What is the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2)?

In Romans 8:1–2, the apostle Paul says: "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." In reading these verses, it's apparent that there are two different types of law that Paul is talking about—the "law of the Spirit of life" and the "law of sin and death." Since he says that the "law of the Spirit of life" sets us free from the "law of sin and death," we can gather that it is better to be under the law of the Spirit, but what does this all mean?

We have to first look back to Romans 7 in order to understand the difference. The law of the Spirit refers to the good news of the gospel and the new life of faith in Christ that we can live through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. When Paul references the law of sin and death, He is talking about the Old Testament Law of God. The Law itself is "holy and righteous and good" (Romans 7:12). Once sin was defined when the Law was given, it stirred up the natural human tendency toward rebellious behavior. The reason Paul calls it the law of sin and death is because under the Old Testament Law, the sure result of the Law is sin and the only just end for any one of us would be death; it is impossible for us to keep the Law perfectly (Romans 7:10–11; cf. Romans 3:23; 6:23).

Jesus came to earth and perfectly fulfilled the Law, but He took the justly deserved punishment of the whole world on Himself when He died and was resurrected. Jesus' death and resurrection enable us to live under the law of the Spirit of life instead of the law of sin and 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 7:6; see also verses 22–25). In Christ, we become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21) and we have the Spirit living within us empowering us for holy living (2 Peter 1:3–4; Titus 2:11–14; Philippians 2:12–13).

When Romans 8 begins, it is from a place of thanksgiving—instead of being enslaved to our own fleshly self and trying (and inevitably failing) to fulfill the Law, we have been redeemed by Christ and are adopted into God's family (Romans 8:14–17). We are no longer condemned to failure, but we live according to the law of the Spirit of life. The gospel has made all things new for those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord, and nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38–39).

Related Truth:

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Are Christians expected to obey the Old Testament law?

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What does it mean to submit to God?

How can I come to really know God?

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