The Law of Sin and Death

Does "the law of sin and death" refer to the decalogue?

By W. R. FRENCH, Professor, Pacific Union College

The theme of this article has furnished the basis for a great deal of discussion and difference of opinion in theological circles. The common opinion in the popular Protestant denominations is that "the law of sin and death" is the decalogue, and that when men are married to Christ they are free from any -obligation to render any further obedience to the ten commandments. In fact, the con­clusion has been drawn that it is adulterous to do so. Seeming plausibility for this con­clusion is found in Romans 7:1-4. In this article we shall discuss the subject from both the negative and the positive side.

What It is Not.—The "law of sin and death" is not the decalogue. It is true that the decalogue defines sin (Rom. 7:7) and that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), but the law that defines sin is not the law of sin and death. Paul says, "So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." Rom. 7:25. Here in the same verse two laws are mentioned,—"the law of God" and "the law of sin." Paul further says: "I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members." Rom. 7:22, 23. Note that "the law of sin" is declared to be another law, not the law of God.

God's law, the ten commandments, is "holy, just, and good," and spiritual: Such a law could not possibly be the "law of sin" that works in the members of a man (Rom. 7:5, 23) before he is united to Christ. (See Rom. 7:4.) Paul asks, "Is the law sin?" In this verse, he is speaking directly of the law that says "Thou shalt not covet." In answer to his query, "Is the law sin?" he says, "God for­bid." Therefore we must draw the conclusion that whatever "the law of sin and death" may be, it is not the decalogue.

What It Is.—"The law of sin and death" is the habitual tendency to sin which works in the members before the sinner is converted and joined to Christ. It is the carnal or fleshly nature from which man is freed and to which he dies when connected to Christ. It is the law of sin. "Sin is the transgression of the law." r John 3:4. Sin (transgression) is what men who come to Christ die to. This is what Paul means when he says, "If her husband be dead, she is freed from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man." Rom. 7:3. Whom does Paul mean by the words, "the husband be dead"? What is "dead"? To what is the woman dead? Paul answers, "How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" He calls this first husband "our old man." Rom. 6:6. He says, "Our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be de­stroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." He says again, "He that is dead is freed from sin." Rom. 6:7. When this "old man" is dead, the woman is free. Rom. 7:3. Free from what? Paul answers as above, "Free from sin." In Romans 6, note the words "dead to sin" (Verse 2) and "free from sin." Verse 22. In Romans 8:2, we read, "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death."

Thanks be to God, a way of escape has been made for the sinner—a way of escape from sin, from death, from carnality which has exercised lordship over him. Now he can become servant to another Lord, Christ Jesus. It is this law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus to which Paul refers in Galatians 2:19 and 20 when he says, "For I through the law [of the Spirit of life] am dead to the law [of sin and death], that I might live unto God.

I am crucified with Christ," etc. It is the "old man" who is crucified. (See Rom. 6:6.) The sinner is freed from the slavery, the bondage, of sin. He is translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son. He is now freed from Satan and joined to Christ.

The New Life.—When the sinner has been delivered from the body of sin, then and then only is he able to obey God's law that is holy, just, good, and righteous. (See Ps. 119:172.) The carnal mind or nature that works in the members of the body is "enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Rom. 8:7. Death is the final ultimatum for the man who remains in this condition.

"The law of the Spirit of life" frees us from this carnal nature (the flesh), so "that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Rom. 8:4. The same conclusion is expressed in the following texts: "Being then made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness" (Rom. 6:18) ; "but now being made free front sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life." Rom. 6:22.

The whole matter may be summed up briefly in a parenthesizing of Galatians 2:20 thus:

"I [my sinful self, my carnal self, my enmity to God, my old man of sin] am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I [myself] live; yet not I [fleshly I], but Christ liveth in me: and the life [life of righteousness] which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God." Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory in Christ Jesus.

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By W. R. FRENCH, Professor, Pacific Union College

October 1938

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