Dying to the Flesh
by William L. Kynes, Ph.D.
Pastor, Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church, Annandale, Virginia
ne of the greatest hindrances to discipleship is what the Bible calls “the flesh.” How do we overcome the flesh? The Bible declares that to be delivered from the flesh we must die. And when we turn to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith that is just what happens to us. Paul says that all who have been baptized into Christ have “died to sin.” Something has happened to us as believers so that continuing to live as we did before no longer makes sense; it is illogical. “We died to sin,” Paul says, “how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom. 6:2).1
How are we to understand this “death to sin”? Some see it as a final and complete break: Christians are completely cut off from any influence of or attraction to sin. But if that is what it means to be a Christian, I’ve never met one, and I’m sure none exists. For the truth is, Christians still sin. All of us do. And if we had no attraction to sin, why does Paul have to keep exhorting us, as he does so often, to live godly lives?
Others say this is something that ought to be true of us, or that it is a process in us: “we are dying to sin.” But Paul speaks of it here as a fact; this is something that happened, in the past: we died to sin.
So what does this mean? The key is to recognize that Romans 6 comes right after Romans 5. In the second half of chapter 5, Paul sees every human being as being bound up in solidarity with one of two men—Adam or Christ. These two function as the representative heads of two eras or two families. First, by birth we were all caught up in the old era, the era of Adam. Adam was appointed by God as the representative of all mankind. When Adam sinned, we all sinned in and with him, and so through his sin, death came to us all. We, along with all other human beings, were trapped under the oppressive reign of sin. We were a part of the kingdom of death.
But the message of the gospel is that that is not the only solidarity to which we can belong. God has appointed a new head, a second Adam, whose obedience has powerfully overcome the sin of that first Adam. And by faith we can become a part of this new era, this new family—the family of Jesus Christ. We are transferred into another kingdom, a kingdom of grace.
Now in Romans 6 Paul draws out the personal implications of this cosmic reality. If Jesus is now our representative head, then His death to sin means that we died too. In Christ we died to sin. We are no longer in the old Adamic family; we are in the family of Christ. We no longer belong to that kingdom of sin and death; we now belong to the kingdom of righteousness and life. Where once sin reigned in death, now grace reigns through righteousness (Rom. 5:21). Or as Paul says in Colossians 1:13: The Father “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”2 It is as if we are now out of sin’s rightful territory. We have crossed the state line, so to speak. Now the devil may yell across at us, but he has no rightful authority over us.
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