What is the Sin Leading to Death?

What does 1 John 5:16 mean?

There are different types of sin, and some more serious than others. Apparently we should pray for those who do the lighter sins, but not waste time praying for those who do the bad ones.

Ever heard that? It comes from this verse:

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. (1 John 5:16)

What is the sin leading to death and why should we not pray for people doing this sin?

Sin unto death

Some say the sin leading to death is the unforgivable sin, which is unbelief. But why wouldn’t we pray for our unbelieving friends and family members? (We can pray that the eyes of their hearts would be opened to the gospel. We can pray that they would hear Jesus knocking on their door.)

I’ve also heard it said that the fatal sin is taking communion unworthily. Or it’s turning away from Jesus. It’s hypocrisy. It’s lying to the Holy Spirit like Ananias and Sapphira.

Or the sin that leads to death is the sin you did knowing full well that it was sin when you did it.

Or it’s the sin you keep doing again and again because you’re an unrepentant rebel.

In short, the fatal sin is so bad and so offensive to heaven that there’s no point asking God to forgive you. You are so far gone that God can’t help you, and you are not worth praying for.


Let’s get two things straight: First, Jesus bore all our sins, big and small, and there is no sin greater than God’s grace (Rom. 5:20). No matter what you have done or how often you’ve done it, there is grace for you.

Second, when we see others destroying themselves in sin, we should pray for them. They need help. Why wouldn’t we pray?

“But some are beyond help. Don’t waste your breath praying for those guys.”

Again, nope. There is no sinner beyond the reach of God’s mighty grace. Not one.

The worst sinner in the world

Look at Saul the Pharisee. If anyone was beyond the reach of grace it was the chief of sinners. Do you think the early Christians wasted time praying for him? Of course they did. Didn’t Jesus teach us to love and pray for their enemies (Matt. 5:44)?

And their prayers were answered. Just look at what happened to Saul.

But I digress. Back to John.

When not to pray

There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that.

John is not talking about different types of sin. He’s telling us when to pray and when to quit praying.

When our brothers and sisters are stumbling in sin, we should not condemn them but pray for them. Pray that God would lead them on to the path of life. “You should pray and God will give them life.”

Someone who is sinning needs life because sinning is destructive. When we sin we are sowing death into our lives, marriages, and families (Rom. 6:23). But the good news is that Jesus gives life.

Imagine you have a friend who is on a destructive path. They are making bad choices and sowing the seeds of death.

They sin.

You pray.

They keep sinning.

You keep praying. It’s not complicated.

But what if the sinning brother or sister makes choices that bring their life to a premature end? What if they drive themselves over the proverbial cliff? If they’re dead there’s no point praying any further. Our responsibility to pray ends at the grave. What happens after that is God’s concern.

Don’t pray for the dead

What is the sin leading to death? It could be just about anything, but once they’re dead you can stop praying for them. Your part is done. Now they are in God’s hands.

This is obvious, right? Only for many it’s not obvious at all.

Some religions and even some Christian denominations pray for the dead or the “faithful departed” even though there is nothing in scripture to support this.

Praying for the dead is a dead work. Start praying for the dead and your prayer lists will only get longer. (How would you know if the prayers were answered?)

Short version: Don’t pray for the dead, but pray for those who have lost their way. Pray that God will lead them in the path of life.


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16 Comments on What is the Sin Leading to Death?

  1. The article makes a great point, don’t pray for the dead, pray for those who are still with us and need God’s life, and it sheds light on a scripture that has caused a lot of confusion. I agree that God doesn’t want us making bad choices because He loves us and cares about us, but Jesus did not die for our bad behavior. Jesus died to save us from death. Death is the enemy and sin is a fruit of death. God is never offended with us or mad at us, He only wants what is best for us. While we were nailing Him to a cross, His thoughts were on saving us from death.

  2. megagenius // May 12, 2022 at 6:10 am // Reply

    All sin brings forth death. (James 1: 15). But, “there is a sin not leading to death, and there is a sin leading to death”( I John 5:16). EH? Please clarify this. He SEES his brother committing A sin not unto death. So, one has to KNOW the person did in fact commit this sin leading to death, so he can stop praying? God has to reveal it to the person so he can stop praying?

    • We can tell if it’s a sin leading to death because they die. Just look for a grave. If you see your brother sinning and he’s still alive, pray for him. If he’s in a grave, you can stop praying.

  3. So we conclude that “death” here means physical death, correct. As believers, right, we don’t believe in a purgatory (HEB 9:27). Or, what about James 1:15? Is this physical death or spiritual separation? Also, it is “a” sin as in there is “A” sin leading to death. You have probably written about blasphemy of the Holy Spirit where some believe it could have only been committed in the context of Jesus performing a miracle (casting out a demon) in the power of the Spirit, but people who saw it claimed it was by Beelzebub instead (Satan casting out Satan). Hence attributing the works of the Holy Spirit to the evil one. Jesus said all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven man BUT this one. What the Pharisees saw was plain and this was THIS age. The age to come is thought to be in the millennial kingdom when again, Jesus is visible. Your thoughts?

    • As far as I’m aware, there is no “a” in the original Greek. It is simply “sin leading to death.” But if you have a different view, I would love to hear what you think the sin is that John is talking about. I have written on the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit several times. I encourage you to check out the archives.

  4. Paul, thank you. I have a family member who’s been tormented for yrs by worries over this – sin leading to death, the unpardonable sin,etc. I will share this article with her.

  5. eencourager // May 18, 2022 at 5:13 am // Reply

    Fantastic, brother-Saint Paul!

  6. John writes “there is a sin that leads … to death” which means that that person is not yet dead. Why do you assume he’s already dead?

    • What sin do you think John is talking about? What is the sin we should not pray for?

      • In the context of the letter it could be that of apostasy (1 John 2:19). What is the use of praying for people who, after knowing Christ, decide they no longer want to have anything to do with him? This interpretation would also be consistent with other passages of the Bible.

      • Seems to me that when a brother or sister strays, we should pray for them and turn them back (Jas. 5:19). I don’t see any scripture suggesting we should write them off. 1 John 2:19 is about false prophets and deceivers.

      • There are plenty of places in the Bible that speak about not having anything to do with someone who calls themself a brother or sister but does not adhere to the faith, but here’s one that’s quite explicit – 2 Thessalonians 3:6-16.

        That passage even speaks about “shunning”, but such action shouldn’t be employed unless the threefold admonishment process in the Gospel of Matthew is unsuccessful. That process is not difficult to find at all, and the same goes for a true brother or sister in Christ when we look at what they say and do (including their response to meaningful/biblical correction).

        Love without such truth is not the love of the Lord, and it most certainly does not help to save or sanctify anyone!

        In Christ,

      • Our high priest doesn’t shun us when we stray, but he deals with us gently (Heb. 5:2). The Good Shepherd does not abandon his lost sheep. The word shunning is not in the Bible but is consistent with Old Testament traditions of casting people out of the camp I suppose. The passage you quoted does not support shunning but says we should admonish or warn those who stray (2 Th. 3:15).

      • We are not supposed to pray for sins that are deadly (will keep us out of Heaven), like the ones listed in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10… all sins are wrongdoing, but not all sins are deadly!

      • Tradition teaches that only some sins are deadly, but all sins are deadly (Rom. 6:23). There will be no sinners in heaven, not even venial sinners.

  7. Praise the Lord

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