2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus
from the law of sin and death.
Few transitions from one Bible chapter to another offer such contrast as the shift from Romans 7 to 8. We have to go all the way back to Genesis 2 and 3 for anything like it. There the bliss of Adam and Eve walking with God shame-free in the Garden is shaken by mention of the serpent in the first verse of Genesis 3. The contrast now in front of us highlights the unfolding of the great drama of redemption from its awful beginning in rebellion to its amazing conclusion in glory. Jesus Christ, the Last Adam, has accomplished this great reversal of fortunes for those of us who trust in him.
Leaving the rhetorical “I” in the dust of chapter 7, Paul resumes his normal mode of discourse, favoring second- and third-person plurals. And he returns to familiar content as he builds on prior themes—redemption and righteousness in chapter 3, the means and blessings of justification in chapters 4 and 5, sanctification in chapter 6, and the “new way of the Spirit” prefaced in 7:6.
From this solid foundation, chapter 8, as Everett Harrison puts it, “begins with instruction, rises to consolation, and culminates in jubilation.” Paul’s new emphases are life, freedom, peace, sonship, love, and glory. The powers of sin and death give way to the power of the Holy Spirit. Indwelling sin has been dislodged by Christ and replaced by the indwelling Spirit.No condemnation
In 5:18, Paul contrasted the consequence of Adam’s trespass (condemnation for all men) with the fruit of Christ’s act of righteousness (justification and life for all men). Douglas Moo explains that condemnation “designates the state of ‘lostness,’ of estrangement from God that, apart from Christ, every person will experience for eternity.” The word includes both a pronouncement of guilt and a judgment of punishment, says Colin Kruse.
Paul doubles down on the “no condemnation” proclamation by repeating it later in the chapter. No one can bring a charge against or condemn those who are in Christ (8:33–34).The meaning of two more “laws”
In the last several verses of chapter 7, we saw Paul use “law” both in reference to the law of Moses and in a figurative sense to mean a principle or general rule of action. Which is the case now with the two references to the word in verse 2? We’ll take them in reverse order.
The law of sin and death. It would be natural to assume Paul has in mind the law of Moses because of its connection to sin and death. In 5:20–21, we saw that the Mosaic law had the effect of increasing people’s sin. Paul says elsewhere, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56). Also, immediately after this reference to “the law of sin and death,” Paul makes a clear reference to the Mosaic law in verse 3. But it seems impossible, as Harrison says, for Paul to use this phrasing to describe God’s holy law.
The same phrase, “the law of sin,” has a figurative sense in 7:23, where that law is a binding power holding the person captive. We may therefore conclude that Paul is referring back to 7:23 and making a contrast between the power of sin that imprisons people and the power of the Spirit in 8:2 that “has set you free.” Why the expanded phrase “the law of sin and death”? Moo suggests that Paul deliberately chose it “to summarize the total situation of the sinner as Paul has described it in chaps. 6 and 7: helpless under sin’s power, doomed thereby to death and condemnation.”
The law of the Spirit of life. Verses 1 and 2 introduce the chapter’s first section, which focuses on the Holy Spirit as the agent of life and liberty for God’s people. It makes sense that Paul would set forth the Spirit’s liberating power to overrule the binding power of sin and death. Believers have undergone a “realm transfer” (Moo’s phrase) from the old age to the new—from the dominion of sin and death to the more powerful reign of grace (see 5:20–21), and Paul now identifies the Spirit as the transferring agent.
So we see that the word “law” in both cases has the particular meaning of “binding authority” or “power” (Moo), “authority and control” (Cranfield), or “certainty and regularity of operation” (Harrison). Whereas the “power-principle” of sin condemns its prisoners to death row, the “power-principle” of the Spirit of life sets the prisoners free. This is true for all those “in Christ Jesus,” who redeemed us by his death.More on Paul’s use of “law”
When Paul uses “law” with these various shades of meaning, he does so for rhetorical effect. Moo observes that Paul only gives “law” the meaning of authority or power in contexts when he is also referring to the law of Moses. Paul then can make an intentional play on the word, with a sense of irony perhaps, to contrast the Mosaic law with a different principle, power, or authority. In such cases we should not read too much into the word. As Moo warns, we should not regard “the law of the Spirit” as “a new, Christian ethical standard that takes the place of the law of Moses.”