The Word of the Cross

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By Watchman Nee



Dying with the Lord to sin

The following chapter is composed of two articles by Watchman Nee first published in the Spiritual Light Journal in Nanking in 1925. The first article, "Dying with the Lord to Sin," appeared in Issue #27 of that magazine on June 10, 1925. The second article, "Dying with the Lord to Self," appeared in Issue #28 of that magazine on August 10, 1925.

When the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross, not only did He die FOR the sinners, opening a living way for sinners to obtain eternal life and to come to God, He also died WITH the sinners on the cross. If the effectiveness of the cross were merely in the aspect of substitution so that sinners would have eternal life and be saved from perdition, God's way of salvation would not be complete. This is because a person who is saved by believing in Jesus Christ (see Acts 16) still lives in this world; there are still many temptations. Moreover, the devil often cheats him, and the sinful nature within him operates continually. Although he has received salvation, he is not yet free from sin in this age. He does not have the power to overcome sin. Therefore, in His salvation the Lord Jesus had to accomplish both aspects: to save man from the punishment of sin and also to save man from the power of sin. When the Lord Jesus died for the sinners on the cross, He delivered man from the punishment of sin--the eternal fire of hell. When the Lord Jesus died with the sinners on the cross, He delivered man from the power of sin--the old man is dead, and he is no longer a slave of sin. Sin does not come from without but from within. If sin were to come from without, then it would not have much power over us. Sin dwells in us. Therefore, it is deadly to us. Temptation comes from without, while sin dwells within. Since everyone in the world is a descendant of Adam, everyone has Adam's nature. This nature is aged, old, corrupted, and filthy; it is a nature of sin. Since this "mother" of sin is within man, when outside temptations come, that which is within responds to that which is without, and the result is the many sins. Because we have pride inside (though hidden at times), as soon as outside temptation comes, the opportunity to be proud comes, as soon as outside temptation comes, we see others better than we are, and we become jealous. Because we have a quick temper inside, as soon as outside temptation comes, we lose our temper. All the sins that man commits come from the old man within.

This old man is truly worthless, irreparable, unchangeable, incorrigible, and incurable. The way God deals with the old man is to crucify him. God wants to give us something new. The old man has to die. God's words charge us to wash away all of our sins in the precious blood of the Lord Jesus. "The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin." "Who loves us and has loosed us from our sins by His blood." The sins here refer to the acts of sins committed by a person outwardly. The Bible never tells us that the old man within is to be washed. God's word never says that the old man should be washed. (The blood of Jesus Christ washes our sins, not the old man.) The old man needs to be crucified. This is the word of the Bible.

God does everything in this age through the Lord Jesus Christ. He needs to punish sinners, yet He punished the Lord Jesus instead because the Lord Jesus stood in the position and on behalf of sinners. God wants the old man to die, but He caused the Lord Jesus to die on the cross instead. By doing so, He brought all the sinners along with the Lord onto the cross. First there is a substituting death, then a participating death. This is the clear word of the Bible. Jesus Christ is the One who "died on behalf of all; therefore all died."

This point should be emphasized and should not be glossed over easily. A believer, that is, a saved one who confesses that he is a sinner and who believes in Jesus, should remember that the crucifixion of his old man is not an independent activity apart from the Lord Jesus, but is done in union with the Lord Jesus. When the Lord Jesus died, our old man died together with Him and died in Him. This explains the failure of many people. Many times believers exercise their own strength to crucify their old man. However, they find out again and again that the old man is still alive. They try, mostly unintentionally, to crucify the old man independently by themselves without Christ. This can never be done. Unless one dies with the Lord Jesus, there is no crucifixion of the old man. The old man is crucified together with the Lord Jesus.

We do not die by ourselves; rather, we die together with the Lord. We were baptized "into His death" (Rom. 6:8); "we have grown together with Him in the likeness of His death" (Rom. 6:5); "we have died with Christ" (Rom. 6:8); "our old man has been crucified with Him that the body of sin might be made of none effect, that we should no longer serve sin as slaves"    (Rom. 6:6). We cannot crucify ourselves, and we will not die. This "co-crucifixion" is an accomplished fact. It was accomplished when the Lord Jesus was crucified on the cross. The death of the Lord Jesus is a fact; that the Lord Jesus died for us is also a fact, "Has been crucified," according to the original, is a continuous word; it is in the absolute perfect tense, which means that our old man's crucifixion with the Lord Jesus is an act that had been accomplished once for all when the Lord died. But what is the result of dying with the Lord? What is the goal? We know from Romans 6:6 that the result is that the body of sin is made of none effect, and the goal is to make us no longer the slaves of sin. Let us use an illustration to explain this fact. There are three things: the old man, sin, and the body of sin. Sin is like a master, the old man is like a housekeeper, and the body is like a puppet. Sin does not have the authority and power to take over the body of sin or to direct it to sin. Sin directs the old man; when the old man consents to it, the body becomes the puppet. So while our old man is alive, it remains in the middle. The body is outside, and sin is inside. The sin within tempts the old man, and the lust of the old man is stirred up. This causes the old man to give the order to the body to sin and to engage in transgressions. The body is most pliable; whatever you tell it to do, it will do. It is something that has no dominion over itself. By itself, it cannot do anything; it can only act according to the order of the old man. When the Lord saves us, He does not put our body to death, nor does He destroy the root of sin. Rather, He crucified our old man with Him on the cross.

