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Set free, but taken captive at the same time?

What is the difference between the law of sin and death, and the law of sin in our members?
Law of sin and death vs. law of sin in my members (Romans 7:23, Romans 8:2)

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” Paul says in Romans 8:2. Yet he says that he is taken captive by the law of sin in his members. (Romans 7:23) Can we be free from sin and taken captive by it at the same time? What is the difference between these two laws?

The law of sin and death

There is no condemnation to us who are in Christ Jesus, because we have been set free by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2) The law of the Spirit is the strongest law. All other laws must be subject to it when it comes into effect. We have been set free from the law of sin and death when we are in Christ Jesus. Jesus Christ is like a strong fortress where the devil cannot penetrate. When we walk in the Spirit, in prayer and in worship of God, then we experience that the law of sin and death just glances off of us. That means that there is an end to committing willful sin.

Also read: What is sin?

But in our walk, we can still fall in sin – maybe we were weak or not alert enough. When we commit sin and do not immediately cleanse ourselves and ask for forgiveness, then the law of death comes into effect and has an effect on our conscience – our conscience isn’t so strong anymore. If we continue sinning willfully, we sink deeper and deeper down into the law of death, so our conscience does not affect us anymore. It takes a lot more before it does. But through the powerful law of the Spirit in Christ Jesus, we are set free from that. The law of sin and death is put out of commission when we are in Christ Jesus, walking in obedience to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-2)

The law of sin in our members

Even so, we have not been set free from the law of sin in our members. That comes from the body of sin, our flesh –which we have inherited from our forefathers, and which entered in through the fall in the Garden of Eden. Jesus never committed sin, but nonetheless, He was a man, where He was aware of the inclinations of His human nature. He needed to hate it and put it to death in His flesh so that it never came into His heart and made it impure. This is the same way that we have to go.

We are taken captive by the law of sin in our members in that we do and say things that we absolutely should not have said or done. It’s like it just comes straight out of our body. We are not even tempted; we definitely do not mean it, but it just comes out. These are the deeds of the body. That is why we experience that we sometimes say something that is so hurtful, even to the ones we love, and the result can be that we are almost in despair over ourselves.

But what should we do about it then? We are not set free from the law of sin in our members before we depart from this earth. As long as we are alive, we will experience that we do the things that we hate. (Romans 7:15) Not consciously, but it’s the unconscious realm of the body of sin which hasn’t been put to death yet that wants to come out.

What we should do

We have to come to an acknowledgment – that this is how it is. We did what we hate. When we serve in the newness of the Spirit, then God speaks to us about these deeds of the body, through the Holy Spirit. And when we are in agreement, and we hate these deeds, then hate gives birth to death. In the power of the Spirit, we can put it to death. But we need to do it ourselves, by the Spirit; the Spirit won’t do it for us.

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13.

We ourselves need to be in agreement with the Spirit, and then we can hate these deeds and depart from them. Then we come to growth in the virtues of Christ. In this way, sanctification starts. And when we continue with it, the virtues grow more, and in turn, that results in divine nature. And that creates better fellowship.

This is the way of the cross. It is the way to life for all of us. None of us will escape this. As human beings, we have been sold under sin, but God saves wretched people. If we can acknowledge that we are wretched, then we are one of those who God saves and blesses. So, don’t be afraid of the fact that you have sin in your flesh, but abide in that hatred when you experience it within you in your own life. Then you will live.

This article has been translated from Norwegian, and is inspired by a talk by Kaare J. Smith on 14th March, 2019.ac

You may be interested in reading more on our topic page about Bible studies and commentaries, or in the articles below.

The truth about Romans 7 – doing what I do not want to do

What should I do if I have sinned without knowing it?

Who will deliver me from this body of death?

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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