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Confidence in Christ and the Sin Unto Death - When Should a Believer Not Pray?


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John’s instructions in 1 John 5:13-21 represent several well-known issues in New Testament studies. Writing on this passage could well feel like entering into an already raging battle. Opinions on this passage are almost as numerous as the authors who write about 1 John. About the only non-controversial aspect of these 9 verses involves the issue of confidence for Christians. The issue of assurance or confidence in knowing about eternal life (and other related issues) is a constant theme in 1 John. John consistently emphasizes the reality of salvation as coming through only one source—the incarnate Jesus, God in the flesh. This relationship with the incarnate God creates confidence in the life of the believer to the degree that he or she has a reasonable expectation that God will hear and respond to the believer’s prayers. In chapter 5:13-21, however, John seems to raise an issue with this view by discussing a situation in which believers may not pray for others—when those others have committed the “sin unto death.” John’s exclusive gospel seems challenged here if John is asking believers to avoid praying for other believers who have committed the “sin unto death.” A consideration of the context of John’s brief epistle may yield clues to understanding this topic in a way that keeps confidence intact while challenging the attitudes and actions of the false teachers mentioned in 1 John. In fact, a close look at sections of 1 John 3 may well yield the exegetical clue for readers to better understand the controversial issues raised in 1 John 5. To accomplish this goal, a brief overview of John’s letter will be given, some major themes will be delineated, and a comparison between the language and thought of chapters 3 and 5 will be offered. Then, with that information in hand, an interpretation of 1 John 5:13-21 will be attempted with special attention to the issues of confidence, prayer, and sin. An overview of John’s letter will provide context for these later discussions.