What is the result of crucifying the old man? The result is "that the body of sin might be made of none effect." In the original Greek, "none effect" means "unemployed." This means that, without the old man, the body of sin cannot do anything anymore. Formerly, the body of sin functioned daily according to the old man's order. It seemed as if to sin had become its occupation. All it did was commit sins. The old man loved sin exceedingly; it wanted to sin, craved for sin, and was fond of doing sinful things; the body followed after the old man to sin and became the body of sin. Now after the old man is dealt with by the Lord and is crucified, the body of sin becomes unemployed; there is no more work for it to do. When the old man was alive, it was the profession and the occupation of the body of sin to commit sins every day. Thank the Lord, this hopeless old man has been crucified! The body of sin has also lost its job! Even though sin still exists and still tries to be the master, yet I am no longer its slave. Although time and again sin tries to energize the body to commit sin, it cannot break through because the Holy Spirit has become the Master within the new man. As a result, sin is unable to activate the body to commit sin anymore. Hence, the goal of the crucifixion of the old man and the unemployment of the body of sin in Romans 6:6 is that "we should no longer serve sin as slaves."

The way one receives the substitutional death of the Lord Jesus is the same way he dies together with Him. Through faith, not works, one shares the result of the Lord Jesus' substitutional death, which is deliverance from eternal punishment. In the same way, through faith, one shares the result of dying with the Lord Jesus, which is freedom from sin. It is a fact that the Lord Jesus has already died for you. It is also a fact that you have already died with the Lord Jesus. If you do not believe in Christ's death for you, you cannot partake of the effectiveness of this death-- deliverance from punishment. If you do not believe in your death with Christ, you will likewise not be able to receive the effectiveness of death with Him--freedom from sin. All those who believe in the substitutional death of Christ are saved, and all those who believe in their death with Christ have overcome. To share in the death of the Lord Jesus--whether it be the substitution or the participating death--requires faith. God requires that we believe. We need to believe in the Lord's death for us and His death with us. Romans 6:11 says, "So also reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin." The word "reckon? is extremely important. Oftentimes we like to "sense" if our old man has died. We like to "feel" if our old man has died. If we try to sense or feel, our old man will never die in our experience. Our old man does not die from our "sensing" or "feeling." The old man experiences crucifixion through "reckoning." What is reckoning? "Reckoning" is an act of faith; "reckoning" is the judgment of the will and the execution of the will. "Reckoning" is completely contrary to "sensing" and "feeling." "Sensing" and "feeling" have to do with one's feelings, while "reckoning" has to do with faith and the will. Therefore, the crucifixion of our old man is not something we have to feel. It is wrong to say, "I do not feel that my old man is dead." Whether the old man has died or not does not depend on your feeling; it depends on whether or not you have reckoned it.

How do we "reckon"? To reckon yourself dead to sin is to reckon yourself already crucified. It is to reckon that your old man has already been crucified, and that the cross of the Lord Jesus is the cross for your old man; it is to reckon that the death of the Lord Jesus is the death of your old man, and to reckon that the time the Lord Jesus died nineteen hundred years ago is the time your old man died. The old man has already been crucified on the cross with Christ. This is a fact, an accomplished fact. In the eyes of God, the old man is dead. Now we reckon that our old man is dead. If we reckon in our heart the things we believe in, God will accomplish the same things. Furthermore, we should exercise our will to reckon ourselves dead to sin. If we do this, we will no longer be a slave to sin. To reckon is an act as well as an attitude. An act is a one time matter, while an attitude is something one maintains all the time. An act is a one time action toward a certain matter, while an attitude is a lasting evaluation toward something. We should reckon ourselves dead to sin. This means that we should take a definite step to reckon ourselves dead to sin. After this, we should continually maintain an attitude of being dead to sin. The act is the beginning, and the attitude is the continuation. We should have at least one time before God where, in a definite way, from that very day and hour, we reckon ourselves as dead. After that specific reckoning, we should daily maintain this attitude of a definite reckoning, an attitude that declares ourselves dead to sin. The failure of many people is this: they have reckoned themselves dead to sin and have received the word of dying with the Lord on the cross. However, they think that this matter is once for all and that once they have made such a reckoning, they will have no problem from then on. They think that just as one is dead when his physical body dies, so it is with the death of one's old man. They do not realize that the same is not true in the spiritual realm. We need to daily and hourly reckon ourselves dead with Christ. Whenever a believer stops reckoning, his old man, in experience, will not be dead. This is why many people find that their old man seems to have resurrected. If this is something that can be settled once for all, we will not need to be watchful anymore. But we know that we need to be watchful. Watchfulness is something we need to exercise moment by moment. In the same way, to reckon our old man dead is something that is continual and uninterrupted. If God's children are more aware of this, they will avoid many failures.

