Paul highlighted the human struggle we experience. He knew that even those with God’s Spirit still had human nature and have to resist the selfish pulls of the flesh while seeking to obey God’s law. Paul summed up this struggle when he wrote: “I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:22-24, NLT).
He gives the answer in what immediately follows in verse 25: “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin” (Romans 7:25, NLT). Continuing on in chapter 8 he says: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:1-2, NLT).
All Christians will struggle with temptation and sin throughout their physical lifetimes. Although God’s Holy Spirit helps us resist the pulls of our selfish-oriented nature, that nature will continue to trend toward sin. We must always be vigilant and strive against the pull of our sinful, selfish desires. But Paul says here that when we sin, we need not fear that we are condemned by God, that there is no more justification and grace. His relationship with us is not broken unless or until we deliberately and irrevocably sever it.
This means that if we have repented and come under grace and then slip up and sin, we are still under grace and do not immediately return to being under the penalty of the law. Though continuing to struggle with committing sin as Paul did, we are not condemned with each new sin. Rather, as Paul says, there remains “no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (verse 1). With every sin and subsequent repentance a Christian does not repeatedly drift back and forth between being under death and under grace. We remain under grace, with “no condemnation,” as God still accepts Christ’s sacrifice as our atonement.
Yet Paul qualifies this in Romans 8 by explaining that this remains so only if we continue in the process of living according to the Holy Spirit in following God’s law. That means continuing to repent, confessing our sins to God (1 John 1:9), seeking forgiveness and restoration, and striving with God’s help to obey Him. Otherwise, through neglect leading to willful sin and rejection of God, we would return to being under the law’s penalty of death—spurning Christ’s sacrifice and insulting the Spirit of grace, from which there is no return to repentance (Hebrews 2:1-3; Hebrews 6:4-7; Hebrews 10:26-31; see also “Can Those God Has Forgiven Reject His Grace?”).
So it’s vital that we continue to repent and submit to God and the righteousness of His law. It’s in this way only that, as Paul said in Romans 6:14, “sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (see “You Are Not Under Law, but Under Grace”).
Continuing in Romans 8, Paul further explains the process whereby God’s grace of ongoing forgiveness and help through Christ empowers obedience and makes us free: “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:2-4, English Standard Version).
The “Spirit of life” works in us, giving us the strength to make steady growth in spiritual character and overcome sin. With Christ in us (Galatians 2:20), the one who condemned sin in the flesh through a perfect unblemished human life, we live a Spirit-led life. As we obey the law of God with the help of His Spirit, the “righteous requirement of the law” is fulfilled in us. Thus, Christ helps us live a life of faith according to the law and produce righteous works of faith.
This new life we live in the grace of God is shown by the fruits of righteous works. So then grace, God’s kindness and goodness toward us, motivates us to change and helps create the desire to receive the divine nature, the mind of God. Grace, then, is inseparable from law, and law is inseparable from grace. Both work to produce righteousness in a child of God, keeping us free from sin and death.