7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.
Charles Colson in his book Loving God refers to a young woman cited in a Psychology Today article. Her nerves were frazzled from all-night parties and discos, and her life was an endless round of pot, booze, and sex. Her therapist asked, “Why don’t you stop?” Startled, she replied, “You mean I really don’t have to do the things I want to do?”
This woman’s reply to her therapist expresses the human predicament in regard to sin. Her moral and mental confusion is, at first reading, humorous, but it is in reality deeply sad. She realizes she has been paying a price for her lifestyle, and now she is paying a therapist to help rescue her! She wants relief, but she also wants to keep doing what has landed her in the predicament. What surprises her is the idea that she really doesn’t have to continue living the way she is.
If the woman follows the advice of her therapist, she could probably alter her behavior to avoid the party lifestyle. But to escape the overall power of sin, she had best listen to the apostle Paul. He points in verse 6 to what makes the woman want to sin, and if she would yield her life to Christ, she would discover in this chapter truly why she no longer has to sin.The crucified “old man”
We could say the woman is living like an “old man” (ESV “old self”). The best way to understand the term old man is to think of it as old Adam, whose name is the generic Hebrew word for mankind, adam. Paul means life in bondage to Adam’s depravity, which is the state of everyone apart from Christ. The good news is that this Adamic slavery to sin was crucified with Christ.
Were this woman to trust in Christ, her old man would no longer hold sway over her. She would be able to say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). It’s important to understand that the “I” Paul says was crucified with Christ was not the person Paul but his manner of life before his conversion. He means his bondage to Adam, his “old man,” as he says here in Romans.
Because our “old man” was crucified with Christ, we now live as “the new man,” as Paul says in Colossians 3:9–11. These terms are often thought of as different natures of the believer, one being the propensity to sin and the other to righteousness. But Douglas Moo, acknowledging widespread misunderstanding of the terms, says “old man” and “new man” designate the whole person considered in relation to the corporate headship of either Adam or Christ. The believer was “in Adam” but now is “in Christ.” Moo quotes J. R. W. Stott: “what was crucified with Christ was not a part of me called my old nature, but the whole of me as I was before I was converted.”What is “the body of sin”?
Body is a translation of the Greek word sōma, which can refer to a physical body or to the whole person. Everett Harrison thinks Paul has in mind the body as an instrument or vehicle of sin. He points to crucifixion, which Christ endured in the body. The physical body is God’s creation and therefore not evil, but it “is the battleground of temptation, sin, and self,” as Bob Utley points out. We sin primarily with the members of our body, but not exclusively so, because sin originates in the heart and can take place in the mind and imagination.
If Paul means the whole person, as interpreted by Douglas Moo, sōma stands for how the person interacts with the world and therefore experiences life. The result of the crucifixion of the “old man” is that this aspect of the person—“not just my physical body but myself in all my sin-prone faculties” (Moo)—is rendered useless, putting an end to enslavement to sin.The need to reject sin
For the believer, the cross accomplished a transfer of relationship from solidarity with Adam (“old man”) to solidarity with Christ (“new man”). Because the “old man” constituted our entire being, now our entire being—spirit, soul (mind, will, emotions), and body—is “new man.” And because we can still be tempted to live as “old man,” we must continue to put it off and put on the “new man” (Ephesians 4:22–24).
Harrison believes “it is necessary to distinguish between the old creation—namely, our inheritance from Adam—and our old nature, or the flesh. The latter still persists in the life of the redeemed and can become a prey to the operation of sin unless countered by the powerful influence of the new life in Christ.”
The bottom line is that both the “old man” and the flesh or sinful nature have been crucified (see Galatians 5:24). Sin, no matter how we regard its source, has no power over the “new man.” As Paul says in verse 7, the person “who has died has been set free from sin.”