In these two chapters (7 and 8) of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, we are introduced to three laws: the law of sin (and death), the law of God and the law of the spirit of life in Christ. Allow me know to help you understand the role each plays in your life.
The Law of Sin
The law of sin, also known as the Sin Nature, dwells and works in your “members”, or your body (Rom 7:23). It is something we are all born with. Make no mistake about it: the Sin Nature is not the same thing as sin itself. We are born with the propensity to sin; but we were never born with sin. In the course of our lives, we become sinners when we obey the Sin Nature, and the law of sin is activated in us.
The Law of God
The law of God typically is a reference to the Mosaic law (or the Law of Moses). This is applicable to the Israelites or the Jews. Gentiles are not given a set of laws like the Law of Moses, but they nevertheless have a law “written in their hearts” (Rom 2:15). More precisely, it is written in the mind because it is there that the law is understood and the decision to either obey or not is made. The mind, emotion and volition make up the soul of the person. Hence, you can say, the law of God resides in the soul of the man.
Having and knowing the Law of God, however, has not stopped anyone from sinning. On the contrary, “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20) and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).
The Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ
Finally, the third law that Paul mentions in these two chapters of his epistle is the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ. It operates out of the spirit of the man and is, apparently, more powerful than the law of sin (and death).
The Law of sin and death and the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ are both spiritual laws. The best way for me to help you understand how they affect our lives is by using the example of two natural laws: the Law of Gravity and the Law of Aerodynamics.
Gravity is the force that pulls all physical objects towards the earth. And since nothing escapes it, it is said to be a law. Throughout history, there have been many who believed that they have the ability to defy gravity and to fly like the birds. Ultimately, all of them had a new found respect for Gravity.
Many failed attempts and years later, Mankind stumbled on a way to actually defy Gravity. If you have been on an airplane you’d know the drill: to fasten your seatbelt and get ready for take-off. When all systems are go, the airplane begins to race down the runway; gaining speed as it goes. At a certain point, the airplane lifts off the ground and begins to soar. All the while, as the airplane was gaining momentum, the law of gravity was working to keep it on the ground. But when the necessary conditions are fulfilled, another law kicks in and enables the airplane to take-off. This law is the Law of Aerodynamics.
On the technical front, the airplane is able to take-off partly because of how it is designed and built. Its wings, in particular, are aerodynamically designed so as to produce lift when air flows over and under it at high speed. At 250 km/h, sufficient lift is produced to lift a Boeing 747 off the ground. To attain that kind speed, the airplane relies on its powerful engines to thrust it forward.
Translating this to the Christian life, you had previously been bound by the law of sin and death. There was no way for you to break free and soar even if you wanted to. But once you were in Christ, everything changed. You became a “new creation” – a Boeing 747, if you will – that is pre-disposed to soar. With your wings stretched out and your tanks filled with the fuel of grace, what is needed now is faith – the thrust that will move you down the runway.
Experienced pilots will tell you that the most crucial part of a flight is during take-off and landing. When they are taking-off, for example, and as the plane is racing down the runway, the pilot does not think about gravity and what it can do – it only creates fear in them – but thinks about the Law of Aerodynamics. He keeps one eye on the speedometer and the other eye on the runway to make sure the plane is aligned correctly. Once the speed of 250 km/h is reached, he pulls back on the yoke and the airplane is airborne.
The same is true in the spiritual sense. You cannot be focused on the Law of Sin and Death. It only produces fear in you (not faith) and fear has been the cause of many aborted “take-offs”. Rather, you should focus on the Law of the Spirit – that you have been set free from the bondage of sin. Too often, we have tried to avoid sin by repeating to ourselves “I must not sin. I must not sin.” By saying “I must not sin” you are trying to avoid sin by your own strength. You should know by know that your strength is unable to keep you from sin. What you should say, rather, is “I am free from sin, therefore I can choose not to sin”.
If you have experienced an aborted take-off, take heart, do not give up, but try again. Pilots undergo hours of training just to overcome their fear and doubt and to have perfect confidence in the Law of Aerodynamics. I did not get it right the first time, either; so I do not expect that you will.
Once the plane has taken off and have reached cruising altitude, the pilot switches on the “Auto-pilot” and lets the computers steer the plane towards its pre-determined destination. Now, the pilot is free to do anything he wants to, even take a nap. He only needs to check, once a while, that the plane is still in its shape and the speed has not dropped to a dangerously low level where the plane will stall and spiral earthwards. Occasionally, there will be turbulence. But seldom are they life threatening. At all times, the pilot is not thinking about the Law of Gravity but about the Law of Aerodynamics. As long as the requirements of the law are fulfilled – speed and lift – everything will be fine. Such is the Christian life when the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ is at work in the believer.
I said earlier that the two laws: the law of sin and death and the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ, are at work in a Christian. The former works in his body, and the latter works in his spirit. Therefore, the Christian must make a choice using his soul (mind, emotion, and volition) to choose which one he would obey: his flesh which is controlled by sin or his spirit which is controlled by the Holy Spirit. Those who choose to walk by the Holy Spirit, Paul says, will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16).
In his letter to his spiritual son Timothy, Paul wrote about some whose faith has been “shipwrecked” (see 1 Tim 1:19). To have your faith shipwrecked means that it is in a irreparable state; there is no way to be restored; you are lost forever. The readers of Paul’s letter understand the term “shipwrecked” because the most common mode of long-distance travel then was by sea. Today – or since the middle of the twentieth century – flying has overtaken sailing in popularity and convenience. You would hardly hear of someone who is traveling from Asia to Europe (or vise-versa) by boat, unless it is an expeditionary trip. Most people would board a plane, which is faster and safe. So, if Paul were writing the same letter today, he would probably use the term “crash-landed” instead of “shipwrecked”.
How do you “crash-land” your faith? In the words of the writer of Hebrews: “They were once in God’s light; they tasted heaven’s gift and received their share of the Holy Spirit; they knew from experience that God’s word is good, and they had felt the powers of the coming age” (Heb 6:4-5 GNT). If you have crash-landed, it means that you were, at one time, flying; living in victory in many areas of your life, especially over sin. But, for some reason, there was a change in your heart. Perhaps, you have experienced at setback, a disappointment. Perhaps, you, like Jeremiah, are asking, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” (Jer 12:1) Or, perhaps, you have allowed one sin to remain in you. And gradually (because these things do not happen overnight as if you were under a spell), as the “deceitfulness of sin” begins to do its work in you – hardening your heart and filling it with evil and unbelief – you slowly find sin more and more attractive and unresistable (see Heb 3:12). Then, “like a dog that returns to his vomit”, you return to the sins that you had been set free from (Prov 26:11 ESV). Solomon, in the same verse, calls this foolishness. The writer of Hebrews states that, “it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance” (Heb 6:6 ASV). This, my friend, is the point of no return.
This article is part of my teaching The Normal Christian Birth. Contact me if you wish to receive the full teaching.
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