What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. Romans 6:15–18 ESV
The apostle Paul is unmistakably clear in his treatment of sin in Romans chapter 6. He says in a variety of ways that there is no place for intentional sin in a believer’s life. One of his arguments is seen in the passage above. Now that we don’t have to worry about fulfilling the law, does grace give us permission to excuse our intentional sinning, saying “I can’t help it.”? Absolutely not. In fact, it is grace that makes life without intentional sin possible.
He says that one of the problems with sin is that it is addictive; give it place and it will gain control of you and draw you back into its coils and chains and make you unable to live the life of Jesus Christ. If you continue in sin, he says, the lordship of your life will belong to the enemy and not to Jesus Christ. You can no more be partially sinful – we’re talking about intentional sin here – than you can be partially pregnant. Who rules your life? It is the master whose command you cannot help but obey. But “God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart the form of the doctrine to which you were delivered and having been set free from sin, you became slaves to righteousness” (Rom 6:18). Notice that he does not say “set free from sin’s condemnation” or “sin’s guilt,” but “from sin.”
But someone says, “Then what about chapter 7? Surely Paul is saying there that he is unable to stop sinning.” While opinions about this differ, it doesn’t make sense to me that Paul would directly contradict himself from one chapter to the next. So if he is not contradicting chapter 6 with what he says in chapter 7, what is he saying? I think he is speaking out of his experience as a Jew before his conversion, addressing a possible response of some persons to chapter 6. They would be saying, “Oh, ok, Paul, you have convinced me. I need to quit sinning and I will just go ahead and do that.” To such an idea Paul is saying, “Oh no, that won’t work. I tried for years to stop sinning, and could not do it.” In other words, he is setting us up for chapter 8. Yes, we must stop sinning (chap. 6); but we can’t do it on our own (chap. 7); we can only do it by letting the Holy Spirit loose in our lives (chap. 8).