I listened to a few messages on Romans 6 from Voices for Christ last week. One of them fueled my growing conviction that preachers hate to read Romans 6 before preaching on it.
At one point the speaker talked about how the believer was once a slave to sin, but now the old man has been crucified, we no longer have to obey him – he's hanging on the Cross, and has no power over us.
Here's my inexpert transcript:
And so he says, to the Christians, In the light of the fact that you need to reckon yourselves to death indeed to sin, uh, verse 11, alive to God through Jesus Christ... Then he says, OK if you've reckoned on that to be true, do not allow sin to reign as a king in your mortal body that you should obey it in the lusts thereof.
You don't have to obey it anymore.
So here's the picture: here's the... my old man and he's, he's crucified, he's hanging on a cross, right? There he is. And he's, he's saying to me, "Come on, you served me for all these years, serve me again today."
And, and he, he can't force me to do anything, right? Because he can't punish me, he's nailed to a cross, he ain't going anywhere, right? He, he has no authority over me anymore. And so I don't have to respond to him.
Of course it's all nonsense.
The root problem is sloppy exposition: Romans 6–8 carefully distinguishes between "the old man", "sin," and "the flesh." Scripture doesn't use those words interchangeably, but many preachers do.
So what does Romans 6 actually say? Romans 6:6 tells us about five "actors". I've marked them in bold:
knowing this, that our old man has been crucified with [him], that the body of sin might be annulled, that we should no longer serve sinThere's a story in this verse: our old man was a servant of sin, and he obeyed with his body, "the body of sin". God has intervened by removing the middle man in this chain. By removing the old man via crucifixion, He broke the connection between sin and the body it used. The result is that the body of sin is annulled, and as a result we no longer serve sin.
Scripture doesn't talk about obeying the old man, and it doesn't contemplate sin being crucified.
Scripture doesn't say sin has died, it says I have died. Romans 8:3 says sin in the flesh has been condemned, but there's not a hint that sin has died. On the contrary, Romans 6–8 consistently speaks of sin as an active, ruling principle. In Romans 6:12 talks about sin reigning in our mortal bodies; Romans 7:23 talks about "the law of sin... in my members."
We're not just spitting hairs here: there are huge consequences to carelessness when it comes to these chapters. Confusing something Scripture claims has been put to death with something that absolutely has not been put to death is a recipe for disbelief.
Once we head down that path, we end up adding caveats to Scripture – "that's true positionally". Eventually we get to the stage where we start telling people they should reckon themselves to have died while insisting to them that they have not.
The remedy is simple: just carefully use the language Scripture uses. The old man has been crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6), sin in the flesh has been condemned (Romans 8:3), the body is dead because of sin, (Romans 8:10) but we are awaiting its redemption (Romans 8:23). I have died with Christ (Romans 6:11), but I still have the law of sin in my members (Romans 7:23). These are the plain statements of Scripture.
Romans 6 talks about the old man, Romans 7 talks about the flesh. Romans 8 talks about the practical effects of the Spirit of God in us as we're living in fallen bodies. These are distinct things, and we have no trouble if we just pay attention to what the Scripture actually says.
There is a great deal more to be said, but we'll save it for another time.