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There is no dispute as to the two texts in question correctly using "law", as that is the literal meaning of the word νόμος.

In chapter 7 Paul speaks of two "laws" (flesh and spirit) and elsewhere he keeps contrasting different laws, e.g. "the law of sin and death" versus "the gift of eternal life" (as in Romans 8:2 - one of the verses in question). Also, "the law of works" versus "the law of faith" (as in Romans 3:27, the other verse in question). Here are what those verses say in full:

"Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith." A.V.

"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." A.V.

Contrasts are made throughout the book of Romans. God's righteousness with our unrighteousness (3:10, 21);

God's judgements with man's judgements (2:1, 5, 16);

Obedience with disobedience (5:19);

Grace with works (11:6).

Now, all those major thematic contrasts are clear enough, but I'm not clear on whether the law of faith is meant to be linked with the law of the Spirit, or whether it's a contrast. That is the question I need help in finding an answer to.

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  • It's a little bit of both. spirit/faith are parallel concepts, as are flesh/works. But they are very different too, because doing 'works' is to obey God's law, while following the flesh is to sin. Jan 5 at 0:21
  • 1
    I think OP is asking if law of faith is contrasted with law of Spirit if I’m reading their question right.
    – bob
    Jan 5 at 3:10

7 Answers 7

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Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? [Galatians 3:2 KJV]

It is clear, here, that the contrast is between legal works and faithful hearing. Not only is the contrast between law and faith it is also between works and hearing. The Spirit is received by the hearing of faith. And what is heard is not arbitrary. Not everything heard will result in faith and the Spirit.

... ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation [Ephesians 1:13 KJV]

Hearing the gospel, wrought in them faith. And by this faithful hearing, they received the Spirit.

But how were these to walk, who had received the Spirit by the hearing of faith ? Clearly, Paul teaches the Galatians that they were not to return to the law, for that had proved ineffectual aforehand. By that means, they had decidedly not received the Spirit.

So how to remain in the Spirit ?

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. [Romans 8:1 KJV]

They were to walk in that same Spirit which they had received by the hearing of faith. They were not to return to the ineffectual law which asked works of the flesh. They were not to walk in flesh.

The problem is not with law, for law is good and just. The problem is with the flesh. The law is weak, not in itself, but when the medium offered to the law is flesh. It fails. And it always fails. This is a matter of experience : The good that I would, that do I not ; and the evil that I would not, that do I.

So Paul, once the Pharisee, Saul, who had discovered in his own life that law and flesh were not a successful mix, advises something altogether different : a different 'rule' :

For the law of the Spirit (of life in Christ Jesus) hath made me free from the law of sin and death. [Romans 8:2 with my own added brackets KJV]

There is a rule which is of the Spirit. That rule is : that life is in Christ Jesus. (Not in flesh, or law or works.)

This is a rule of life. It is a rule of faith. It is a rule of the Spirit.

And it is contrasted with flesh and law and works.


Christ and faith and Spirit and righteousness and life.

Law and works and flesh and sin and death.

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Both “the Law of Faith” and “the Law of Spirit” are one and the same Law and it is contrasted with the ritualistic Jewish Law; similarly and parallel to it, the works of the Faith (cf. Ephesians 2:10) are contrasted to the works of the Mosaic Law.

Now, what is faith in Christ unless receiving through this faith the “Mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16)? In the same passage a bit above (1 Cor. 2:13) the “Mind of Christ” is called “the Spirit of God”. Thus, the “Law of faith” through which we receive the Spirit of sonship (Romans 8:15) is the same as the “Law of Spirit”.

For a handy analogy: the phrases a) “Achilles is following the law of valor” and b) “Achilles is following the law of fighting” convey the same meaning and in both the “law of valor” and the “law of fighting” mean the same, for valor implies plunging oneself into battle, just like faith implies receiving the Holy Spirit of sonship through Whom we call God - “Father” (Romans 8:15).

