Q: What is the “old man” in Romans 6:6?
A: Our problem before God is not only that we have committed sins, but that we are sinners. Romans 5:19 says that by Adam’s disobedience, “the many have been constituted sinners” (JND). The corruption of Adam’s race was such that nothing could be done to improve him. So God put him to death – “our old man was crucified.” The “old man” is mankind seen in Adam, which God judged at the cross. The “old man” should be contrasted with the “new man” in Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10. Those passages show that the believer is now part of a new humanity in Christ.
A common thought in response to this teaching is, “But I feel my old nature is very much alive within me!” Notice, however, that Roman 6:6 does not mention our old nature; it speaks of “our old man.” It is worth pointing out that the Bible doesn’t actually use the term “old nature.” When that phrase is used, it is in reference to what Scripture terms “the flesh;” that moral principle of sin is certainly still within us. But the term “our old man” is emphasizing our link with Adam, and the old man has been put to death. In fact, he has not merely died – he was crucified. Death may occur due to natural causes, but crucifixion is not natural – it is judicial. God has judged sinful man, and in His mercy, He did that not by putting us on a cross, but through the cross death of Christ.
This subtle distinction in Scripture is another lovely aspect of God’s wisdom in His plan of salvation. To deal with my sins, Christ died for me. To deal with me, the sinner, I died with Christ. The death of Christ for us has delivered us from the penalty of sin, but in Romans 6, our death with Christ has delivered us from the power of sin as a master.
While it is obvious we do not experience the blessing of it until our conversion, Romans 6 teaches that at the cross, God dealt with who we were in Adam. Our “old man” was crucified, our link with Adam was broken, and we have died to sin.