I'm really trying to break this mold in my mind. Everywhere I look I see in the Scriptures a clear indication that salvation proceeds from a faith that is living and active. Only a faith that works is justified. Works never justify.
15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 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? 17 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, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. - Romans 6:15-19
This is one of those interesting verses that I came across. How is one to look at this? Paul without question affirms that we are not imputed righteousness because of works (Rom 3:20). But at the same time, people must then seek to reduce classic verse like Romans 2:13 to mere hypothetical. This is surely a misappropriation of Paul, even Jesus, and his view of the law. Fundamentally, Paul's argument is that the legalistic tendencies of the Jews never fulfilled the law. This is why the law could not save. It had to no power to accomplish the task while in our hands (Rom 8:3) They tried to earn righteousness through works of the law that never fulfilled the law (Rom 9:31-32). But I get sidetracked...
Let's return to the passage in Romans 6. What does Paul speak to here? We're to consider ourselves "dead to sin and alive to God" (Rom 6:11). How does that look? Paul says we who "once were slave" have become ... firm believers in God? holders to "the gospel"? rejectors of "the law"? No, he says "obedient from the heart." And this being obedient is followed up with the description of "being set free from sin."
Obedience does not free us from sin. But there is also no freedom from sin without obedience.