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  • I agree with this very helpful answer as well. +1.
    – Dottard
    Jan 4 at 21:46
  • I think seeing the two "laws" as one takes us down the wrong path. For Paul, the flesh is evil but works are good. The only thing wrong with works is that one cannot be saved by them. The two pairs are parallel... faith and spirit are both internal; works and flesh are both external. Both are dualities of internal/external, but only spirit and flesh are a duality of good/evil. Jan 4 at 23:18
  • @Dottard Thanks! Jan 5 at 6:38
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    @DanFefferman These are not two laws seen as one, but one and the same law expressed in different ways, like you can say a "flatteringly-tail-wagging quadruped" and an "angrily-barking quadruped" both denoting one and the same reality of a dog. Jan 5 at 6:57
  • @LevanGigineishvili, upvoted for cleverness and humor.
    – Rachel
    Jan 29 at 20:05
1

The law has its implication physically and spiritually. For instance, the law of Moses has its physical implication, that most of the Pharisees and teachers of the law believed that their righteousness was achieved by adhering to the literal side of it. On the other hand, the law of God is spiritual, providing direction without confining people's actions to the details. Both laws govern individual behavior in reality.

Romans 3:27 is a typical illustration of these two attributes of law. Paul said, "Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith". The law that requires works refers to the physical law, written to govern one's work. The law that requires faith is spiritual, as it only provides direction and lacks details. To hehave in the right way, you need faith.

Everyone acts according to a guidance in their mind, which is fundamental as it governs everything you are going to do. In Romans 3, Paul proclaims 'Faith in God' as he sees faith as fundamental, leading people to adhere to the law of God instead of law of oneself.

Romans chapter 7 describes Paul's struggling in between these two attributes of law. He said;

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Therefore, in Romans 8:2, the law of Faith and the law of the Spirit share a spiritual attribute, while the law of sin and death is its opposite.

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More people have floundered on this idea of "law" that almost any other. BDAG get the core of the matter when it offers three distinct means of "law" in the NT that Paul often appears to deliberately blur. Paul's meaning about the "law of the spirit" and the "law of faith" is about the approach or principle of the law as per #1 below. That is NOT #2 below.

  1. a procedure or practice that has taken hold, custom, rule, principle, norm, eg, Rom 7:21, 3:27b, 8:2, 2:8, 1:25, James 2:7, etc.
  2. constitutional or statutory legal system, law, eg, Rom 3:27, 7:1, 4:15b, 5:13b, etc.
  3. a collection of holy writings precious to God's people, sacred ordinance, eg, Gal 3:10b, Matt 12:5, John 8:5, etc.

Even in the OT, the ancient Israelites were regularly scolded for their legalistic attitudes to the covenant law - they missed the idea that the ceremonial law was simply a set of teaching tools to teach about the grace offered by the coming Messiah; ie, that Jesus would be "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29), eg, Isa 1:10-17, Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17, 1 Sam 15:22, Hos 6:6, Prov 15:8, 21:3, Jer 6:20, Micah 6:6-8, etc.

In Rom 7 we find:

  • V12 - So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good.
  • V14 - We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. [That is the law of the Spirit is what makes the law spiritual.]

It is this final distinction that is key to all the other distinctions listed by the OP:

  • before conversion, we are unspiritual and serve the law legally; after conversion, we "serve [the law] in newness of the Spirit, and not in oldness of the letter." (Rom 7:6). This is done by faith in Christ Jesus.

That is, "law of faith", "the law of the Spirit" are what makes it possible to to fulfil what Paul discusses in eph 2:8-10 -

For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life.

As converted people of Christ we are transformed:

2 Cor 5:17 - Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away; behold, the new has come into being.

There is a new set of principles based in LOVE that motivates the Christians, the "law of Love" as expounded by Jesus:

  • John 14:15 - If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
  • John 15:10 - If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and remain in His love.
  • 1 John 2:15-17 - Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not from the Father but from the world. The world is passing away, along with its desires; but whoever does the will of God remains forever.
  • Rom 3:31 - Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Certainly not! Instead, we uphold the law.
  • Rom 6:12-15 - Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires. Do not present the parts of your body to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and present the parts of your body to Him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law, but under grace? Certainly not!
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  • +1 because of important info about Paul's use of the term "law." However, the law of faith should not be confused with the law of love. Faith and works [including works of love] are complimentary, but flesh and spirit (for Paul) work against each other. Flesh is equated with sin, while works are equated with obedience to God's law (albeit insufficient for justification). Jan 4 at 23:56
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These are different concepts. But we should also be aware that Paul uses the term "law" loosely here, sometimes meaning "principle" or "authority," or even "power." It is his use of different senses of the term for "law" that links these ideas together.

