I John 5:16-19
In a Nutshell
This is a passage that often confuses readers of John's letter. It is a teaching John gives from his own personal experience with none other than the One who was "born of God".
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Reflect upon the "non-deadly" sins from which you have been delivered?
16 If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a deadly sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a person - to those whose sin is not deadly. There is sin that is deadly; I do not say that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly. 18 We know that those who are born of God do not sin, but the one who was born of God protects them, and the evil one does not touch them. 19 We know that we are God's children, and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one.
All wrong-doing is sin, but there is sin which is not deadly. We have already explained that John's own courage had failed him during the trial of Jesus. This was when Jesus was interrogated by the High Priest. He had answered:
I have spoken openly to all the world. I have taught at all times in synagogue and in the temple, where all the Jews congregate. Not a word have I spoken in secret. Why are you questioning me? Ask those who heard me what I have told them; they know what I have said (John 18:19-25).
John was there, he tells us, but he was not speaking up at this point. Presumably, his own life was also in the balance. This was when one of the police struck Jesus a blow accusing Him of lacking respect for the High Priest. And so, when John wrote his gospel, he was setting the record straight, allowing his readers to note his inability to step forward and defend his Teacher. Throughout that gospel he refers to himself as "the one whom Jesus loved". None of Jesus' disciples came to their Rabbi's defense; most had fled. But he, John, was there in the house of the High Priest to witness this event. Still he too was among those who had forsaken their Master when He stood in need of their support. Peter denied Jesus openly. John simply failed to speak up.
Now at the conclusion of this letter, John tells his readers how Jesus' prayer for him on that occasion and subsequently has enabled him to encourage them. In conclusion he reiterates what he had written earlier:
So, little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And it is in this way that we will know that we are acting truly and will be able to reassure our hearts before Him even when our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything (I John 3:18-20).
Such is the nature of sin that we can be trapped by our own ignorance, lack of awareness, even by our own innocence. It is still sin. We need to grow wise about our responsibilities under Heaven. But now, with the One "born of God" praying for us at God's Right Hand, we can indeed take paths where we do not sin. And that is why, as His restored image bearers, we follow Jesus' example and pray for those caught up in what is not deadly sin. We are prayerfully alert to such possibilities.