The Old Man Crucified: Free to Struggle

Struggling to be Free or Free to Struggle?

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Gal 2:20, NASB

What should the Christian life look like? Should we be trying to prove our worth to God? Are we free to live how ever we want because “grace”? Should we expect to achieve sinless perfection?

When I was in college, our RUF pastor used to ask us, “Are you struggling to be free, or are you free to struggle?” His point was that until we come to faith in Christ we will struggle and fight an impossible battle to make ourselves right with God. We will struggle to be free of our sin and guilt.

The good news of the gospel is that through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we have been set free from sin’s power. Sin no longer has dominion over us. We are at peace with God. This is our reality right now, and it can’t be taken away from us. But there’s more to the story. We have been set free and given a purpose.

Because we have been united to Christ by the Spirit, we have been crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20) and are dead to sin (Rom 6:11). But we have also been raised with Christ, so that we may “walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). What does this mean for us?

Our pastor is preaching through Romans, and this Sunday, he preached on the first part of Romans 6. He used the illustration that being dead to sin and alive in Christ is like moving from one country to another. When we move, the rules of our old country no longer apply to our lives. The same thing is true with sin. We have been transferred from the kingdom of sin to the kingdom of Christ. Sin isn’t our master anymore. Christ is.

Since Christ is our master now, we shouldn’t live like sin and death reign over us. And that’s where the second part of my campus minister’s question comes into play, “Are you free to struggle?” Even though we are free from the reign and power of sin, we’re still sinners. But because the Spirit is at work in us, we are now free to struggle against our remaining sin. By God’s grace, our struggles will produce fruit.

Understanding the difference between struggling to be free and being free to struggle protects us from many common errors about salvation. Some people believe that our works help save us. They believe that we’re saved by a combination of God’s grace and our good works. But our works don’t save us, even a little bit. We’re not stuck on a treadmill of good works hoping to do enough to free ourselves and earn God’s approval and our salvation. We’re free already by grace alone!

Others believe that since we’re free from sin then it doesn’t matter much how we live. They forget that our salvation includes the life-long process of sanctification. God doesn’t leave us in our sin. As Paul says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1-2). Our lives should reflect our growth in grace and holiness.

But we must also remember that our lives will be marked by struggle. We have not been set free to rest on our laurels. We have been set free to “fight the good fight” (2 Tim 4:7) and to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1).

Don’t get me wrong. We won’t be perfect this side of glory. We will fight against our indwelling sin until our dying breath. We live in the already and not yet. We have been saved from our sin (justified). We are being saved from our sin (sanctified). And we will one day be saved from our sin (glorified). While we struggle against our remaining sin, we can trust that we will succeed. Christ has won the victory, and our victory over sin is secure.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6

Rachel Miller is News Editor for the Aquila Report. She has a BA in History from Texas A&M University. She is a member of a PCA church in the Houston area and the homeschooling mother of three boys.


Rachel Miller