“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).
This is a very important verse in regards to the Christian life, and one that is often either overlooked completely or explained away to appease the conscience. The meaning however is very plain, and if you claim to be a Christian then you need to do something with it.
Firstly, this verse is for Christians, literally “those of Christ.” Anyone who has been born again has a responsibility to abide by the words of Scripture, and that includes this verse.
Secondly, the action in this sentence is done by the one who belongs to Christ. As a result of belonging to Christ, the Christian has crucified their sinful nature. Not only is the sinful nature crucified, but the loves and the longings of the sinful nature are crucified with it. To crucify literally means to impale, fix to a stake or cross, mortify or utterly kill. The cross of crucifixion had one purpose and that was to kill. It was effective in its task. Now we see this picture of the snuffing out of life applied to the death of the sinful nature in the life of the believer. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” How can a Christian belong to Christ and yet claim to still be a sinner?
Now let me be clear: I am not saying that Christians have lost their ability to sin. Neither am I preaching eternal security. What I am saying is that when one becomes a new creation in Christ, they have done exactly that – become new. The old has gone and the new has come, as the verse exclaims. The term sinner applies to someone who is still in Adam, or in the old sinful nature of the flesh. The new creation in Christ has crucified that nature and is no longer bound to it (see Romans 5:12-6:23). This is because of the work of Christ and the authority we have in him through his blood, death, resurrection and ascension.
Allow me to illustrate the point. When someone is in prison, they are held captive and have no freedom of their own. If the warden tells them to mop the floor for work detail, they are going to mop the floor, and that’s final. Now say that prisoner dies in their cell. The warden can come in and yell all he wants for the prisoner to mop the floor, but he is not going to answer. Why not? Because he is dead and can no longer answer to the shouts of the warden. This is the same for the Christian when it comes to the sinful nature. We have crucified it – died completely – and the sinful nature has no more mastery or authority over us. If only more Christians would understand this.
So why does the Christian still sin? There are two reasons. Firstly, the Christian may sin out of ignorance. They may commit a sin because they are ignorant to the knowledge of who they truly are in Christ and the victory they possess. They are like the bird that remains in its cage even with the door open, because it is so used of being locked up that it cannot comprehend that it is free to fly away from its bondage.
The second reason a Christian sins is out of a conscious, deliberate act. They know exactly what they are doing and that it is sinful, but they make a choice to do it anyways. For this person I will echo the words of Alexander the Great, spoken to a cowardly soldier who shared his name: “Soldier, either change your name or change your conduct!” Either stop shaming the name of the Lord by your sinful deeds and start living the life you are called to live, or erase the name of the Lord Jesus Christ from yourself and stop calling yourself a Christian.
Christians have been given many commands throughout Scripture about the way we are to live our lives. If we belong to Christ, our lives are no longer our own, but we live for he who died for us. “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1).