Old Nature or Old Man
Paul writes of the "old man" in Romans 6:6. This term has cause a great
deal of confusionover the life of the church. We need to note that the "old
man" is not the same as Paul's phrase "the body of sin" (6:6).
Otherwise the verse makes little sense. The old man represents our solidarity
with Adam, our old sin nature. It is variously translated as "old man,"
"old self," "old humanity," "old sinful selves,"
"old nature," and "old way of life."
The phrase, and its companion, "the new man," occur in only four sets of verses: Romans 6:6, Ephesians 2:15, Ephesians 4:22-24, and Colossians 3:9-11.
knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; (NASB)
by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, (NASB)
22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.(NASB)
9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him 11 a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. (NASB)
At issue is the question, to what is Paul referring to with this phrase? Does the "old man" represent the same thing as "flesh?" Where the term "old man" appears, it is always the same Greek wording. The wording changes slightly between Ephesians and Colossians where the phrase "new man" appears.
Again, first it needs to be emphasized that since it is the crucifixion of the "old man" that prevents the "body of sin" from dominating a person, the two phrases cannot mean the same thing. Since most uses of "body" by Paul appear to refer to our mortal, physical bodies, it is likely the same thought is used here. The body of sin is a reference to our physical bodies dominated by sin. This is similar to the thoughts expressed in chapter 7 with different language where Paul speaks of our "members" being instruments of sin.
Romans 6 is a continuation of the picture presented in the second half of chapter 5, namely, the two choices we face, being members of the family of Adam or being members of the body of Christ. Since something is crucified with Christ, it must be this solidarity with the family of Adam. In other words, our "old man" is our relationship to Adam, our being "in Adam."
Earlier Paul pictured our change using the idea of slavery, moving from sin as a master to God as a master. The "old man" picture is the same idea. Our old man was in Adam. Our new man (our newness of life) is in Christ. Our old man is our old nature in Adam, not our "old sin nature" as such. In fact, we know that sin still resides within us. We have not completely overcome the power of sin, so we have not crucified our old sin nature, for it still operates. What has died is our identification with Adam. We are now identified with Jesus.
The "new man" then is our identification with Christ. To some extent this new identity is a corporate identity of being in the church. The church forms this new man or new society. This is, perhaps, the meaning of the term "new man" in Ephesians 2:15. Compare this to Ephesians 4:22-25 where the context is more ethically oriented. Here the solidarity of the individuals in relation to Adam and Christ are more clearly identified. The idea of putting on Christ and laying aside the old man suggest clearly the struggle of sanctification Paul will develop in chapter 7.
The Colossians verses support this view. At conversion the old man was "put off" or crucified in the language of Romans 6:6. The believer was clothed with the "new man," that is, the believer is now in Christ. Whether the thought is individual or a picture of the new community is irrelevant.
The "old man" refers, thus, not to sinful flesh, but to our identification with Adam. This is why we may say that Paul is speaking of the sinner and not the sin. It is not the sin of Adam that has been done away with. It is the relationship and identification of the person as a child of wrath that is crucified. This putting to death of the "old man" signifies the break with our past. We are now a new creation in Christ
2 Corinthians 5:17
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (NKJV)