To take such an attitude is not a mental exercise of the mind, but a lasting evaluation of ourselves in our will. One should be able "to reckon oneself as dead" whether consciously or unconsciously. God's children often find it difficult to do this. Oftentimes, they think that they have "forgotten" to reckon. They have used the wrong organ. To reckon is an exercise of the will, not a grappling in the mind. Whether or not you overcome depends on whether or not you have adopted the attitude of reckoning yourself dead. It does not depend on whether or not you remember to reckon. If you exercise your will by the Holy Spirit to maintain this attitude of death, you will find that consciously or unconsciously, this attitude will be with you. The attitude is always the same whether you remember it or not. Naturally, our mind has its place, but we should not let the mind influence the will. The will should control the mind and should cause it to assist the will in maintaining this attitude.

Therefore, daily and hourly, consciously or unconsciously, no matter what we do, we should always stand on the foundation of the cross and should reckon our old man as dead. Here is the secret to overcoming sin and the devil. Sin and the devil are related to each other. If sin cannot be our king, spontaneously the devil will not have any ground in our hearts.

If the believers realize and receive the truth of the cross, there will not be so many backsliding and failing ones. Long-lasting victory can never be separated from a long-lasting stand on the foundation of the cross.

However, this is not to say that after we have "reckoned" the old man dead in conduct and in attitude the sin within us will be eliminated and nullified. As long as we are still in the body, sin will still be with us. To say that sin can be nullified in this life is not the teaching of the Bible. We can put our old man to death through trusting in the cross of the Lord on Golgotha, and we can cause the body of sin to be powerless, to wither, and to be paralyzed as dead; but we can never cause sin to be nullified. Whenever we are careless, unwatchful, and not standing on the death ground of Golgotha, our old man will be activated and will exercise its authority and power again. Satin is seeking an opportunity all day long to activate him. Wherever there is an opening, he will try to restore his original position.

This being the case, how much we need to be watchful and on the alert so that the old man will never have a day to rise up again! But is not this very difficult? Surely the flesh regards this as difficult. Therefore, in order for the cross to work in the believers, they must have the empowering of the Holy Spirit. The cross and the Holy Spirit can never be separated. The cross makes it possible for the believers to overcome sin; the Holy Spirit makes real in the believers' life what the cross has accomplished. A believer who wants to be delivered from sins must not make provisions for the flesh; he must be watchful and must be ready to pay any price. He should have less hope in himself and more trust in the Holy Spirit. With man it is impossible; with God, nothing is impossible.

The death of the cross is different from any other kind of death. This kind of death is most painful and slow. Therefore, if we truly reckon ourselves dead and take the cross of the Lord as our own cross, it will be painful and miserable as far as our flesh is concerned. The Lord Jesus hung on the cross for six hours before He died; His death was very slow. In the lives of Christians, the experiences of co-crucifixion belong often to this six-hour period. When the Lord Jesus was on the cross, He had the power to come down if He desired. The same is true for those who are crucified with the Lord. Whenever one allows his old man to leave the cross, his old man will leave the cross. The old man is hung on the cross through one's reckoning. If one maintains the attitude that the old man is dead, the old man will be as powerless as dead. But once a person relaxes, the old man will be activated. Many of God's children often wonder why their old man keeps resurrecting. They forget that the death of crucifixion is slow.

Satin is very alert; he takes any opportunity to resurrect the old man and to cause the believers to commit sin. Whenever we are not watchful, his temptation and deception comes. When outward temptation and deception come, the old man within is quick to respond. At such times, one should come back once again to the foundation of the cross and should once again reckon himself dead. He should wait (through his reckoning) for the Holy Spirit to apply to him the power of the cross, until the temptation loses its drawing power. Every believer should have this extraordinary experience. When he is about to be defeated, he should come again to the cross and should reckon himself dead; by this he will experience a power coming into him, preserving him, and strengthening him to resist the temptation. However, is it not true that sometimes we reckon over and over again and still we do not see any result, but instead we sin? This is the experience of many. This means that your "reckoning" has some problem. If you have truly reckoned, you will surely find extraordinary power coming into you. We should remember that this "reckoning" is not to say with our mouth, "I am dead, I am dead", It is the judgment of your will to reckon yourself dead and to maintain this attitude of reckoning with a believing heart. We may say that this is a decision in your will, by which you declare, "I am dead." In other words, first you are willing to die, then you reckon yourself dead. We need to learn to reckon with the will and with faith.

If we really stand on Romans 6:11, we will constantly have the experience of being free from sin. When a believer first takes this attitude, Satan will try purposely to stir up a storm and will cause the believer to feel that things are too much for him to handle. At such times, he should calmly rely on the Holy Spirit to apply to him the power of the cross. Do not struggle. Do not be anxious. Do not think that the temptation is too great, and do not uplift the enemy because of this. You should reckon yourself dead to sin. The cross has the power to overcome the world.

At times if unfortunately we fail, we should rise up even more and should trust more in the power of the cross. The Holy Spirit will lead you to victory in the Lord Jesus. Brothers, "sin shall not lord it over you, for you are...under grace"!

Dying with the Lord to self

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