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Sin and Death…and Grace
1 John 5:16-17
August 17, 2014

I was listening to a couple of interviews of some pastors and counselors recently and the interviewer asked two different panels a question that I have asked others a great many times: “what do you think is the greatest need or problem in the church today?” There are many different answers that have been offered to that question, but as I thought about it again, I was reminded of how G. K. Chesterton responded in a similar situation. One morning he opened his newspaper to find an editorial that posed the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” Having an opinion, Chesterton penned this response:

Dear Sirs:

I am.

Sincerely yours,

G. K. Chesterton

With that brief response, he summarized well the reality of his own sinful condition and its influence on the world around him. We are all sinners, and there are implications of that sin on others. But there are also implications of that sin for us as well. Paul says in Romans that the wages of sin is death. So, since we are sinners, we die. That’s what we deserve. But having believed in the gospel of Christ, we now we have been freed from the condemnation of death. And then we read stories like the one of Ananias and Sapphira and John’s words in 1 John that there is a “sin unto death,” and we wonder again about our sin and God’s judgment and whether we have any hope.

Over the months we have been studying 1 John, I have said repeatedly that this book is not difficult to understand — the reason most people struggle with this book is that its meaning is “too plain” — we understand very well what it means and the implications are troubling to us (because we are living differently than the standard we’ve been called to by Christ).

This morning we are considering the one portion of this book that is the exception to the rule. Verses 16-17 in chapter five are without question the most debated and difficult to understand. I’ve come up with a list of 10 questions that need to be answered before these verses can be properly understood (and I’m not sure I’ve asked all the questions that need answering, either). And many good men have disagreed over the answers to those questions and the interpretation of these verses; in fact, this week I changed my interpretation of these verses, though many of the implications are still the same.

These verses are essentially about three things: prayer, sin, and death. And then over those three items is the grace of God. So I’ve summarized the verse this way:

God answers the prayers of believers — including intercessory prayers for sinners.

  1. Questions That Need Answering
  • What is the meaning of “brother?”
  • What is the meaning of “life” and “death?”
  • What does “committing a sin” mean?
  • What is the relationship between these verses and vv. 14-15?
  1. A Summary Meaning of these Verses
  2. Implications of This Passage for Both Sinners and Petitioners
  • When we see people sinning, we must go and we must pray
  • Every sin is serious
  • Confession and forgiveness is available for every sin
  • If you are not a believer in Jesus Christ (or if your pattern of ongoing sin suggests you are not in Jesus Christ), you are in a precarious place
  • The believer can remain confident of his salvation and security

Download the rest of this sermon on 1 John 5:16-17.

The audio will be posted on the GBC website later today.