The Old Man Crucified: The Basics
In Romans 6:6, the Apostle Paul writes, “We know that our old self [or old man] was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” As we engage a series on “the old man,” we want to ask the basic question: what is the old man crucified?
Let’s start first with “the old man.” The old man is who we were in our sinful estate and in our slavery to sin. It is the person who is “in Adam” with all the guilt and consequences of Adam’s sin upon them plus their own slavery and bondage to sin. This is the person who is dead in their sins. This “old man” could be described using Ephesians 2:1-3.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
This “old man” is the state of the entirety of humanity apart from union with Christ. In fact, we should say that it is only for the believer that this state is “old.” Paul elsewhere describes this old self/man in Col. 3 and Eph 4:22
Col. 3:5-9 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices
Eph. 4:22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,
The old man is the man enslaved to sin. This enslavement manifests itself all sort of evil and wicked behavior. The “old man” is the man enslaved to the flesh who walks according to the flesh. He does not desire to obey and he is unable to obey God (Rom. 8:5-8).
What is the old man crucified? The old man crucified is when the individual has moved from being “in Adam” to being “in Christ.” As a result of being “in Christ” we have come to share in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What happened to Jesus has now been applied to us in such a way that it happens to us: the old man [who I am in my enslavement to sin] is put to death and life is given to a “new man” I am imparted with the Holy Spirit so that Christ’s resurrection life is at work in me.
Rom. 6:3-7 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.
The old man was so enslaved to sin that they were dead in it. They were “not able to not sin” sin was their proclivity, the sinful flesh that desires sin was the master. This is not to say the person could not do anything kind or nice in relative terms—even the worst sinner can help an old lady cross the street. Rather, it is to say that all actions were done and lived out in rebellion to God.
The new man, where the enslavement has ended, is now able to walk in the newness of life. We have a new master: Jesus Christ. So the man is “new” because he is in Christ. Those in Christ are “able not to sin” we can resist temptation, we can grow in holiness, and walk in obedience to the LORD. We no longer live with every act and intention to be in rebellion against God. This is not to say our good works ever reach absolute perfection. The “new man” still has the presence of sin in them and that will be true until we die and/or are glorified.
The life of the believer in Jesus Christ is not a mix of “old man”/”new man.” Our position in the Lord is not schizophrenic. Of course, we still have the remnant of sin as long as we live in our mortal bodies. We battle the flesh’s desires that wages war in us (1 Peter 2:11). The battle itself can be a constant back and forth of losing ground and gaining ground. Yet, we do battle from a position of being liberated from our old master, the self enslaved to sin. We have been placed under a new master, the LORDSHIP of Christ, who by the presence of the Holy Spirit gives us a new being in our inner self.
Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, currently serving as pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Church in York, Pa. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.