What does this mean? As a new Christian I was instructed in a brand of theology some called "deeper life." The Deeper Life movement taught that our old nature was actually crucified at the cross and it no longer exists. But I was so much like Paul in Romans 7--"For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate" (vs. 15). Paul and I had the same problem, we were both struggling with our old nature. It was like a chicken running with it's head cut off--dead but don't know it!
There are things in Scripture that are a mystery. But let me explain what a mystery is: it is not some deep, dark secret we cannot know. In the Bible a "mystery" is a family secret--it is something that we as Christians can know and ought to know.
I am going to offer a shot at this, and you are welcome to comment. Christ died for our sins. Sins are what we do. But Christ also died for our sin. Sin is what we are. Make sense? Sins--plural--are the action. Sin--singular--is the problem at the base of the actions. Why do we sin? We are sinners in possession of a sinful nature. This nature is very much alive and unwell ever after we are saved. But, in the mind of God, the death of Christ was so complete that His death not only paid for our sins, but even for our sin nature. Nothing unholy can come into heaven. There can be no sin nature in heaven. Therefore Christ not only canceled our sin-debt on the cross, He also eliminated our sin-nature. God sees our sins as not only fully paid for and gone, He also sees us as righteous and holy in His sight through and through. That is true. Don't ask me to tell you how it is true. That is something far beyond me. But the Bible says it is true so I accept it as an accomplished fact.
The Bible also says that my old sinful self has been done away with. But the Bible is speaking legally, not practically. There is a difference. Legally my sins and my sin have been fully paid for. This is why the Bible can say, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). Legally, since my sins have been paid for--death for death--there is no consequence for my sins--no legal payment. But there is a difference between the legal and the practical. Legally, my sins and my sinful self are gone. But practically... well, that is where I'm having my struggle. Legally even though I have a legal piece of paper saying the debt is cancelled, practically I still struggle. My old man is still very much with me. Even though the Bible says I now have victory over my old sinful self, I still struggle. My life seems to be three steps forward and two steps back--or one step forward and four steps back, depending on the day... or the hour!
You see, we have salvation but we still have to "work it out" (Philippians 2:12). In this real-world experience we are having we still have to grapple with these things, even though the Bible says we have victory over them. Why is that? Because the struggle helps us. We are not saved to be robots. We are saved to walk in relationship with Christ. Relationships are not easy. Relationships are gritty and difficult (ever tried marriage?) We have to learn how to walk in this relationship, depending on Christ for victory in every situation. This real-world experience keeps it real--or, should I say, keeps Him real to us!
So, in the legal realm, our victory is an actual fact. However, in our practical day-to-day experience, this victory must be realized little by little. So don't get discouraged if you still struggle with temptation and sin. It is all part of the process of learning that we really do have complete victory through Jesus, and we can trust Him in every situation.