1 John 5:13-17 (ESV)
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.  And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.  All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
“There is sin that leads to death…All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.” It is true that the distinction between venial sin and deadly sins was and is abused. Probably the biggest problem being the downplaying of sin in general, and making it such as to think there were some sins that didn’t deserve hell, or need to really be repented of. Such thinking is not helpful except to promote self-righteousness. Yet I think we are a bit foolish not to see that there are distinctions to be made among sins. Some of these distinctions are more helpful than others. It was an enlightening passage in “The Doctrine of Man in Classical Lutheran Theology” where Chemnitz listed all the many ways that sins can be distinguished. I am looking forward to blogging on that as I blog my way through that book.
Sins that lead to death, I often wonder what sins in particular John had in mind here. “Big ones” come to mind. It seems to me that some sins destroy one’s life in the here and now, taking over and causing a ripple effect through home, family and society. Some sins are almost not even perceived, rudeness, arrogance, and the opposite of arrogance, low self esteem, or perhaps despair. Luther in his explanation of the Lord’s Prayer and “Lead us not into Temptation” hits the nail on the head here. “God tempts no one but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the Devil, the world and our sinful nature would not mislead us into false belief, despair and other great shame and vice.” At the top of the list of sins that lead to death is false belief. And of course that is what John has been harping on throughout this book. False doctrine leads to false belief. False doctrine is always at its heart legalism, and legalism should lead to despair, that is if you are lucky. Despair is easier to work with than arrogance or self-righteousness. If you are so delusional as to think you have earned heaven there is not a whole lot that can be done for you. But despair is a vice, it is a great shame. Despair is a well spring of great shame and vice. And why should one despair when Christ died on the cross for their sins? Why? God forgives therefore there should be no despair.
Of course there is despair. It is despair that makes one put on the mask of self-righteousness. It is despair that leads us to find solace in all manner of vice and shame. Vice and shame that hold us captive. Some sins are so addictive that they have the habit of pulling us away from God. They lead to death. They need to be repented of and forgiven. It is the only way to deal with sin. All sin will kill in the end if it is not forgiven. That is the problem with false doctrine. It turns one away from forgiveness.