Romans 6:6 (ESV) … “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.”
The old self, literally “old man” (palaios anthropos), is the believer before he or she trusted Christ, the person who was ruled by sin and was God’s enemy (5:10). Some think that Paul distinguishes between two parts or two natures in man; so it is debated whether the new nature replaces the old nature or whether the new nature is added to the old. But the “old man” and the “new man” are not parts of our personality; rather, they describe our orientation to the old life in Adam or the new life in Christ.
Though we personalize the old self individually in this verse, Paul probably has in mind our corporate sinful humanity in Adam. This takes us back to chapter 5, where Christ died for the sins of Adam and his descendants, including each of us. To put the choice another way, either we die with Christ or we die with Adam. That old self was crucified—he considers us to have died the same death as Christ when Christ was crucified. Why? This was the only way that the body of sin might be destroyed (NRSV), the only way our sinful nature could be set aside so that God’s nature could live through us.
As a result, believers need no longer be slaves of sin. History records instances where slaves who were set free continued to live as if they were slaves. Either they could not believe they were free, or they were so conditioned to slavery that they could not imagine freedom. Likewise, until we accept our emancipation through Christ, we will remain slaves. But once we have accepted God’s gracious gift of emancipation, we will be able to participate fully in a new life of obedience. As slaves to sin, we are set free by Christ before we can begin to live free. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NIV). The power and penalty of sin died with Christ on the cross. We are no longer slaves to our sinful nature; we can choose to live for Christ.
CHOOSING TO LIVE FOR CHRIST
The power and penalty of sin died with Christ on the cross. Our “old self,” our sinful nature, died once and for all, so we are freed from its power. The “body of sin” is not the human body, but our rebellious, sin-loving nature inherited from Adam.
Though our body willingly cooperates with our sinful nature, we must not regard the body as evil. It is the sin in us that is evil. And it is this power of sin at work in our body that is defeated. Paul has already stated that through faith in Christ we stand acquitted, “not guilty” before God. Here Paul emphasizes that we need no longer live under sin’s power. God does not take us out of the world or make us robots—we will still feel like sinning, and sometimes we will sin. The difference is that before we were saved we were slaves to our sinful nature, but now we can choose to live for Christ.
Barton, B. B., Veerman, D., & Wilson, N. S. (1992). Romans (pp. 117–118). Tyndale House Publishers.