Chapter 20 - Slave by John MacArthur
To be a Christian is to be a “wholehearted follower of Jesus Christ.” Jesus said the following: “My sheep hear My voice and they follow Me” (Jn 10:27). . . “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (Jn 8:31). . . “If you wish to come after Me, you must deny yourself, and take up your cross daily and follow Me” (Lk 9:23; Jn 12:26). Time and again throughout the pages of Scripture, believers are referred to as slaves of God and slaves of Christ. We are told to obey Christ without question, and follow Him without complaint – Jesus Christ is our Master and our Owner; we are His possessions; He is the King, and we are His subjects.
The Greek word for slave is “doulos” – it appears 124 times in the original text. The problem is that it has been translated “servant” (rather than “slave”) in nearly every instance in the various English translations of the Bible. While it is true that the duties of slave and servant may overlap to some degree, there is a key distinction between the two – servants are hired; slaves are owned. Servants have an element of freedom in choosing whom they work for and what they do; slaves, on the other hand, have no freedom, autonomy, or rights. In the Greco-Roman world, slaves were considered property – they were regarded as things rather than persons.
So, why have modern English translations consistently mistranslated “doulos”? There are at least three answers to this question. First, given the stigmas attached to “slavery” in Western society, transla-tors have understandably wanted to avoid any association between biblical teaching and the slave trade of the British Empire and the American Colonial era. For the modern reader today, the word “slave” does not conjure up images of Greco-Roman society, but rather depicts an unjust system of oppression that was finally ended by parliamentary rule in England and by civil war in the United States. In order to avoid both potential confusion and negative imagery, modern translators replaced slave language with servant language. Second, from a historical perspective, in late-medieval times it was common to translate doulos from the Latin word servus, which is more naturally translated “servant.” Third, the term “slave” in 16th century England generally depicted someone in physical chains or in prison – since this is quite different from the Greco-Roman idea of slavery, the translators of early English versions (like the King James and Geneva Bible) opted for a word they felt better represented Greco-Roman slavery in their culture – that word was servant. But whatever the rationale behind the change, something significant is lost in translation when doulos is rendered “servant” rather than “slave.” The gospel is not simply an invitation to become Christ’s associate; it is a mandate to become His slave.
Early Christian leaders, like Ignatius (he died around AD 110) and his co-workers, saw themselves as “fellow slaves of Christ.” Polycarp (AD 69-155) instructed the Philippians, “Bind up your loose robes and serve as God’s slaves in reverential fear and truth.” Augustine (AD 354-430) asked his congregation this question, “Does the Lord not deserve to have you as his trustworthy slave?” Chrysostom (AD 347-407) comforted those who were in physical bondage with these words, “You are the slave of Christ; He is your Master.” Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) states, “Where our Authorized King James Version softly puts it servant, it really is bond-slave. The early saints delighted to count themselves Christ’s absolute property, bought by Him, owned by Him, and wholly at His disposal. The Apostle Paul even went so far as to rejoice that he had “the marks of his Master’s brand on him.” The Scottish pastor Alexander Maclaren, a contemporary of Spurgeon, echoed these same truths: “The true position, then, for a man is to be God’s slave. . . absolute submission, unconditional obedience, on the slave’s part; and on the part of the Master complete ownership, the right of life and death.” There are numerous other individuals who expressed the same message throughout the history of the Christian Church.
Our slavery to Christ has radical implications for how we think and live. We have been bought with a price. . . we belong to Christ. . . we are part of a people for His own possession. True Christianity is not about adding Jesus to my life – instead it is about devoting myself completely to Him; submitting wholly to His will and seeking to please Him (by believing and obeying Him) above all else. It demands dying to self and following the Master, no matter the cost. Hence, to be a Christian is to be “Christ’s slave.” (1-24)
Slavery was a pervasive social structure in the first-century Roman Empire. About one-fifth of the empire’s population were slaves. Initially, the Roman slave population came through military conquests, but by the first century the majority of slaves inherited their place in society by being born into slavery. Most slaves, then, had never known freedom. For many slaves, life was difficult – especially for those who worked in the mines or on farms. Slaves who lived in the cities, working alongside their masters as part of the household, life was often considerably easier. Depending on their training and on their masters’ needs, slaves functioned as teachers, cooks, shopkeepers, and even doctors – slaves were involved in a wide variety of occupations. Household slaves received greater honor than other slaves because they worked more closely with their masters – they would do such things as take care of their master’s children, manage his house, or even administrate his business interests. A wicked slave was a great liability and could cause serious damage to the owner’s welfare; but a loyal hardworking slave was a wonderful asset to his master. Conversely, the faithful slave could look forward to possibly even receiving his freedom one day – a reward that owners often used to motivate their slaves toward full compliance. Slaves did not have to worry about where their next meal would come from or whether or not they would have a place to stay – their sole concern was to carry out the interests of their owner.
