CLAIM: Some interpreters argue that Christians with these sins will not be forgiven, and they will not go to heaven. Is this the case?
RESPONSE: A number of observations can be made:
First, Paul cannot be saying that Christians do not struggle with sin. In verse 17, he writes, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” Moreover, in Romans 7:14ff, Paul describes his own personal struggle with sin. Therefore, Paul cannot be saying that Christians do not struggle with sin.
Second, Paul could be arguing that he doesn’t believe that people who live like this are truly believers. If someone was engaging in these things, we would probably wonder if these people really were ever Christians in the first place. In other words, those without an identity in Christ live this way. In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul writes, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail the test?” If someone is in a habitual lifestyle of sin, it is an appropriate question if they are even a believer. However, here, the command is not for us to question this. It is for them to ask themselves. This must mean that we shouldn’t be preoccupied with harassing people in this respect.
Third, Paul is not describing Law, rather he is describing the outworking of the flesh. These are not laws being described here. Instead, Paul is stating what results from a person who is in the flesh. When we are living outside of our new identity in Christ, this is what results.