Many of us have been taught to think that Paul's phrase, "the law of sin and death", refers to spiritual separation from God as a result of an action or inaction on our part, in other words, that it's a moral issue.
(Right-click on this sentence to open the relevant passage in another tab/window so you can read the text for yourself.)
I would encourage you to rethink that. As I understand it, the term "law of sin and death" is not a "moral" law at all, but a
physical law, like the law of gravity or the law of conservation of
momentum. I base this on the context of the phrase as found in Romans
In chapter seven of Romans, starting about verse 14, Paul is speaking
of his struggle to do right; although his desire is to do right, there's
something in his physical body which overrides his desire, and causes
him to do wrong (v. 15-19). He even goes so far as to say that it's not
him that's doing the wrong, but the sin that dwells within him that
causes him to do wrong (v. 20), and that he himself is powerless to do
right (v. 18).
He discusses the "law of God" in his inner being (v. 22), in which he
delights with the "law of his mind" (vv 22-23), and contrasts that with
the "law of sin" which dwells in his members (v. 23). He says he's
wretched because he's trapped in this "body of death" (v. 24), but he
rejoices that God, through Jesus, allows him to serve God with the mind,
even while his body obeys the "law of sin" (v 25).
Immediately after that usage of the phrase "law of sin" while referring to that something in his physical body which causes him to do what his moral
mind chooses against, he uses the phrase "law of sin and death", saying
that in Jesus Christ we are now free from that law (8:2).
A couple of chapters earlier, Paul distinguished between the guilt of sin, and the inheritance of sin.
Many of us have been well-trained to dispute the notion of inherited sin, but I
believe that's a result of a misunderstanding of what sin is. We think
that sin is only the transgression of law, and quote 1 John 3:4 as
proof. Whereas that is true, that's not the only way the Bible refers to
sin. As indicated above, sin is also something that physically dwells
in our flesh.
Sin is both a moral action (as we've understood it), and a physical condition (which is inherent in our fallen bodies). As a moral action, sin is not inherited. As a physical condition, it is.
In Romans 5, Paul talks about how sin came into the world via Adam (v.
12). Adam's trespass was a choice to perform an action. He morally
sinned. However, his action introduced into the world a physical curse.
This curse included changes to the soil leading to much harder work for
feeding one's self, the evolution of thorns & thistles, the
devolution of the serpent, increased pain in childbirth, the loss of
equality between the sexes, and eventual physical death. This curse
spread to all humans (v. 12), because all sinned (v. 12).
Well, it's obvious that babies don't perform sinful actions, and yet
they sometimes die. Why do they die? It's because they inherit the curse
of death, which according to Paul spreads to all because all sin. Even
if the person doesn't sin in the same manner as Adam (v. 14), if they
don't choose to perform a sinful action like did Adam, although the
guilt of sin is not imputed to them because no law has been broken (v.
13), nevertheless, they still die, because this curse reigns in our
broken world, even before the arrival of Moses' law (v. 14).
So we have two definitions of sin here: 1) the condition of sin, which
occurs regardless of law-breaking, and which results in death, and 2)
the action of sin, which results in guilt.
The first type of sin is inherited; the second type of sin is not
inherited. The first type of sin is what I believe Paul refers to when
he uses the term "law of sin and death".
It is this first type of sin which Paul says is in his members, which
causes him to perform the second type of sin, and which leads to death.
He praises God through Jesus because he knows he will one day be set
free from this law of sin and death, and not just us, in our physical
bodies (8:23), but indeed, the entire cosmos (8:18-25). The cosmos was
cursed when Adam sinned, but the second Adam has re-purchased the cosmos
so that it may be set free from its bondage to corruption (8:21), and
now we're just waiting on the delivery of the renewed creation. (Note,
the creation was once "very good"; then it became cursed with death and
disease and thorns and hard work and inequality; and some day it will
again be restored to its original condition; this is a far cry from the
evolutionary story that is often force-fitted into the Bible to
accommodate modern "science".)
We're all under the "law of sin and death", not just those who
are separated from God by sin. "Sin and death" is not a moral issue, but
a physical issue. The "law of sin and death" does not refer to the
principle that says, "If you sin, you die"; it refers to the principle
of having a tangible condition within the corpuscles of our bodies which
causes us to die.
At least, that's how I understand these relevant portions of Romans.
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