I John 5:13–21. Chiefly On Prayer. Results Guaranteed.

Key Notes: Freedom of speech. Conditions of prayer. Sin that is mortal is not necessarily damning.

This passage amplifies a passage on prayer that we read previously. "Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence ("freedom of speech") before God; and we receive from Him whatever we ask, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him." (3:21–22)

5:14–17. "And this is the confidence (the freedom of speech) which we have in 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 obtained the requests made of Him. If anyone sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing (Gr. adikia; unrighteousness) is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal."


"Confidence" is mentioned four times in I John: twice in prayer, as quoted above, and twice with respect to Christ's Second Coming. We have freedom of speech in prayer and therefore we will have confidence at His Appearance.
"...abide in Him. so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His Coming." (2:28)
"In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the Day of Judgment, because as He is so are we in this world." (4:17)

Conditions of prayer are given here and in the Gospels.
"...and we receive from Him whatever we ask, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him." (I Jn.3:22)
"...that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us." (I Jn. 5:14)
"Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." (Matt.6:8)
"Ask and it will be given to you...." (Matt.7:7)
"And whatever you ask in prayer you will receive if you have faith." (Matt.21:22)

"Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." (John 14:13)
"If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will and it shall be done for you." (John 15:7)
" ...so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you." (John 15:16)
"If you ask anything of the Father, He will give it to you in my name. Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask and you will receive that your joy may be full."(John 16:23–4)

The conditions for prayer are
•having faith,
•asking in Jesus' name,
•abiding in Christ,
•living in obedience and in His good pleasure,
•asking according to His will.

Within these constraints, answered prayer is assured. God loves to give good things to His children. "...if you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him." (Lk.11:13)

A strange limitation on prayer is given in I Jn.5:16 "There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that." There is one thing we are not to pray for: mortal sin. The problem is that we are not told what John means by mortal sin. We must go to other sources for information about what not to pray for.

In the Old Testament sinning with a high hand could not be atoned for.
"But the person who does anything with a high hand...that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him." (Num.15:30–31).
Jeremiah and Ezekiel were told not to pray for Israel, which was finally doomed to destruction and exile for their sins. "Do not pray for this people or lift up cry or prayer for them...." (Jer.7:16)
"Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel and Job were in it (the Land), they would deliver only their own lives by their righteousness." (Ezek.14:14)
In the OT unforgivable sin was open rebellion against God, the sin of final hardening.

In the New Testament, Jesus spoke of the unforgivable sin. "...All sins will be forgiven the sons of men and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin '--for they had said 'He has an unclean spirit'". (Mk.3:28–30)
 Matt.12:32 gives further clarification. "And whoever says a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."
The unforgivable sin in the NT is attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan.

Death came upon NT believers who sinned grievously.
Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit. Acts 5:1–11
Some Christians who desecrated the Lord's Supper were sick or died. ICor.11:30
But this did not imply that believers had lost their salvation. Paul says "...deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord Jesus." (ICor.5:5)

In IJn.5:16 "a brother" is involved, which means a Christian friend. To "give life" usually means spiritual life, but here it may mean physical life for a sin that is "thanaton"--that causes death.

The simplest interpretation is that "mortal sin" was the kind Ananias and Sapphira committed. If blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was the "mortal sin", a "brother" would not be involved; a believer would not do such a thing. If God means to judge a believer with physical death, we should not intervene. John Stott believes the "brother" is an apostate and therefore prayer is not approprate. (The Epistles of John. J. Stott. Tyndale Press, London,’64; p.186–190).

"There is sin that is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that" (5:16).The sentence serves to chill us, and the context adds "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." (5:21). But the context also reassures: "We know that anyone born of God does not continually sin, but the one who was born of God keeps him safe the Evil One cannot harm him." (5:18) I think the clear intent is for us to steer away from sin.

Sometimes our prayers are facilitated; we are confident that we are in the will of God; the answer is prompt. We pray in desperation for personal danger, for lost articles, and receive answers that relieve our anxiety; we are saved repeatedly. Christians are sometimes prompted to pray for a person at a distance, with relief for us and rescue for the endangered one. Prayer for my rebellious colleagues, on the other hand, is unanswered after 30+ years. Perhaps they are terminally hardened, but prayer continues.

Increasingly, my prayers are for light and direction rather than telling God my preferences.
     "What do you want me to do now?"
     "Help me to understand".
     "Show me the way."

"But the path of the righteous is like the light, the dawn, which shines brighter and brighter unto the full day." (Prov.4:18)