I have been chewing over these verses for a few days now. I keep thinking about how horrible crucifixion was, and what those reading this letter from Paul must have thought when he wrote these words. They lived with a real and tangible understanding of what crucifixion was. I like the way the Wikipedia article explains it “Crucifixion was usually intended to provide a death that was particularly slow, painful …, gruesome, humiliating, and public[.]” It was not just a horrible way to die it was designed to be horrible. It was created to be completely and totally barbaric. There are no modern western examples to point to (in our justice system). We can’t even say it was like the electric chair because that does not come close. It was just horrible (I think I have already said that). But that’s not even what I want to talk about.
I want to talk about who received this horrible death sentence. Again to Wikipedia “Crucifixion was used to punish slaves, pirates, and enemies of the state.” In other words the lowest of the low. The most worthless members of society were crucified. Those who either had no value or who were an enemy of the state. It was not allowed for citizens unless they committed treason in which case they were an enemy of the state now. This form of punishment was so severe and gruesome that only those who were already considered useless could receive it. Paul knew his audience would know this, this was all understood information to them and now to you and me.
Now that we have some background we can look at these verses and see what he is saying. He is saying that your flesh, the thing that desires sin is as useful to you as the Romans considered slaves and enemies of the state to them. It has no value to offer you. It has nothing of benefit to give and should not be looked at as something useful (see verse 21). It will not get you anything, instead, it will cause you problems. It will disrupt you from pushing towards your goal. So consider it dead!
Don’t think that this means you need to actual mutilate (harm) yourself, though. That will never work. You can never beat yourself into submission because the flesh is not the body but the mindset of self-fulfillment. People often think that the body itself is the problem, no, the problem is the fleshly mindset that desires to gratify (please) the body. So what it the answer then? Paul tells us back in 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Jesus already did the work. He took a literal crucifixion and you get to reap the benefits of that. We died with Christ and now we live in Christ (see Colossians 3:3).
Paul is not saying here that we need to harm ourselves but that we need to remember that Jesus died and as Christians we died as well. We are a new creation and in that we no longer have the fleshly mindset controlling us but can live under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit. I say can because you must yield (submit) to the Holy Spirit. We allow Him to lead and guide our lives. We allow Him to determine our desires and in that we continually remind ourselves that we have been crucified because our flesh had no benefit to us.
Just a thought,