To be careful not to present an overly romantic impression of first-century slavery, being a slave was to be someone else’s possession, totally subjugated to one’s master in everything. The Greek philosopher Aristotle defined a slave as a human being who was considered an article of property, someone who belonged completely to another person. Ancient Rome viewed slaves the same way – “The slave had, in principle, no rights, no legal status whatsoever; he was a chattel owned by his master.” One’s experience as a slave, then, ultimately depended on the demands and goodness of the master – one’s life could be miserable, or exponentially better. Slavery in the Roman world was as diverse as the number of masters who owned slaves. Each slave owner defined the nature of his slaves’ lives. For their part, slaves had only one primary objective – to please the master in everything through their loyal obedience to him.
Jesus and the apostles spoke about slavery, using it as an illustration to describe the Christian life. But to fully understand this New Testament metaphor, we also need to briefly consider slavery as it existed in Old Testament Israel. The Hebrew word for slave “ebed” appears in the Old Testament 799 times as a noun and another 290 times as a verb – so this was a common word during Old Testament times. The most fundamental meaning of ebed is also that of a “slave.” Slavery was part of Israel’s history from her earliest days as a nation. Joseph was sold into bondage by his brothers. . . the descendants of Jacob (renamed Israel) were eventually enslaved by the Egyptians. The exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt did not give them complete autonomy; rather, it issued them into a different kind of bondage – they now became “the Lord’s possession” (Ex 19:5). Later God told Moses, “The Israelites are My slaves whom I brought out of the land of Egypt” (Lev 25:55). The Hebrew people had been delivered from one master in order to serve another. God would be their sovereign King, and they would be His loyal subjects. Sadly, throughout Israel’s history, the Jews frequently forgot that God was their Master – God responded by allowing the surrounding nations to conquer and oppress them. If His people were unwilling to be His slaves, they would once again become the slaves of their enemies. The book of Judges details Israel’s repeated failures in this regard. In spite of the nation’s unfaithfulness, God remained faithful – He was always quick to deliver His people, when they cried out to Him in heartfelt repentance. The nation’s idolatrous path eventually led to its complete removal from the promised land when they were exiled in Babylon. . . yet once again the Lord would deliver them (Ez 9:9). Many of Israel’s heroes, including Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Elijah, Nehemiah and the prophets, are specifically referred to as “His slaves” (Jdg 2:8; 1 Kg 18:36; 2 Kg 18:12; Neh 1:5-6; Ps 89:3; 105:42; Is 48:20; Ezek 38:17; Dan 9:11). Like all slaves in the ancient world, their lives were characterized by the ideas of total dependence, the forfeiture of autonomy, and the sense of belonging wholly to another.
The believer’s relationship to Christ is one of complete submission and subjugation to the Master. When the apostle Paul referred to himself as a “slave of Christ” (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1; Tit 1:1), his readers knew exactly what he meant. Paul’s life revolved around the Master – nothing else, including his own personal agenda, mattered. The blood brother of the Lord Jesus, James, writes: “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (Jam 4:13, 15). Such language draws heavily on the slave/master relation-ship; slaves could not go and do whatever they wished; they were bound to follow the will of the master. Peter, Jude, and John all likewise designated themselves as slaves bound to do the work of the Lord (2 Pet 1:1; Jude 1:1; Rev 1:1). The apostles eagerly embraced the title for themselves (Acts 4:29; 16:17; Col 1:7; 4:12; 2 Tim 2:24). Incidentally, the word doulos, or slave, is even used throughout the book of Revelation to describe the believer’s eternal relationship to the Lord (Rev 7:3; 10:7; 19:2). All believers at the very end of Revelation are called slaves collectively (Rev 22:3-4). (25-38)
