What does it mean “to crucify the flesh?”
In his letter to the Galatians Paul exhorted them to walk by the Spirit and not to fulfill the desires of the old sinful nature. That command of Paul may seem normal to you, but there is nothing common about it.
Paul told the churches of Galatia that those who have come to faith in Christ have “crucified the flesh.”
Of course, he was reminding us of Jesus’ death on the cross on our behalf. He also was reminding us that Jesus said we must “take up our cross.”
What does Paul mean by “Crucifying the flesh?”
More than anything else, “crucifying the flesh” is Paul’s description of a radical repentance that must take place within the life of a believer. The expositor, John Stott, described repentance as “turning our back on the old life of selfishness and sin, repudiating it finally and utterly.”
What makes this so radical? What makes it so meaningful?
First, Paul picked up on the merciless aspect of repentance. Crucifixion was certainly that way in the Roman world. No one could come down from the cross and the Roman soldiers stationed on the crucifixion detail meant that no one could take the crucified man down.
Crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals. Jesus, of course, took our sin and exchanged it for His righteousness.
Second, rejecting our old nature will be a painful experience. Though it may not involve physical suffering, it certainly involves psychological suffering as we turn our back on the old way of life.
Finally, this is a decisive act. Criminals nailed to a cross did not survive. Neither can our old nature be tolerated or accepted.
It must once for all be dealt with by turning our back on sin. Repentance is neither easy nor painless.
But it is a sweet process when we see that our old desires are gradually but certainly leaving us.
Another great expositor, John Brown, noted that true Christians don’t succeed completely in destroying the sinful nature on earth, but they have “fixed it to the cross, and they are determined to keep it there till it expire.”
May you and I decisively and with determination crucify the flesh that we may walk in the likeness of Christ.
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