In Romans 5 Paul has concluded that those who are in Christ are declared righteous by the faithful act of Jesus, the second Adam. Although the Law caused sin to increase, those who are in Christ experience an abundance of grace in Christ Jesus. We are freed from the power of sin and death, and are free from the law which brought death (5:20-21). Richard Longenecker argues structures Romans 6:1-7:13 is structured around three potential objections to Paul’s argument so far (Longenecker, Romans, 604-5).
First, if we are in fact saved by grace without obedience to ritual or law, then why should we not “sin that grace may abound”? This appears to have been a problem for Paul since he addresses in in several of his letters. Paul did not teach his followers they were free from all moral restraint. In fact, Paul will include several chapters in Romans on what the Christian life ought to look like. Although someone might accuse Paul’s followers of living as though they had no moral boundaries, this was not the point of his Gospel.
Second, can Christians do things formerly considered “sin” because they are no longer under the law? A Gentile Christian may have thought that since they were free from the Law, they could behave in ways that violate the Law and not consider that behavior a sin. By way of analogy, if a person travels to another country. Some practices might be legal that were illegal in their home country. It would not be illegal for an American teenager to drink alcohol in Germany because the legal drinking age is sixteen. But if the same teenager was in Michigan, they would be breaking the law since the drinking age is 21. Perhaps there are some things the Jewish Law considered sin that are now, in the present age, no longer sinful. Paul argues that one of the functions of the Law was to make sin so clear that the need for salvation is obvious.
Third, if this is the case, someone might object that the Law itself is sin since it causes people to sin. If I make a rule that causes people to sin, am I not responsible for their sin? Paul treats this objection in 7:7-13 by anticipating his conclusion in chapter 8; those who are in Christ are in fact free from the law so that we can serve in the new way of the Spirit.
The natural inclination of most people is to abuse freedom. Think of those “pay what you want” snack boxes at work. At least in my experience, even in Christian organizations they always come up short. This seems to be another problem which cropped up for Paul regularly, especially when former pagan Gentiles became part of the church. Some behaviors in the Roman world were out of step with the ethical mandates of Judaism, so Paul’s gospel could be taken as a “license to sin.”
How do these potential objections to Paul’s Gospel of grace come up in contemporary discussions of what it means to be a Christian?