It’s unfortunate that terms like “eternal life” and “death” have come to refer exclusively, for many Christians, to what happens after we die. There is no question that life continues beyond the grave, but while the Scriptures do address life after death, they are far more concerned with the life we live this side of the grave.
The phrase “eternal life” can also be translated as “life of the ages” which refers to the age of God’s Reign, God’s new order for the world. Eternal life is not something we
experience only after we die. It’s available to us now. And “death” doesn’t only happen when our bodies stop working. Many people are physically alive, but essentially dead, with no real life in them at all. I believe this is what the writer of this letter means when he speaks about the “sin that leads to death”.
Some things that we do may hurt others or us, but they don’t have a lasting impact on our lives or our world. We quickly learn to change how we live, and we move on. These sins do not lead us to death, but, in a way, actually lead us deeper into life, because they show us what needs to be changed in our lives. There are, however, other things we may do that leave a lasting negative effect on our lives and the lives of those around us. These sins are deeply destructive, very difficult to overcome, and almost impossible to change once we’ve allowed them to get hold of us.
They lead us to the living death of those whose lives are forever broken. John’s teaching could seem to give us license to judge those who sin in ways that “lead to death”, but I don’t believe that is John’s intention. Rather, he simply seeks to make us aware that some actions leave irreparable scars, which require far more than just a few words of spoken prayer to overcome them. But, thankfully, in Christ there is always hope!
Today, ensure that your sin does not lead you into lasting brokenness by acknowledging it, confessing it, and asking for God’s Spirit to help you change it.
Confession is not an “empty ritual”. It is a helpful and healing practice that teaches us to be aware of our own brokenness and sin, and helps us to find ways to overcome our worst selves. Today, whenever you become aware of harboring attitudes, thoughts, actions or words that do harm, confess them, receive God’s forgiveness, and allow God’s Spirit to convict and change you.
Gracious God, I confess my sin to you, and thankfully receive your forgiveness and the strength to change.