The Sin Unto Death

by C. Parker Thomas

(Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the January- February 1983 issue of the Midnight Cry Messenger.)

Text: I John 5:16.

I have observed very little teaching on this subject in the church world. It is misunderstood by many and avoided by others who cannot reconcile it with their basic doctrines and is simply left alone by most churches.

As surely as men die naturally because of the curse of sin, there is a sin unto death. This is a sin that Christians commit. Beyond doubt, it is the cause of premature physical death in the lives of many believers.

This is a truth that cannot be reconciled with the teaching that one can fall away and be lost after experiencing saving grace. However an insight into this truth will actually work for good in establishing the believer in his faith.

It magnifies the finished work of Christ in paying for man’s sin on the cross. It helps to establish the fact that we are eternally secure because of the blood that was shed.

And contrary to the opinion that believing one is eternally saved will lead to deliberate sin because we cannot lose our salvation, this truth has a sanctifying effect upon the believer. It actually helps the believer to realize that it certainly does make a difference in how he lives. And although the cross forever stands between the Christian and eternal judgment, the believer is made to see that God chastens and scourges his own because he loves them.

This truth magnifies the grace of God and helps man to humble himself again and give God all the glory. It takes away our proclivity to trust in the arm of flesh or think that we merit God’s favor because of good works or our own righteousness.

What is the sin unto death? Is it any specific sin? Who commits it and how often is it committed?

From a study of the scriptures it is clearly evident that the sin unto death is no one or specific sin. Potentially, any Christian could commit the sin unto death. I fear it is committed more frequently than we realize.

Although we need to be careful lest we convey the idea that premature or untimely deaths among Christians are the result of the sin unto death, some indeed are. More than we dare realize or acknowledge, many Christians go to an early grave because that is the only way God can save them.

Just plain sin which is transgression of the law does not constitute the sin unto death. If this were the case then all Christians would be guilty of the sin unto death. According to our text, there is a sin not unto death and a sin unto death.

The idea or claim of some that Christians do not sin is simply ridiculous. According to the word of God, those who make such claims are deceived and have not the truth in them. I John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

It will be noted that the apostle John included himself in this scriptural statement. The use of the pronouns we, ourselves and us included the apostle John himself along with all other believers. All believers are guilty of sin or transgression of God’s perfect law at some point.

And, because of the universality of sin, death is a condition that affects the whole creation. Rom. 5:12, 8:22-23. Except for the Christians who shall be alive at Christ’s coming, every human being must experience death in some manner. Some die in their infancy, some in the prime of life, and some live to be old before crossing the river or death. Sooner or later all men die.

Beyond doubt there are many factors that determine our life span. Some who live dangerously die early. Some lifestyles or environments are conducive to long life and some to a short life. Compared to eternity, human life is very brief. James says that our life is as a vapor that appears for a short time, and then vanishes away.

All laws ordained of God — whether spiritual or natural — are for our good. Respect and honor for these laws, generally speaking, adds health, peace and length of days to our life. Disrespect for them brings misery, sickness and early death. Rom. 2:9-10. Pro. 4:20-22.

These principles affect the quality and length of human life. However the sin unto death is the result of flagrant violation of truth, truth that the person has been privileged to come into possession of. Many things are done in ignorance that God winks at or closes his eyes to. Acts 17:22-30. Rom. 2:12.

Another thing we need to understand about the sin unto death is that it is not simply rejection of abstract truth. Most of the world is guilty of this type of sin. It is incarnate truth violated by believers that constitutes the sin unto death. It is disrespect for the embodiment of truth in the church or Christ come in the flesh.

It is committed by Christians who, by example or deed, despise and dishonor the church or God’s people. The servant of the Lord is often the focal point of this disrespect. It is not the God of history, God of the sky or God of the prophetic future. It is God that would entreat and instruct them through anointed flesh.

This is why Satan works so diligently to discredit and set at naught the human embodiment of truth. It is when men are confronted with truth that they become responsible. Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.” John 15:22.

I might add that the unpardonable sin is also committed by men who are in personal contact with those in whom the Spirit of truth dwells. However, the unpardonable sin is not to be confused with the sin unto death.

Although similar, the spirit and attitude of the person involved is different. The sin unto death can be committed by a Christian who is caught in Satan’s web through some weakness of the flesh. Being overcome by his flesh the Christian still believes and has a certain amount of reverence in his heart toward God. Peter’s denial of Christ is a good example. Matt. 26:69-75.

The spirit of the unbeliever that commits the unpardonable sin reaches a place of intolerant disrespect against the Holy Spirit. This, continued, reaches a point of rebellion and hardness of heart where the person despises and blasphemes the Holy Spirit.

Thank God our salvation is not dependent upon don’ts and do’s of any kind of law. If it were we would not be saved by grace through faith. Man’s inability to keep the law makes it necessary that he be saved by grace.

But the sin unto death has nothing to do with salvation. It is a very severe form of divine chastisement upon a child of God. Such judgment usually comes after repeated warnings and much effort to reconcile such a one.

