It is of the greatest importance for theology and ministry to grasp correctly that Paul is not making ethical exhortation in Romans 6-8. It is of great importance for pastoral dealings with Christian persons in their awareness of their moral failures. For it is an operation of opinio legis that makes people use such phrases as “a good Christian” and “live out your faith” in such a way as to engender the false hope of being able to fulfill works of the Law in current behavior. Such false hope can lead to doubt or despair in believers who are weak both in morality and in faith. It is from the devil himself that come thoughts such as “I must not be a very good Christian if I behave (or even think, or feel) in such and such a way.”
To expect that the baptized Christian will be continually growing less and less susceptible to sin is to fall into a grave trap. It is a sad fact that each child of Adam, even the baptized believer, continually recapitulates and confirms the fall into sin.
So what to do about it? Some Christian groups fell constrained to draw a line around themselves, based on outward manifestation of piety, to demarcate between the holy (or, at least, the “more nearly holy”) and the not so holy, between the “good” (“genuine,” “committed,” “reborn,”) Christians and the “bad” (so-called, delinquent, or “nominal”) Christians. When confronted with their moral shortcomings, these (self-proclaimed) holier Christians tend to say something like “God knows we can’t be perfect, and so he has to accept our best efforts, even if they are imperfect.” Such thinking is still in the realm of the Law.
But in the realm of Law, God expects doers of the Law, not try-ers. He will not wink the eye at sin. Those who hold that the mark of the Christians is that they try their best to behave rightly have put themselves under Law and in an impossible position. All holier-than-thou types who separate themselves (as “the godly”) from the ungodly forget that the God of the Gospel is the God who justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5).
But for the ungodly, who have nothing of which to boast and whose experience is all struggle (and mostly a losing struggle) with Sin, the message of Paul brings great comfort. “That’s the way it is,” Paul says, “between baptism and deliverance. Your sanctification, which God is seeing to, has begun with Christ’s death and your baptism. It continues every present moment as you live in the Holy Christian Church in which God daily and richly forgives sins. And it culminates in your deliverance from the old aeon, in the death of the body of sinful flesh and in the purging of indwelling sin and its corrupting power. This brings the resurrection of the body – a spiritual body – and the life everlasting.”
All of this is life “according to the Spirit,” life which has already begun and, as such, makes a foundation for hope.
Jonathan Grothe, “The Justification of the Ungodly”, Volume 1, pages 399-401