In Romans 8, Paul contrasts the 'law of the spirit' against the 'law of the flesh' or sin, which he has discussed more fully in chapter 7, concluding with:

I myself, with my mind, serve the law of God but, with my flesh, the law of sin. (7:25)

In Romans 3:28, Paul contrasts the 'law' of faith against the 'law' of works, emphasizing that justification is by faith, not works. Thus the next verse reads:

We consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Conclusion: In Romans 8, Paul deals with the power of the flesh vs. the power of the spirit. In Romans 3 he deals with justification by works vs. justification by faith. He does link all of these by playing with the various applications of the Greek word for "law," but the two passages deal with distinct contrasting principles: flesh vs. spirit in Rom. 8 and works vs. faith in Rom. 3.


Addendum: To understand the difference between the two pairs of "laws" here, it is helpful to think of one set being an example of good and evil and the other being an example of internal and external. Both sets are in a relationship of internal/external but only spirit and flesh are in a relationship of good/evil (flesh being inherently sinful for Paul). On the other hand, works (prayer, bible reading, loving one's neighbor, obeying the moral commandments, etc.) are not sinful at all. Works are good only faith results in justification. So the two pairs of "laws" are parallel but fundamentally different.

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  • I'm following your argument about contrasts - which versus what. I agree that flesh versus spirit, and works versus faith. But is "the law of the spirit" the same as "the law of faith"? Is lack of capitalisation of "spirit" a clue I need to pick up on? Do you take that to be the sinful (human) spirit and not the indwelling Holy Spirit given to believers? Can you enlarge on that, please?
    – Anne
    Jan 4 at 16:28
  • I think this is also a very helpful answer, especially your first sentence. +1.
    – Dottard
    Jan 4 at 21:46
  • @Anne - I included an addendum to deal with your question. Here I'll just say it isn't a matter of capitalization. Faith and spirit are both internal qualities while works and flesh are both external. But works complement faith; while the flesh works against the spirit. Jan 4 at 23:37
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    @Anne - Here “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” cannot be our sinful human spirit. It is the Holy Spirit. Our sinful human spirit cannot "set us free from" sin and death. See also Rom 8:1 where “walk according to flesh” is contrasted with “walk according to Spirit”! Whenever the Scripture talks about “walking according to Spirit”, it always means the Holy Spirit. I too have given an answer below. Jan 5 at 8:47
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Answer

The law of faith is linked with the law of the Spirit and it cannot be a contrast.

Explanation

Fact 1 - The Scripture talks about two stages of faith; one before the receipt of the Holy Spirit and another after (or as a result/fruit of) the Holy Spirit.

Fact 2 - The Scripture talks about two phases of Holy Spirit’s action in a believer’s life; first when the Holy Spirit “abides with” a believer and later when the same Spirit “will be in” the believer (John 14:17).

The first stage of faith occurs when the first phase of the Holy Spirit occurs. We have a “believing” faith in the gospel, in Jesus Christ and in God through the hearing of the Word of God when the Holy Spirit abides with us (Rom 10:17).

The second stage of faith is the result of the second phase of the Holy Spirit. We have a “working” faith of Jesus Christ when the Holy Spirit lives “in” us (James 2:20).

Believing Faith when the Holy Spirit is With

First we “receive the promise of Holy Spirit through the hearing of” believing “faith” (Gal 3:2, 5, 14).

“But to the one not working, but believing on Him justifying the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom 4:5).

This is the first stage when a sinning person without any good works on his side listens to the gospel and believes. This is the result of the Holy Spirit working with him but not yet in him.

“knowing that a man is not justified by works of Law, but that it is through faith in Jesus Christ (we also believed into Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of Law” (Gal 2:16).

In the first stage a sinner listens to the gospel and believes in Jesus because God opens his mind through His Spirit. His “past” sins are forgiven though he didn’t do any good (2 Pet 1:9).

It is about the blessedness of such a person that King David sings in the Psalms:

“How blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. How blessed is the person against whom the LORD does not charge iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Psalms 32:1-2).

Working Faith when the Holy Spirit is In

Once the believer baptizes in Jesus, he receives the Holy Spirit “in” him. Now he receives the working faith as a gift from the Holy Spirit:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith” (Gal 5:22). This is the working faith about which apostle James talks much:

“So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself” (James 2:17, 20, 26). This working faith has to be “made perfected” through good works (James 2:22). This faith will be “tested” to produce “patience” (James 1:3).

