Verses 14 – 17: Faith Enables Prayer
“14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 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.
16 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. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death” (v. 14-17 ESV).
Faith enables confidence as previously discussed. The gift of confidence the believer has leads directly into the boldness (παρρησία) that the believer may have in bringing concerns directly to God. In short, faith enables prayer. Returning to the idea of approaching God in prayer (cf. 3:21-22), John uses language meaning boldness, confidence, and with courage when speaking of bringing prayers directly to God. This boldness should be a natural result of the assurance of eternal life believers receive when they come to saving faith in Christ. It is important not to overlook the second half of verse 14 where John states that the things believers ask should be according to the will of God. This is not a new idea for Christians as we see in the Lord’s Prayer we are to seek the will of God in our prayers (Matt. 6:10).
John again repeats the idea from verse 13 in verse 15, that Christians who have (ἔχετε), or already possess, the things which they have asked the father to grant them according to His will. God wants His children to have those things they needs according to His will yet an active prayer life is essential. These are prayers that have already been answered though the results of these answered prayers may not be perceptible to the Christian making the request. The point is that God’s children know their prayers have been answered.
John then illustrates this point in verses 16 – 17 by addressing intercessory prayer. John tells his readers that they are to pray for a brother who is committing a sin that does not lead to death. It is likely that John’s original audience knew full well the difference between sins that lead to death and sins that do not. It is this difference that limits the efficacy of prayers offered for one committing sin unto death.
Of course, for the modern reader reaching a place where one may say they possess the same understanding is challenging if not impossible. Even with this challenge, it is the view of this seminarian that John is referring to a sin that can be observed by the Christian community. If this were not so, there would be no reason to distinguish between the two types of sin. To determine what the sin unto death may be, another review of the context of the epistle may be helpful. John was writing against false teaching in the church (cf. 2:19, 26; 3:7) to a group who had endured what may have been a painful split in their congregation. These false teachers had left the church but their influence was still being felt thus the necessity of John’s letter.
All sin is serious business but the sin of unbelief leads to spiritual ruin. John wanted to be certain his readers knew the importance of an active prayer life. With all that these believers had been through, they should boldly take their concerns directly to the Father and make their requests according to His will for their lives. It is also important to pray for each other though offering prayers for those who are trapped in their unbelief may not be answered.
 Plummer, A. The Epistles of S. John, With Notes, Introduction, and Appendices, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1896), 166.
 Akin, Daniel L. The New American Commentary, Volume 38 1, 2, 3 John, electronic ed, Logos Library System. (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 208.