In moonshine country, a revenuer once asked a boy, “Son, will that path take me to your daddy’s still?” The boy answered, “Yes, but it won’t bring you back.” Life has some paths like that. They will take you to a dangerous place and not bring you back.
When God rejected Cain’s bloodless sacrifice, He knew that Cain was standing at the head of such a path. That’s why He said to him, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:1-7, N.K.J.V.). God was telling Cain that he was at a critical juncture. Cain’s next move would set the course for what remained of his life. Sadly, Cain chose badly and in a jealous rage killed his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8).
Cain then spent his remaining years as a vagabond (Genesis 4:12). Even though he was a skilled farmer, the earth stopped producing harvests for him (Genesis 4:11-12). Even though he married, fathered a son, and built a city (Genesis 4:16-17), he never got back into relationship or fellowship with God. Why not? He had gone down a path that wouldn’t bring him back.
The people of Israel anxiously awaited the report of the twelve spies they had sent to scout the land of Canaan. When the spies returned, they told tales of a lavishly abundant land that “flowed with milk and honey.” Even more than that, the spies brought proof of the land’s abundance in the form of pomegranates, figs, and a massive cluster of grapes (Numbers 13:1-27).
The report caused the people to get all fired up about claiming Canaan as their own, but that enthusiasm quickly died when the spies started talking about Canaan’s strong people, fortified cities, and race of giants (Numbers 13:28-33). At that point, the people said, “If only we had died in Egypt or in this wilderness!” Even when Caleb and Joshua, two men of great faith, tried to rouse them to go claim Canaan, they responded by making plans to stone those two optimists (Numbers 14:1-10) .
But God interrupted the stoning proceedings and, instead, gave His verdict of the situation to Moses. And what was that verdict? For the next forty years the people of Israel would wander in the wilderness, and over the course of those years, every Israelite twenty years old or older would die. The only two exceptions would be Caleb and Joshua. Consequently, when the wandering and dying off was all said and done, God would give Canaan to Israel’s younger generation (Numbers 14:11-38). Wow, what happened there? Those Israelites went down a path that wouldn’t bring them back.
In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul reached far back into the history of the human race and talked about the world’s very first idolaters. Creation itself gave these people ample evidence that there was a Creator God who should be worshipped (Romans 1:20), but these people took their knowledge of God and corrupted it. Rather than worship the true and living God, they changed the glory of God into inglorious idols of birds, animals, and creeping things and worshiped them (Romans 1:21-23).
And how did God respond to these idolaters? He “gave them up” (“gave them over”) to uncleanness. That means that He let them run wild with their sins. As a result, the people started committing all kinds of sins on an even grander scale than they had been committing them. Some of the sins were downright perverse as the idolaters sexually dishonored their bodies in ways that went against nature. This, you see, was the origin of homosexuality and lesbianism (Romans 1:24-27). Furthermore, God didn’t just give the idolaters over to debased bodies; He also gave them up to debased minds, minds that constantly planned and schemed to commit all kinds of ungodly deeds (Romans 1:28-32). Basically, God said, “Okay, if you don’t want to worship Me, then go find out for yourselves just how godless, wicked, and perverse you can get.”
What those first idolaters didn’t realize was that they were starting down a path that wouldn’t lead them back. Instead of forcing them to return to their knowledge and worship of Him, God took all restraint of conscience or the Holy Spirit’s conviction off them and watched as they plunged deeper and deeper into the dark depths of sin. What started with a rejection of Him and an embracing of idols ended with a cornucopia of sins that included everything from sexual perversity to being disobedient to parents.
Obviously, when God gives you over to yourself to commit all the sins you want to commit, you are in a bad way (even if you don’t realize it). You might live for years after the giving over, but you won’t ever make any changes for the better. To the contrary, your heart will grow increasingly harder toward the things of God and you will become more settled in your rebellion and probably more “hardcore” in your sins.
And it isn’t just lost people who can go down paths that won’t lead them back. As scriptural evidence of this, let’s recall something the apostle John said. In 1 John 5:16-17, he writes: “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask (pray), and He (God) will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that“(N.K.J.V., emphasis mine).
So, what is the sin that leads to death in the life of the Christian? It can be one of two kinds of sins. First, it can be a singular sin that causes God to more or less strike the person dead. That’s what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, two Christians in the early church at Jerusalem (Acts 5:1-11). It’s also what happened to some of the Christians in the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:27-30).
Second, the sin that leads to death for the Christian can be the singular act that climaxes days, weeks, months, years, or decades of playing the rebellious child, never fully coming under the lordship of Christ, and living as you please. As such, it is that moment when your heavenly Father looks down from heaven and says, “You are eternally My child and I love you, but you are never going to change as long as you are on the earth, and I’m tired of watching you bring shame to the family name.” In this way, the sin that leads to death is the final period on the earthly life of a Christian who pushes God too far.
Referring again to my opening illustration, I am not writing this post to people (Christians or non-Christians) who are right now walking paths that won’t lead them back. Frankly, these people have already passed the point where they can be helped. Instead, I’m writing this to anyone who is currently standing at the entrance to such a path. You are Cain before he killed Abel. You are those Israelite adults before they refused to conquer Canaan and instead tried to stone Caleb and Joshua. You are those idolaters before they made their first idols. And I’m saying to you, “Don’t go down that path you are considering. Change your direction while there is still time. Submit yourself fully to the Lord while there is hope for you, and let Him lead you into the blessings of a life lived for Him.”