I might add that many Christians are temporarily overcome by sin that do not commit the sin unto death. Some are delivered from a condition that, if persisted in, would lead to the sin unto death. An example of one who was delivered from the sin unto death by the implementation of this truth is found in first and second Corinthians.

The case in point is found in I Cor. 5:1-13. This was a case of immorality in which a church member was living with his father’s wife. Although the scripture gives no detail, this was probably a younger woman who was married to the man’s father. Being commonly known, this sin brought great reproach on Christ and the church before the world. Paul rebuked the church for not expelling the guilty man from their midst and instructed them to turn him over to Satan for destruction of the flesh that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Had this been carried out to its logical conclusion, we would have a classic example of the sin unto death.

However, it is obvious from II Cor. 6:1-11 that this man repented when the church took action and was restored to fellowship. This is the ultimate purpose of all judgment involving a believer.

We also learn from this and other scriptures that it is the duty of the church to exercise judgment when needed. I Cor. 6:1-8. Think of the honor and respect God has for the church in that he personally withholds judgment and waits for the church to act. I Cor. 6:1-5.

In process of time God will sovereignly visit judgment upon his people when it is needed and there is no one to act. Heb. 10:30 says, “For we know him that hath said. Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.”

A scriptural example of the sin unto death being sovereignly administered is found in I Cor. 11:29-32. The issue here was failure to observe the Lord’s supper in a reverential manner. In fact it was being observed by many with total disregard and disrespect for the occasion. Drunkenness, gluttony, strife and division were rampant.

Because of this lack of discernment of the Lord’s body in a reverential manner, Paul said, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged, but when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” I Cor. 11:30-32.

Some were weak, sickly and some had died because they failed to judge themselves. This was God’s way of chastening them that they not be condemned with the world.

This simply confirms Heb. 12:6-8 which says, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.”

Although God’s children are eternally secure in Christ, they are watched over by the Lord who chastens his own when necessary. And chastening is always according to the light the person has. Luke 12:47-48 says, “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

I am sure that judgment in the early church was swift and sure against the flagrant transgressor. An example of this is found in Acts 5:1-11. There were no lengthy debates or delays when Ananias and Sapphira conspired together concerning the sale of their property and lied to the Holy Ghost in the process.

This judgment took place before the whole church as Peter, directed by the Holy Spirit, administered judgment in the form of the sin unto death. Such judgment today would wipe out the average church. Since the keys of the kingdom were given to the church, God expects the church to execute judgment when it is necessary. This, of course, is not possible in most instances because the church has no conception of these things.

Where there is no church to act, the Lord will sovereignly execute judgment when needed. And in some instances where there is no functioning body God will use the ministry in executing judgment. Paul exercised this prerogative in turning Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan that they might learn not to blaspheme. I Tim. 1:20.

This, of course, is not just any ministry. It would include Spirit-filled, foundational ministries with discernment. A good example of apostolic execution of judgment is found in Acts 13:6-12.

Although this was an evil man and obviously an unbeliever, he was resisting the Holy Spirit and seeking to turn a man away from God. This one thing that brings swift judgment upon men is dishonor and resistance to the work of the Holy Spirit.

However, God is long suffering and patiently works with his people to restore them if at all possible. And his judgment is just. The punishment always suits the crime. Gal. 6:7-8 is still true. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”

Most of the judgment that comes upon us for disobedience does not result in the sin unto death. In fact most of God’s judgment is remedial and results in correction, which is as it should be.

It is our heavenly Father chastening us because we are his sons. The reason is that we might bring forth the peaceable fruit of righteousness. Heb. 12:11.

The most severe judgment of the wicked awaits the day of judgment when all men shall give an account to God. Rev. 20:11-15. Actually, the wicked often prosper and fare well in this life. This is something difficult for the righteous to understand until their eyes are opened to the truth. Psalm 73 gives us a contrasting picture of the righteous and the wicked.

Even the wicked reap certain temporal blessings when they respect and observe divine principles. And God can judge them severely when their affront becomes a challenge to the Almighty.

The principle of sowing and reaping applies to the righteous and the wicked and covers time and eternity. For example, there are multitudes of people enmeshed in false religious systems that are good moral people but they are lost because they do not know Christ. These people often live long, healthy lives and prosper in this world, but they are lost so far as eternity is concerned.

There are others today that are reaping the iniquities of their fathers who hated God. Ex. 20:4. Whole nations are enslaved by false religious systems that originated with one person who loved not the truth that he might be saved. II Tim. 2:10-12. Lucifer’s rebellion against God led to the fall of angels and man and brought sickness, suffering and death to the whole universe.

Because of the curse of sin the whole created universe, including man, living creatures, the earth and even the stars, is not clean in His sight. This present creation will be destroyed and all things will be made new. In the meantime neither the environmentalists, the ERA, democracy, communism, the Vatican nor the National Council of Churches have the answer.

The Lord gives us his answer through John on the Isle of Patmos.

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

“And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

“And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, write: for these words are true and faithful.

“And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.

“He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.

“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” Rev. 21:1-8.

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