Completed by the Spirit Part 10: The Law of the Spirit of Life Has Set You Free

Ed Trefzger

Ed Trefzger

This is the 10th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

In Romans 8, Paul pro­vides the solu­tion to the wretched state of the chap­ter 7 man, as he joy­fully pro­claims, “[1] There is there­fore now no con­dem­na­tion for those who are in Christ Jesus. [2] For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:1–2). But that does not mean that the law is now harm­less to the regen­er­ate man who nev­er­the­less still has remain­ing sin – and as we noted above – will con­tinue to have remain­ing sin in his flesh until glory. Paul issues this stern warning:

[5] 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. [6] For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. [7] 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. [8] Those who are in the flesh can­not please God. (Romans 8:5–8)

Sim­i­larly, in 1 Corinthi­ans, Paul reminds us, “[56] The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. [57] But thanks be to God, who gives us the vic­tory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:56–57).

To focus on the law in our regen­er­ate state is to set our minds on the very thing that pro­vokes sin in the flesh and to set our minds on the very thing that gives sin its power over our flesh. While the Romans 7 man by chap­ter 8 now no longer faces condem­na­tion for sin, the Romans 8 man still has not been glo­ri­fied, and thus he remains sus­cep­ti­ble to the effects of sin. To set his mind on the exter­nal law of let­ters and not the inter­nal law of the Spirit of Christ is to con­demn him in a tem­po­ral sense to a walk beset by sin.

But, says Paul:

[9] You, how­ever, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any­one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. [10] But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of right­eous­ness. [11] If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mor­tal bod­ies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

The same warn­ing was given by Paul to the Gala­tians. Despite those who would char­ac­ter­ize Gala­tians as warn­ing to unbe­liev­ers that they can­not be jus­ti­fied by the law, or who char­ac­ter­ize it as a warn­ing to the Gala­tians not to return to the cer­e­mo­nial prac­tices of Judaism – prac­tices Paul finds indif­fer­ent in Romans 14 – Paul is writ­ing to the church and Paul is mak­ing no tri­par­tite dis­tinc­tion within the law. Thus, Paul’s warn­ing is about the whole law and his warn­ing is to those who are believ­ers. “You were run­ning well,” he exclaims. These are not peo­ple who are not yet jus­ti­fied; these are peo­ple try­ing to walk the Chris­t­ian walk, though some indi­vid­u­als would deny the Gala­tians free­dom and return them to a yoke of slavery.

[7] You were run­ning well. Who hin­dered you from obey­ing the truth? [8] This per­sua­sion is not from him who calls you. [9] A lit­tle leaven leav­ens the whole lump. [10] I have con­fi­dence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is trou­bling you will bear the penalty, who­ever he is. [11] But if I, broth­ers, still preach cir­cum­ci­sion, why am I still being per­se­cuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. [12] I wish those who unset­tle you would emas­cu­late them­selves! (Gal 3:7–12)

Per­haps the most com­pelling pas­sage against the law for sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion is in 2 Corinthi­ans 3. We’ll visit the Spirit/letter antithe­sis in our next installment.