From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 2 – A closer look at how God develops us as disciples
Apostle John also addresses this theme in his first letter. He is discussing the different levels and types of sins that a believer might commit and how other believers ought to respond to that believer’s sins. Because this is such an important and difficult issue, let us look at John’s words in the New American Standard Bible. That translation is particularly accurate, and thus more suitable to use when one is dealing with highly controversial passages:
16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.1 John 5:16-17 (NASB)
Apostle John is referring to fellow believers who commit the ordinary, day to day, sins that we all commit, even if we are seeking to do God’s will and are maturing as disciples. For such fellow believers he says we are to pray, so that they cease sinning. That is because those sins are “not leading to death”. However, there are other sins which do lead to death.
For such grave sins John instructs us that it is not always the right thing to pray for that person. That is because sin of that high level of seriousness may make it necessary for God to bring forward that believer’s death. In other words, God may choose to remove them from this life and take them home early, so as to prevent them causing further harm to themselves or others.
This is a very complex and difficult area. Therefore we would need to think long and hard, and be very sure of our ground, before we ever come to the conclusion that a particular believer has gone so far into sin, and of such a grave nature, that God might intend to end their lives early. Nevertheless, I have briefly flagged the issue, because the Bible indicates that such situations can arise, and perhaps more often than we realise. Knowing that that is a possibility, however remote, should cause us all to fear the LORD more deeply and to take care how we live.
Please refer to chapters 21 and 22 of Book One of this series for a much fuller discussion of whether, and how, a real Christian might be able to fall away and end up being eternally lost. However, for present purposes, let it suffice to say that we all need to have a genuine fear of God and to be in awe of Him. That includes having a very real fear of the consequences of drifting away from Him. In the context of all that, it makes sense as to why God ending the life of a believer prematurely can rightly be seen as a mercy, i.e. to prevent him from falling away completely and losing his salvation.