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. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. – Romans 8:1-7 ESV
Back in chapter three, Paul told us the sobering news that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20 ESV). No one can be made right with God through adherence to the law. Why? Because the law makes us aware of God’s holy requirements, then our sin natures cause us to break those very requirements. In chapter seven, Paul even shared his personal experience with attempting to keep the law. “I would not have known what is is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of coveting” (Romans 7:7-8 ESV). And while it is impossible for anyone to be justified in God’s eyes through their efforts to keep His law, Paul gave us the good news: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22 ESV). From chapter three all the way to chapter seven, Paul gives his defense of justification by faith, not by works. And then in chapter eight he starts off by saying, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Those who have placed their faith in Christ are justified because of their faith in Christ. They are made right with God and seen as righteous by God because of what Jesus has done on their behalf. By placing their faith in what Jesus has done for them, they are no longer placing their faith in what they can do for themselves. Faith has replaced works.
There is a new law at work in their lives. Paul describes it as “the law of the Spirit of life.” When we hear the word, “law” we tend to think in terms of restrictions and binding requirements that keep us from doing what we want to do. But the Greek word Paul uses is nómos and it has a much broader and more pleasant meaning behind it. According to Strong’s Concordance, it is derived from the Greek word “νέμω némō (to parcel out, especially food or grazing to animals); law (through the idea of prescriptive usage).” In other words, it is more prescriptive than restrictive. The Mosaic law had benefits. It gave directions for life and provided God’s prescribed way for living in unbroken fellowship with Him. In the 23rd Psalm, David describes this prescriptive nature of God’s law. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1-3 ESV). Through the law, God guided, directed, and protected His people. But the law was weakened by man’s flesh or sin nature. Man couldn’t follow willingly and obediently.
So when Paul speaks of “the law of the Spirit of life,” he is telling us that God has provided us with a new way to live in fellowship with Him. “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 8:3-4 ESV). The key is the last phrase in these verses. We are to walk according to the Spirit, not the flesh. We are to live our lives in obedience to and dependence upon the Spirit of God. He is the nómos or prescribed way God has provided for us so that we might live in fellowship with and obedience to Him. And Paul provides us with a vivid contrast of the choice that lies before us each and every day as God’s children. “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God” (Romans 8:5-8 NLT).
Our sinful nature is alive and active. But we are no longer slaves to it. We have been set free from its control. We now have the Spirit of God also living within us, providing us with direction for living a God-honoring life and the power to accomplish it. But we must choose to live under His control and not our own. We must submit to His leadership. We must desire what He desires and long for those things that He has determined as best for us. But in his letter to the Galatian believers, Paul reminds us of the constant battle going on within us. “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other…” (Galatians 5:17 NLT). If we try to please God through our flesh, we will fail. But if we live our lives in dependence upon the Spirit of God, His prescribed means of living a godly life, we will experience life, peace, joy, contentment, and the transformation of our lives into the likeness of Christ.