Summary: What is the Law of the Spirit and the law of sin and death, or are they the same thing, the answer will surprise you.
What is “the law of the Spirit of life” spoken about by Paul in Romans 8:2?
Romans 8:1-4 builds on what Paul discussed in the previous chapters, particularly the connection between the law, sin, and death. Romans 8:1-4 seems specifically to develop Romans 7:6, where the two ideas present in our passage are found: freedom from the law, sin, and death, and a new life in Christ (cf. Rom. 6:1-14).
1. Organization of Romans 8:1-4
Paul begins the discussion with a summary statement (verse 1) that is developed in the following verses. The primary emphasis will be on the lives of believers. Paul combines liberation through the “law of the Spirit of life” with the death of Jesus (verse 2). He literally says: “The law of the Spirit of life [the source of a new life] in/through Christ Jesus liberated you [singular; i.e. “the believer”] from the law of sin and of death.” What Christ did changes the lives of believers. This was necessary, for there was something the law could not do, but that was accomplished through Christ (verse 3). Paul explains both of these concepts to clarify the meaning of “the law of the Spirit of life liberated me from the law of sin and death.”
2. The Statement
“There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (verse 1). The “now” indicates that the new has arrived, resolving the problem of the condemnation of the law associated by Paul with the trespass of Adam (Rom. 5:12, 17). Adam’s fall constituted humanity into an indistinguishable mass of sinners destined to death; but Christ came with liberating power. Those who are in Christ are free from the condemnation of death into new life. Paul explains how this happens.
3. The Law of the Spirit
In verse 2 Paul explains verse 1: “Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life . . . [set me free] from the law of sin and death” (NIV). These two laws happen to be the same law viewed from two different perspectives: The law under the flesh leads to death, while the same law, under the power of the Spirit, leads to a new life. Christ delivers us from the cosmic powers of sin and death (justification), and the Spirit delivers us from the enslaving power of sin in our daily lives (sanctification). According to Paul, the law of God has been misused by sin, resulting in condemnation and death (Rom. 7:7-12). Humans misused it by seeking God’s acceptance through the works of the law, that is, “the law of sin and death.” The “law of the Spirit of life” is the same law connected to the Spirit, not to the flesh. There is a proper place for God’s law in the Christian life.
4. Law, Christ, and the Spirit
The problem, says Paul, was not the law itself but the weakness of the “flesh” (Rom. 8:3). Confronted with sin and death, the law was powerless because the flesh is hostile to God and cannot “submit to God’s law” (verse 7, NIV). The solution is the sacrificial death of the Son of God, who condemned sin in the flesh, liberating us from the condemnation of the law (verse 3), and enabling us to live in obedience to God’s will through the Spirit. Now the law is restored to its proper place and called “the law of the Spirit of life.” Christ died for us “in order that the righteous requirement of the law [the law of the Spirit of life] might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the [sinful nature] [seeking acceptance from God through the works of the law] but according to the Spirit” (verse 4, NIV). The weakness of the flesh is overcome, and the Spirit enables us to obey the righteous requirements of God’s law.