The truth of God’s Word is always “countercultural,” and the notion of becoming a “slave” is certainly no exception. Western society, in particular, places a high premium on personal liberty and freedom of choice. So, to present the good news in terms of a “slave/master relationship” runs contrary to everything our culture holds sacred. When one examines the teachings of Jesus, however, we find that many of His illustrations and parables were taken from the “slave world” of His day. Christ repeatedly used slave imagery as the best analogy to clarify profound spiritual realities. From His teaching we learn that slaves are not greater than their master. . . they are not privy to their master’s plans. . . they are accountable to the master for how they use his resources, even in his absence. . . they are also liable for how they treat their fellow slaves. . . they are expected to obey and honor their master without complaint, though the faithful slave will be honored for his diligent service (Mt 10:24; 18:23, 26-33; 24:45-50; 25:14-30; Lk 6:40; 12:37-47; 17:7-10; 19:13-22; Jn 13:16; 15:15-20). Discipleship, like slavery, entails a life of total self-denial, a humble disposition toward others, a wholehearted devotion to the Master alone, a willing to obey His commands, an eagerness to serve Him even in His absence, and a motivation that comes from knowing He is well pleased (Mt 24:44-46; 25:21; Mk 10:44; Lk 6:46; 12:37; 14:26-33; 16:13; Jn 14:15, 21). Though they were once the slaves of sin, Christ’s followers receive spiritual freedom and rest for their souls through their saving relationship with Him (Jn 8:34, 36; Mt 11:28-30). A slave’s life was one of complete surrender, submission, and service to the master – and the people of Jesus’ day would have immediately recognized the parallel. Christ’s invitation to follow Him was an invitation to that same kind of life. Consider the following five parallels between biblical Christianity and first-century slavery:
1. Exclusive Ownership – Roman law considered slaves to be property in the absolute control of an owner. Though we were born “slaves of sin,” we were purchased by Christ through His death on the cross (Rom 5:18-19; Eph 2:1-3; 1 Pet 1:18-19). We were bought with a price, therefore, we are no longer under the authority of sin. . . instead we are now “slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6:17-18), and Christ is our new Master. We are a “people for His own possession” (Tit 2:14). . . we belong to Christ Jesus (Gal 5:24). . . we worship Him as our “Master in heaven” (Col 4:1). Just as first-century slaves would receive new names from their earthly masters, so will we each be given a new name from Christ. Believers in the eternal state will serve the Lord as His slaves forever (Rev 3:12; 22:4).
2. Complete Submission – Being a slave meant being always available to obey that person in every way. The slave’s sole duty was to carry out the master’s wishes. The New Testament repeatedly calls believers to faithfully obey the Master (Col 3:22-24; 1 Cor 6:19-20; Phil 1:22). Submission to the lordship of Christ – a heart attitude that works itself out in obedience to Him – is the defining mark of those who are genuinely converted (1 Jn 2:3; 3:22; 1 Pet 1:2; Rom 12:1; 1 Cor 6:20). The New Testament describes false teachers as “slaves of corruption” (2 Pet 2:19). . . slaves of their own appetites (Rom 16:18). The true man of God, by contrast, is “the Lord’s slave” making himself “useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim 2:24, 21).
3. Singular Devotion – Slaves had only one primary concern: to carry out the will of their master. Like slaves in the first century, we are to be fully devoted to our Master alone – “you cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24). Exclusive devotion makes it impossible to serve God and other masters at the same time. Believers are to “please God” in all things (Col 1:10; 1 Th 4:1; Rom 14:18); we are called to seek His glory in everything we do (1 Cor 10:31; Col 3:17).
4. Total Dependence – As part of the master’s household, slaves were completely dependent on their owners for the basic necessities of life, including clothing, food, and shelter. Because their needs were met, they could focus entirely on serving the master. The parallels to the Christian life are striking – we can focus on the things God has called us to do, trusting Him to meet our needs. Jesus said, “Seek first My Kingdom and My righteousness, and I will provide for all your needs” (Mt 6:25-33; also 1 Tim 6:8). Paul writes, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19; also 2 Cor 9:8; 12:9).
