and when he regards sin as the most profitable thing in the world.”
I don’t know what the sin that leads to death is, but I do know this: I don’t want to find out. Listen to me closely, you don’t want to prematurely stand before God as a believer because you refused to repent of sin. If you are in sin now, run to God. Get out immediately. Don’t wait brother or sister. Respond to God, when he disciplines you.
Here’s something to consider: maybe the reason you habitually sin is because you are an unbeliever. By remaining in sin, you are revealing who you really are.
2. Affirm your relationship with Christ
Verse 18, “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. 19 we know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 and we know 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, in his son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
Who is the one born of God who protects believers? It is Jesus. It is unlikely that John is talking about us guarding ourselves, but that Jesus is the one who guards us. Tthe evil one does not touch the believer” Touch is more than to place a hand on someone. It means to grab hold of a person. Because we are sealed in Christ, satan cannot lay hold of your life. “The world lies in the power of the evil one.” lie means to be caught in the grip of. The whole world lies asleep in the arms of the devil. He says, “sh-sh-hhh hush! You’re waking people up, and we don’t want to do that! They are very comfortable. Many people in Churches are dead in trespasses and sins, and we don’t want to wake them up. Let’s leave them alone.” He feeds us lies so we buy into his plan.
Dr. David Allen reminds us that some of the most enticing, creative commercials on television are beer commercials.
First, you will never find someone over 30 drinking beer in the commercials. The ads appeal to a younger generation. Second, the beer can in the commercial, it is always brand new. Third, the cars in the commercial are dream cars. You won’t find a Fiat, Kia, Hyundai, Ford or Chevy. You will find a Corvettes, Porsches, or Jaguars. Fourth, every beer commercial has attractive women in scandalizing outfits. Every one of them just walked off the runway. All of the men are thin, muscular, and good looking. No beer bellies or unshaven facial hair in the ad. Finally, the scene is a party with a DJ spinning dance music in the background. Everyone is having the time of their lives, kicking back cans of ice cold beer. The entire ad is an illusion. That never happens.
What if they showed you what actually happened after a night of drinking: puking on the side of the road, ruined lives, car accidents, mangled bodies, broken families, emptied bank accounts, and hospital visits. What if they talked about the 100 million alcoholics in the world, or the 80,000 alcohol related deaths annually, or the 700,000 people injured from alcohol related accidents, or the 6,000 teens who die every year because of alcohol. But the Devils’ lies go well beyond alcohol. He lure us with vanity—to look a certain way.
- Covetousness—to own certain things.
- Immorality—to indulge in sinful things.
- Pride—to worship oneself.
Jesus sets us free from the shackles of sins. He gives us purpose and a new identity in him. We are able to discern the truth because we “know him who is true.” Know doesn’t mean head knowledge but experiential knowledge. What’s the difference?
Some of you came to Church for years and participated in singing worship songs to the Lord as an unbeliever. You sat through countless sermons but they never affected you. But once you got saved, you were thrilled by them. The worship music moved you to tears. The sermons touched your heart. That is the affirmation of the new birth.
3. Eradicate idols from your life
Verse 21, “little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
John ends his letter with a line that catches us off guard. This is the summary verse of the entire book. When you give up idols, everything is affected in your life: actions, attitudes, words, thoughts, and deeds. Idolatry may surprise your twenty-first-century ears. I am confident that most if not all of you are not carving idols for worship in your home. But they come in different forms. Our idols consist of metal, plastic, rubber, upholstery and glass. We call them automobiles. Some idols come in the form of flesh and blood. We call them relationships. Other idols can be fame, fortune, or popularity. They come in raises and promotions at our jobs.
John lived in Ephesus, which was the epicenter of idolatry in the Roman empire. The goddess Diana was believed to reside in the temple of Diana in Ephesus. The temple took 200 years to complete and was 420 feet long and 220 feet wide and was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Ionic pillars soared 60 feet into the air. In the center of the temple stood the goddess Diana, robed in a veil of persian silk. Small replicas of the temple and images of the goddess could be purchased for worship outside the temple.
God warned his people against idolatry in Exodus 20:3, “you shall have no other Gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in Heaven above, or that is in the Earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
How do I know if something is idolatrous?
Ask yourself, “what do I most love?” Here is another question to ask, “what do I think about when my mind wanders?”
If your thoughts move to your car, your business, your home, your investment, to your husband, wife, or child,To that which feeds lust or pride, worldliness or covetousness. The greatest idol is self. One author said, “we are trying to hold at bay the gnats of small sins while swallowing the camel of self.” The cult of our personality is alive and well with such phrases as self-help, self-image, and self-esteem. I think you can sum up 1 John with the last verse. When we stop idolizing ourselves we can love God and love others.
The early Italian reformer Savonarola is well known for his desire to cleanse florence of materialism and immorality by having people get rid of their material possessions that tempted them to have an immoral lifestyle in the “bonfire of vanity.” Savonarola once saw an elderly woman worshipping at a statue of the Virgin Mary. He observed her daily trek to pay homage to the statue and was impressed with her devotion and virtue. He inquired about the woman’s commitment to a fellow priest, who warned Savonarola that things are not always as they appear. Savonarola learned that this woman in her 20’s had been the model for the artist’s sculpture of mary. She had worshiped at the statue ever since.
In the Christian Church today we to eradicate the vanity in our hearts. All idolatry begins in the heart and must be exterminated there first. This is why David said, “give me clean hands and a pure heart.”
God gives us 3 words for idols: tear them down.This means that we must work at keeping ourselves from idols. It’s not passive but active. This is the only imperative in this section. John Owen said, “be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” If you are in sin, repent now.