Let’s read those verses: “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that” (NKJV). This passage teaches us the believer’s responsibility to “pray for his brother,” or “not to pray for his brother” when he sees another believer sinning. It seems obvious that not all sin is on the same level, for “there is a sin which does not lead to death” and “there is sin leading to death.” How can we know the difference (so we can obey these scriptures)?

Before we seek to answer that, let’s be clear that “death” in these verses is speaking of physical death, NOT spiritual or eternal death. A true believer was once spiritually “dead in trespasses and sin” (Ephesians 2:1), but after believing on Christ he has “passed from death unto life” (see John 5:24). Therefore, a true believe has eternal life and he shall never experience spiritual death ever again and he shall surely not enter into the lake of fire, which is the “second death” (Revelation 20:11-15; 21:8). So we can say emphatically that this is speaking of the death of the BODY, not the death of the SOUL.

Yet a believer may fall into a state of sinning and when he does it has consequences, and it may result in physical death. We have an example of this in Acts 5:1-11 where a man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold a possession to give to the poor and pretended to give all the money to the apostles for distribution (verses 1-2). The apostle Peter rebuked Ananias with these words, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?” (verse 3). In verse 5 we learn that “Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last.” He had committed a “sin unto death!” Later Peter rebuked Sapphira with similar words and she too died immediately (verses 9-10).

We have another example in 1st Corinthians 11 where believers were sinning by observing the Lord’s Supper with unjudged sin and thus in verse 30 we read, “For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and MANY SLEEP.” The words “many sleep” mean that “many DIED” because of their sin. So here too we learn that there is indeed “sin unto death.”

These two examples teach us that it is NOT one specific sin that is in view in the verses in question, for Ananias and Sapphira, and the saints at Corinth, were guilty of different sins. Thus when the apostle John says, “There is sin leading to death,” he is simply stating that one can sin in such a way that it may be punishable by physical death. Again, we must ask, “How can we know when one is committing “sin leading to death?”

I would advise extreme caution here, for the last thing we want to do is to judge our brother unfairly, thinking the Lord is chastening them for sin when in reality they haven’t sinned (as in the case of Job’s three “friends” who ASSUMED Job had sinned, resulting in God’s severe judgment on him and his family). At other times we may be given true discernment to know that one has committed “sin leading to death,” as in the case of Peter with Ananias and Sapphira. And at other times God may reveal to us that some are going on in “judged sin” and this could very well “lead to death.” This, I believe, was the case in Corinth. We saw that some were “weak and sickly” (God was still dealing with them in hopes of them repenting of their sin), but others were falling “asleep” (God took them home as an act of final judgment). Paul had said in verse 28, “Let a man examine himself,” which means, “let a man judge his sin.” After telling us that “many sleep” Paul said, “If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” When we see one continuing to sin and failing to judge their sin AFTER God’s chastening Hand is upon them, I believe it is time to stop praying for them. There have even been cases where an erring brother has become sick and realizes that his sin is “unto death” and thus he has said, “You need not pray for me to be healed; the Lord is going to take me home.” (275.5) (DO)