“We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.” â€“ Romans 6:6
What was meant by Paul’s referring to ‘dying to sin’? I believe this was a transformation of self, of personality, and purpose. It is the putting away of your old personality when accepting Jesus Christ as the savior and becoming his disciple. It is taking on a new personality and trying to leave sin behind as you pursue a righteous course of life.
It is hard to be good. As Paul said, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my [physical] members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” â€“ Romans 7:22â€“24. As we can see Paul was very concerned with God’s lawâ€¦ but he mentions the law of the physical members, this referring to imperfect mans physical inclinations. Though he tried very hard, he was incapable of completely overcoming the sinful inclinations within his mind.
Just as Paul had a hard time overcoming his sinful physical inclinations, likewise all of Jesus’ human followers would. ‘Dying to sin’ refers to the requirement to stop living in the way of sin, but to instead act as if dead when it comes to your sinful inclinations. We may think of how a dog when threatened may ‘play dead’ and not react. In effect, ‘dying to sin’ is the same thing. When we are threatened by sinful inclinations we should ‘play dead’ so that it may pass.
This does not mean that you would not be tempted anymore. Just like Paul still struggled with the law within his members, humans would continue to be tempted by their sinful inclinations. We are told without a doubt that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” â€“ Romans 3:23
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law . . . And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” â€“ Galatians 5:16â€“17, 24â€“25
In this scripture we’re instructed that we are not to ‘gratify the desires of the flesh’ which would indicate being led by the Spirit. It mentions those who belong to Christ Jesus who have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it? The tie to ‘dying to sin’ shouldn’t be that hard to find. This underscores my belief that the ‘dying to sin’ relates to the ‘dying’ as to passions and desires of the flesh.
“For whoever has died is freed from sin.” â€“ Romans 6:7
This is a metaphorical reference. Literally dying would free you from sin because it is the deal with God that our sin passes with us—as he says, “for dust you are, and to dust you shall return”. (Genesis 3:19) However, this does not necessarily refer to literally dying. Instead, as I mentioned, it is a metaphorical reference to death. If you die as to sin, or put away your old lifestyle of sin when approaching the life of Christ, then you are freed from sin or the strife and struggle associated with a sinful life. For example, think of a thief. Imagine a life of stealing and watching over your back for when you’re going to get caught. In his case, ‘dying as to sin’ would mean stopping stealing. Then by doing so he would be ‘freed from sin’ or the consequences of it, such as looking over his shoulder in guilty anxiety.
“Moreover, if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” It is not useful to just stop doing what is wrong, you should also start doing what is right. “For we know that Christ, now that he has been raised up from the dead, dies no more; death is master over him no more. For [the death] that he died, he died with reference to sin once for all time; but [the life] that he lives, he lives with reference to God.” Again, this death though could be interpreted literal, is most likely figurative and in reference to sin. “Likewise also YOU: reckon yourselves to be dead indeed with reference to sin but living with reference to God by Christ Jesus.” This directly maps the reference of being ‘dead’ to ‘sin’, and a life lived in Christ’s figurative footsteps.” â€“ Romans 6:8-11
What is the difference between someone who ‘dies as to sin’ and one who does not? Well this is how they live their life. We have choices to make every day where we may be tempted into sin. For example, someone who has ‘died to sin’ and is instead ‘lives with reference to God’ may come across a lost wallet in dressing room and though finding it full of big bills, would return it to its rightful owner. Someone who has not may be more apt to give in to sinful inclination because they aren’t trying not to. They may take the money, and not return the wallet. Or just take a twenty when returning the wallet.
So it is a psychological transformation, but it is not one which makes ‘one not feel like sinning any more’. To the contrary, ‘dying to sin’ is a mental choice to do what is right despite the natural inclination to do what is bad. It is playing dead to the temptation of sin.