Freedom from the Law of Sin and Death
"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death." Romans viii. 2.
This passage has been regarded by some sacred critics as difficult of interpretation; one of whom furnishes three different meanings of the text, and then leaves the reader to make his own selection in the case. We think, however, that a simple examination of the words, taken in their connection, will remove the obscurity which may be supposed to veil them. The evident design of the Apostle is, to furnish an argument in support of the leading proposition he had just laid down, namely, the believer's deliverance from condemnation. There is clearly a connection between that declaration and the passage under consideration. "For the law of the Spirit of life." But the main difficulty seems to be in the meaning of the terms employed in the text. By some expositors, the "law of the Spirit of life" is interpreted of the influence or control exerted by the Spirit of God over the minds of the regenerate, emancipating them from the curse and tyranny of sin, and supplying them with a new authoritative enactment for their obedience and regulation, as those whose course is guided by the Spirit. "The law of sin and death," is by the same authority interpreted of the contesting power of sin, leading to death and condemnation; having its throne in the heart, and from its governing and despotic power, maintaining a supreme and dire sway over the whole moral man. The freedom, therefore, which the law of the Spirit of life confers upon those who are bound by the law of sin and death, is just the supremacy of one principle over the force of another principle: the triumph of an opposing law over an antagonist law.
But the interpretation which we propose for the adoption of the reader, is that which regards the "law of the Spirit of life," as describing the Gospel of Christ, frequently denominated a "law"- and emphatically so in this instance- because of the emancipation which it confers from the Mosaic code, called the "law of sin and death," as by it is the knowledge of sin, and through it death is threatened as the penalty of its transgression. With this brief, but, we believe, correct explanation of the terms of the passage, we proceed to consider the exalted liberty of the believer in Jesus, of which it speaks,; tracing that freedom to the instrument by whose agency it is secured. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made us free from the law of sin and death."
In the preceding chapter, we were led to regard all who were outside of Christ, as under a present, and as exposed to a future condemnation. Not less awful is the condition of the unconverted, as depicted in the passage before us. Reverse the state of the believer and you have the exact state of the unbeliever. Is the believer in Christ a free man? the unbeliever is a slave. Is the believer justified? the unbeliever is condemned. Is the believer a living soul? the unbeliever is a lifeless soul. Is the believer a reconciled son? the unbeliever is a hostile rebel. Is the believer an heir of glory? the unbeliever is an heir of hell. Between these two conditions there is no neutral ground. You are, my reader, either for Christ, or you are against Christ. In this great controversy between Christ and Satan, you are not an indifferent and unconcerned spectator. The Prince of Light or the prince of darkness claims your service, and presses you into the conflict. Oh, it is a matter of the greatest moment that you decide to which law you are bound- the "law of life," or "the law of death."
But in what sense is the believer "free from the law of sin and death?" As a covenant he is free from it. How clear and impressive is the reasoning of the Apostle on this point! "Know you not, brethren, (for I speak to those who know the law) how that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband, so long as he lives ; but if the husband is dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband." The believer's union to Christ, represented under the figure of a marriage covenant, frees him from the condemnatory power of this law. He looks not to it for life; he rests not in it for hope; he renounces it as a saving covenant, and under the influence of another and a higher obligation- his marriage to Christ- he brings forth fruit unto God. Was ever liberty so glorious as this- a liberty associated with the most loving, cordial, and holy obedience? Not a single precept of that law, from whose covenant and curse he is released by this act of freedom, is compromised. All its precepts, embodied and reflected in the life of Christ- whose life is the model of our own- appear infinitely more clear and resplendent than ever they appeared before. The obedience of the Lawgiver infinitely enhanced the luster of the law, presenting the most impressive illustration of its majesty and holiness that it could possibly receive.
The instrument to whose agency this exalted liberty is ascribed is, the "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus." The term law is forensic; though not unfrequently used in God's Word to designate the Gospel of Christ. "Out of Zion shall go forth the law." "The isles shall wait for his law." "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No; but by the law of faith." In this sense we hold that the word is used in the text, to designate the Gospel of the blessed God, as the great instrument by which the freedom of which we have spoken is obtained. A few particulars will, we think, justify this view. The Gospel is the law which reveals the way of salvation by Christ. It is the development of God's great expedient of saving man. It speaks of pardon and adoption, of acceptance and sanctification, as all flowing to the soul through faith in his dear Son. It represents God as extending his hand of mercy to the vilest sinner; welcoming the penitent wanderer back to his home, and once more taking the contrite rebel to his heart. It is also a quickening law- emphatically the "law of the Spirit of life." What numbers are seeking sanctification from the "law of sin;" and life from the "law of death!" But the Gospel speaks of life. Its doctrines- its precepts, its promises, its exhortations- its rebukes, its hopes, are all instinct with spiritual life, and come with quickening power to the soul. "The words that I speak unto you," says Jesus, "they are spirit and they are life." "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which lives and abides forever." Oh, there is life in the Gospel, because it is "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus." It testifies of "Christ, who is our life." It declares that there is no spiritual life but in him. And although "the letter kills," working alone, yet in the hands of the Spirit it gives life. Thus clothed with the energy of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel proves a "savor of life unto life," to all who believe in it to the saving of the soul.
In concluding this chapter, we would remind those who can appropriate to themselves the language of the text, of the exalted privilege to which they are raised. A holy, filial, joyful liberty, is your birthright. It is the liberty of a pardoned and justified sinner. It is the liberty of a reconciled, adopted child. It is the liberty of one for whom there is "now no condemnation." And yet how few of God's people walk in the full enjoyment of this liberty? How few pray, and love, and confide, as adopted children! How few labor for life! Oh, sons of God, rise to this your high and heavenly calling! Your freedom was purchased at a high
price, undervalue it not. It is most holy- abuse it not. It binds you, by the strongest obligations, to yield yourselves unto God, as those who are alive from the dead. Be these the breathings of our soul- "Lord! my sweetest liberty is obedience to you; my highest freedom wearing your yoke; my greatest rest bearing your burden. Oh, how I love your law after the inward man! I delight to do your will, O my God!" The Lord grant unto us that we, "being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life."