There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:1-4 ESV
There are few human conditions worse than slavery. But imagine the lot of an individual who was born a slave, but is totally ignorant of their circumstance. They are oblivious to their condition and know of nothing different or better. Their life is completely controlled by an outside force over which they have no power to refuse or escape. Yet as sad as we may feel for someone faced with that unenviable circumstance, it is exactly the state of every individual who does not know Jesus Christ as their Savior. Paul tells us that they are slaves to the law of sin and death, and most of them don’t even realize it. And such was the sorry condition of each of us who have been set free in Christ. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul states, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV). We were at one time slaves to sin, totally ignorant of our condition, and yet totally incapable of doing anything about it. But we were set free in Christ Jesus by the law of the Spirit of life.
What is Paul telling us in these verses? What exactly is the law of the Spirit of life? Paul provides us with insight back in chapter seven. “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:5-6 ESV). At one time, we were held accountable to God’s law. It was up to us to live righteous lives in keeping with God’s commands. But because of our sinful natures, we were incapable of pulling it off. The law said, “Don’t!” and our sinful nature said, “Do!” Paul gave his own personal testimony regarding this inward battle between the law and the flesh. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19 ESV). This conflicted condition caused Paul to cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24 ESV). But he answers his own question. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:25 ESV).
It is the Spirit of life who provides us with the power to live righteously, in spite of our indwelling sin nature. It is the Spirit who provides us with the capacity to live a life like that of Christ. While before we knew Christ we were slaves to sin and all our best efforts were like dirty, polluted rags (Isaiah 64:6) in the eyes of God, NOW we have the Spirit living within us, empowering us to live righteously and holy. He is the Spirit of life and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17). The Spirit brings us life, but the life He brings is Christ. The Spirit is the means by which we experience the life of Christ. When Paul refers to the law of the Spirit of life in Christ, he is not talking about a set of rules and regulations to keep, but a regulative principle to live by. We must realize that our ability to live as Christ lived, to obey as He did, and to love like He loved, is only possible through this principle of the indwelling power of the Spirit of God. Our new life in Christ is only possible when we submit to and live in keeping with the Spirit of God within us. We have to recognize our incapacity to live a Christ-like life and humbly submit to the Spirit’s control. Paul puts it succinctly and simply: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25 ESV). It is the Spirit who makes it possible for us to live out our salvation in daily life, exhibiting Christ-like fruit and modeling Christ-like behavior. The original law could point out sin, but couldn’t cast out sin. It could set the standard of God’s righteous requirements, but couldn’t do anything to help man live up to those standards. But the Holy Spirit makes righteous living possible. We have within us a new law, a new regulative principle. We are to live by the Spirit. We are to live under the control of the Spirit. We are to live according to the power of the Spirit, not according to the flesh. Which is why Paul tells us, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18 ESV).