The problem of humanity’s inability to keep God’s law was not a New Testament problem. The Old Testament recognized it as well. In Jeremiah 31:33, the Lord delivers this promise: “’This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.’”
In today’s reading, we discover how God has written His law on the human heart through the Holy Spirit. Paul describes this ministry of the Spirit as a different kind of law. It is “the law of the Spirit who gives life” (v. 2). When the Spirit governs our thoughts, we experience “life and peace” (v. 6). The Spirit, who indwells all those who belong to Christ, is the counter force that enables us to resist the impulses of the sinful nature—”the law of sin and death” (v. 2)—and empowers us to obey all that Christ has commanded.
However, the language Paul uses in these verses makes it clear that our obedience is not automatic. While the Holy Spirit indwells believers, He does not take possession of us the way demonic spirits do in the Gospels (see Mark 8). In verses 5–8, the apostle describes the two different ways open to the Christian. If we follow the impulses of the sinful nature (or “flesh”), we “cannot please God” (v. 8). How much better to “live in accordance with the Spirit” (v. 5), a life that will look markedly different (v. 6).
>> We have a job to do! With the power given to us by the Spirit, we are to “put to death the misdeeds of the body” (v. 13). There is an element of decision in this. The freedom we experience in Christ is not freedom from temptation but the freedom to obey.