The Old Man and the Flesh
Are the old man and the flesh one and the same? We read the old man has been crucified with Christ, and that we are to mortify the flesh. I'm confused.
How do we distinguish between the flesh and the old man? Generally, they are synonyms. Specifically, the flesh is connected to the body and the old man has to do with the nature of man. Other than that, there is little difference.
The word, flesh, generally refers to the physical body. But in the Bible, it also has a moral meaning that goes beyond the physical body and deals with the whole range of the earthly thoughts, desires, and feelings. This is the meaning of the lusts of the flesh. In a spiritual sense, "the flesh profiteth nothing" (John 6:63). In the flesh are "the motions of sin" (Romans 7:5). In our flesh "dwelleth no good thing" (Romans 7:18). Our flesh serves "the law of sin" (Romans 7:25) and in the flesh we cannot please God (Romans 8:8). The Christian is to deal with the flesh in the following manner:
- Refuse to walk after the flesh (Romans 8:1).
- Do not make provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof (Romans 13:14).
- Walk in the Spirit so as to not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).
- Have no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3).
- Abstain from fleshly lusts (1 Peter 2:11).
But we are helped in our battle with the flesh by our position in Christ and in the Spirit. Positionally, a believer is not walking in the flesh (though in practice he may do so for a time). In other words, we already have the victory in Christ if we will only practice the victory God has already given us. Therefore, we are "not in the flesh, but in the Spirit" (Romans 8:9). They that belong to Christ have already "crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts" (Galatians 5:24). We are already "circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ" (Colossians 2:11). This position we have in Christ acts as the ground by which we deny ourselves and live by the power of the Spirit. It is our provision for victory over the flesh.
THE OLD MAN
The "old man" is only used three times in the New Testament (Romans 6:6). The old man could be called the old nature. The old man is desginated as being crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6) and put off (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10). These passages show the old man to have been put off. In one sense, the issue is settled. But there is another issue with the old man.
Consider Colossians 3:9-10 - "Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him." Although the old man has been put off and the new man has been put on, this is not a guarantee of victory over sin. In fact, the believers are here told to use the fact that the old man is put off as a basis for not lying to one another. In other words, the old man was put off, but they still had to be told not to lie to one another. The larger passage in Colossians 3 shows that they had many other sins they needed to put off as well. What is the answer to this perplexity? How could the old man be put off before the sins of the old man were done away with?
It has to do with an important concept in practical sanctification. God gives us the victory positionally before we experience the victory practically. Positionally, the old man has been put off forever. I am in Christ and the old man has been crucified with Him on the cross. Practically, the old man remains as a force that must be dealt with on a day by day basis. We must trust in God's sufficiency to continually live the life of the new man. God has made us a new man. He has given us a new nature. Though we may have to put off and put on different practices throughout our Christian life, we can rest assured that God has already implanted in us a new man and has cast aside the old man. The Christian life is one of possessing our possessions (see Obadiah 1:17).