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From the Spring 2013 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

Dying to the Flesh

by William L. Kynes, Ph.D.
Pastor, Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church, Annandale, Virginia

 
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  Twice Paul says it: “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (6:5); and again in verse 8: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” This is what identification with Christ means; what is true of Him is true of me. It’s like identifying yourself with a football team: when they win, you win; you share in their joy! But when they lose, you lose, and you feel their pain!
  “We died to sin.” Paul expounds this further in verse 6: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” There is a great deal of discussion among commentators as to exactly what the various terms Paul uses here actually mean. Let me set forth a way of understanding them that I have found helpful.
  That “old self” is not a part of me. It is not my “old nature.” It is the whole of me as I used to be as a child of Adam, as a subject of the rule of sin and death. That “old self” died when I was transferred into the kingdom of Christ. But Paul refers here to another aspect of our existence—“the body of sin.” This “body of sin” is our embodied existence in this fallen world; it is our “mortal body” or our “sinful nature”—“the flesh.” This still exists, and it is still related to our former existence in Adam. I know that there is something about my new existence in this world that is still related to my former existence in Adam because my body will die. It is a mortal body—a body that is still a part of that old era, that sphere of sin and death.
  The Christian, you see, is a “new man” in an old “mortal body.” We have already died to sin with Christ when we were joined to Him in baptism, but we have not yet been raised to glory with Him in His resurrection. We live between the ages, having joined the new era, while still dragging along some of the traits of the old.
  It is important to emphasize that this is not saying that physical existence is bad and that things related to material life are evil. Eating good food and enjoying sexual relations in the context of marriage, for example, are good things. As we’ve said, for Paul the sins of the flesh are not just gluttony and lust; they also include things like greed and envy and pride (see Gal. 5:19–21). This “body of sin” that he refers to here is the remains of my Adamic existence as I continue to live in this old, fallen world as a new man, now a part of a new era. But Paul says that God’s purpose in putting to death my old man is that the body of sin might ultimately be done away with, taken out of commission—which is what He will do. But, for now, we still struggle with sin, so long as we are still in this mortal body, still this side of heaven and the glories of the resurrection. We still struggle with sin; even so, we are no longer slaves to sin.
  That is Paul’s point in Romans 6, and it is this fact that Paul wants us to get straight in our heads, as he says in verse 11: “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
  We have died to the rule of sin and death: “the flesh” is no longer our tyrannical master. Its spell over us has been broken. You’ve been emancipated, Paul says, so don’t continue to think like a slave. We can never go back to that state of captivity, for now we are alive to God and His grace in Christ.



Notes
1. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references in this article are from the New International Version.
2. See also Acts 26:18: “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.”
3. This illustration is found in the work of Welshman Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

Bill Kynes studied philosophy at the University of Florida, where he also played quarterback and was inducted into the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame. He attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, receiving an M.A. in theology. He has an M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and a Ph.D. in New Testament from Cambridge University. Bill has served as senior pastor of Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Annandale, Virginia, since 1986. He and his wife Susan have four boys: Will, Matthew, Cameron, and Cason.

 
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