“Through” this working “faith” we “work out righteousness” (Heb 11:33).

An interesting thing is that through this working faith, “we establish” the spiritual “Law” of God; we do not “abolish” it (Rom 3:31). “What matters is faith expressed through love” (Gal 5:6). And “love is the fulfillment of the Law” (Rom 13:10).

The “goal of” such working “faith” is “the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet 1:9). “We must put on the breastplate of faith and love, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thess 5:8).

An Analogy

Apostle Paul explains both the stages/phases with the case of Patriarch Abraham in Romans 4:9-12.

He says Abraham had a believing faith in God first and hence was accepted by God as righteous. But this happened when Abraham was “uncircumcised”.

When Abraham was accepted through his believing faith, God gave the Holy Spirit “in” him with the working faith as a gift of the Spirit. As a result of this working faith, Abraham circumcised himself with his entire family as a “token” of his faith. With this working faith he even offered his only son to God (Heb 11:17).

Conclusion

Since we receive the Spirit through hearing of (believing) faith (Gal 3:2; 5, 14), faith and Spirit are linked. So the law of faith is linked with the law of Spirit.

Since (working) faith is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), definitely it is linked with the Spirit. If faith is the fruit of the Spirit, then the law of faith is also linked with the law of the Spirit. This is an inevitable logical conclusion.

Why?

Because, there is only “one Spirit” and “one faith” (Eph 4:4-5).

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Looking at this question, I was struck by this observation from Thayer’s :

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon: νόμος (emphasis added)

(some interpreters contend that νόμος without the article denotes not the law of Moses but law viewed as 'a principle', 'abstract and universal'; cf. Lightfoot on Galatians 2:19; also Fresh Revision, etc., p. 99; Vaughan on Romans 2:23; especially Van Hengel on Romans 2:12; Gifford in the Speaker's Commentary on Romans, pp. 41ff. (cf. Cremer, under the word). This distinction is contrary to usage

The OP notes that: “In chapter 7 Paul speaks of two ’laws’ (flesh and spirit) and elsewhere he keeps contrasting different laws, e.g. ‘the law of sin and death’ versus ’the gift of eternal life.” If the distinction between the use of νόμος with and without the article is contrary to usage, perhaps Paul in using the same word is also referencing one and the same νόμος throughout his epistle. Take, for instance, Romans 8:2 :

Romans 8:2 LSB

2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

I am not questioning the contrast that Paul is making here, only whether that contrast extends to the word law itself. Is not the law of sin and death the same law that is described in Romans 7:12 as holy and good? As Paul himself explains:

Romans 7:7-10

7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! Rather, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law. For I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, worked out in me coveting of every kind. For apart from the Law sin is dead. 9 Now I was once alive apart from the Law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died; 10 and this commandment, which was to lead to life, was found to lead to death for me.

As noted by the OP, νόμος is the same word used in Romans 8:2 - law of sin and death; law of the Spirit of life; and Romans 3:27 - law of works; law of faith. As the head noun in each of these genitive constructions, νόμος is the common denominator that connects these seemingly disparate concepts.

In Romans 3:27, a contrast is made between the law of works and the law of faith. Instead of different laws, the contrast can be viewed as one that compares different aspects of the same νόμος – with the law of works understood as referencing the misconception of νόμος as something that testifies to our own righteousness; while the law of faith, the understanding of νόμος as that which testifies to the righteousness of God.

Romans 3:20-21

20 because by the works of the Law NO FLESH WILL BE JUSTIFIED IN HIS SIGHT, for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets

In Romans 8:2, the contrast is made between the law of sin and death and the law of the Spirit of life. Again, these can be understood as different aspects of νόμος – with the law of sin and death understood as referencing the death-inducing effect of νόμος on those who walk according to the flesh; while the law of the Spirit of life, the life-giving effect of νόμος in those who walk according to the Spirit (i.e., the Spirit of God per Rom 8:9).

Romans 8:3-4

3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,

4 so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The OP asks about the relationship between the law of faith and the law of the Spirit of life, whether they are the same or whether they oppose one another. I see them as working together, with the law of faith being key to our justification (Rom 3:22-24) and the law of the Spirit to that of our sanctification (Rom 8:4). Referring to different aspects of the same νόμος, they testify to the truth that it is by the power of God alone that we are saved.

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