In Romans 8:2, Paul draws a sharp contrast between the law of the Spirit of life and the law of sin and death with this statement: “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” This serves as a powerful testament to the action God has taken on behalf of those who place their faith in Christ.
The law of sin and death refers to a principle found in Scripture that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The law of sin and death is not a reference to the Mosaic Law, but it is linked to it. The law revealed God’s standard, our shortcomings, the consequences of falling short, and even our innate proclivity to reject God and defy His standard. The law of sin counters the Law of God on every point, and it leads to death.
The New Living Translation aptly describes this law as the “power of sin that leads to death” due to the authoritative grip this principle exerts over us. When Adam and Eve rebelled against God, their action tainted their nature, instilling in them a tendency to reject God. We all inherit this inclination, which explains why it’s effortless for a young child to disobey, while obedience must be learned over time. The more we succumb to our rebellious tendency, the more ensnared we become by sin, and its consequences grow.
In contrast to the law of sin and death, the law of the Spirit of life represents a reversal of the wages of sin. Just as sin leads to death, the Spirit gives life. Much like how God breathed life into Adam, He infuses new life into the regenerated soul (Genesis 2:7; Titus 3:5–6). This is tied to God’s grace, as revealed in the gospel. The sole means to break free from the cycle of sin and death is to embrace the new cycle of Spirit and life by putting faith in Jesus Christ and living to please the Spirit, rather than acquiescing to our sinful nature.
The new life ushered in by the Spirit, which severs the hold of sin, is the very reason why we cannot persist in sin. While achieving sinless perfection is impossible in this earthly existence, the one bound to Christ died to sin when Christ died, and he arose to a new life as Christ did. He is now devoted to the Father (Romans 6:1–11).
The fact that we are under the law of the Spirit of life shows that we are still under a law—the law of Christ (see Galatians 6:2 and 1 Corinthians 9:21). We are not called to lawlessness, and no believer can rightly be said to be totally free from all law. The law of Christ is to love God with all our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:32–33).
Freed by the Spirit from the clutches of sin, we bear no obligation to yield to our sinful desires (Romans 8:12). Instead, we are guided by the Spirit and should be preoccupied with what pleases Him (Romans 8:5–6). Drawing from Romans 12, we gain a tangible glimpse of what a Spirit-led life looks like, beginning with complete devotion to God as a “living sacrifice” (verse 1). As we live to please the Spirit, we witness the emergence of godly character, which Scripture calls the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). Walking in the Spirit, free from the law of sin and death, leads to life.