5. Personal Accountability – In everything they did, first-century slaves were fully accountable to their owners. If the master was pleased, the slave would benefit accordingly; if the master was not pleased, the slave could expect appropriate discipline. Rewards and punishments provided powerful stimulation for slaves to work hard and do well. Believers likewise are to be impelled by the realization that one day they will stand before Christ and “give an account” (Rom 14:12; 2 Cor 5:10). Each of us, like the diligent slave pictured in Matthew 25, longs to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful slave – enter into the joy of your Master!” (Mt 25:21, 23). In the context of the early church, a significant number of believers also would have been Roman slaves. Paul encouraged believers to “obey your earthly masters. . . and to remember that they were ultimately serving the Lord, who will reward them” (Col 3:22-24; Eph 6:5-8). Christian masters also needed to remember that they had a “heavenly Master,” and that they needed to deal justly and fairly with their slaves (Col 4:1; Eph 6:9). Knowing we have a Master in heaven should be a powerful motivational force for us as well. (39-54)
Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ is the “head of the church” (Eph 5:23; Col 1:18; also Eph 4:15; Col 2:19); to say that Christ is the head of the church is to say that He is the Lord and Master over the church. The overwhelming testimony of Scripture is that Jesus Christ is “Lord of all” (Rom 10:12; Phil 2:9-11), and the “Head over all things” (Eph 1:22). When we call Jesus “Lord,” we are acknowledging Him as our sole Master. The Greek word for “Lord” is kyrios, and it occurs nearly 750 times in the New Testament. Its fundamental meaning is “master” or “owner,” making it the relational counterpart to the word “slave” (doulos). Kyrios and doulos are two sides of the same relationship. To be a doulos was to have a master; and vice versa, a kyrios by definition was the owner of slaves. In New Testament times, the kyrios had full authority over the life of his slaves (Mt 8:9; 13:27-28; 18:31-34; 21:34-36; 24:45-51; 25:23, 26-30; Mk 13:34-35; Lk 12:37; 14:16-24; 17:7-10). The complete supremacy of the master over the slave was so culturally ingrained that Jesus could even use it as a truism in His teachings. The Greek word for “head” was kephale – it was synonymous with the word despotes, from which we derive the English word despot. When the term is applied to God or to Jesus, it emphasizes absoluteness of ownership, or authority, and of power. To confess Jesus as “Lord” (Rom 10:9), is to simultaneously acknowledge one’s own obligation to obey Him with total submission. In that context, Christ’s words in Luke take on the full weight of their meaning: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Lk 9:23). To follow the Master is to come to the end of oneself and submit completely to His will. Anyone who would be His disciple must also be His slave (Mt 10:37-39). Paul calls himself “the slave of Christ” (Rom 1:1; Phil 1:1; Tit 1:1) – he was no different than any other slave; he was completely at his Master’s disposal. Therefore, Paul could exclaim, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Elsewhere, he exhorted his readers with these words, “Do you not know. . . that you are not your own? You have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20). Over and over again, Paul writes that Jesus is his Master, and he is but a slave. (55-82)
The New Testament writers repeatedly spoke of themselves and fellow believers as “slaves of Christ.” The apostles understood that Jesus Christ was “Lord” over every other lord – that He is “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36), possessing the full weight of divine authority (Col 2:9-10; Lk 22:69). . . that He upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb 1:3; Col 1:15-19). . . that all things have been put “in subjection under His feet” (Eph 1:22). . . and that His throne “is forever and ever” (Heb 1:8). According to Scripture, “slaves of Christ are to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58). . . “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph 5:10). . . ever seeking to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph 5:17). . . and rightly regarding themselves as “a people for His own possession , zealous for good deeds” (Tit 2:14). The only right response to Christ’s lordship is wholehearted submission, loving obedience, and passionate worship. Loving obedience is the defining evidence of salvation. Genuine conversion is always marked by the fruit of repentance and the fruit of the Spirit (Lk 3:8; Gal 5:22-23). Though many call themselves “Christians,” the true condition of anyone’s heart is ultimately seen in “how he lives.” As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. The profession of faith that never evidences itself in righteous behavior is a “dead faith” (Jam 2:17), being no better than that of demons (Jam 2:19). This is not to say that true believers never stumble. They do – but the pattern of their lives is one of continual repentance and increasing godliness as they grow in sanctification and Christlikeness.
Because the “Lord” is our Master, we can trust Him to take care of us in every situation and stage of life. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, He will provide all that we need in order to be faithful to Him (Mt 6:31-33; Phil 4:19; 2 Cor 9:8). As such, we should be “free of anxiety” (Phil 4:6), because of the assurance we have that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, and are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). We are right to trust Him completely, for He is sovereign not only over our lives, but also over everything that exists (Mt 28:18; Rom 14:7-9; Eph 1:20-23; Col 2:10; Jam 4:13-15). God Himself said, “I will never leave you or forsake you” – therefore, we can boldly say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Heb 13:5-6). As David declared, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. . . I will fear no evil, for You are with me” (Ps 23:1-4). The blessings of being “His slave” go beyond mere provision; to be the slave of Christ is also a position of great privilege, for we are in the company of none other than the King of the universe. It was considered a great honor to be “a slave of one of the Caesars” – it is infinitely more so to be the “slave of Christ!” the King of kings! To be His doulos is an incomparable honor; therefore let us “boast of Him!” (1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17; Phil 3:8) whose name is above every name! (Phil 2:9). And then to think that “His name” will be written on our foreheads for all eternity! (Phil 2:9-11; Rev 22:4). Along with the saints of every age, we will never cease to marvel at the fact that, in spite of our own faults and frailties, the Lord chose us to be His own! (Eph 1:3-4; 1 Pet 2:9; Tit 2:14; also Ps 95:1-3, 6-7). (83-98)
In order to fully grasp what it means to be made a “slave of Christ,” we need to understand our previous “slavery to sin” – a universal reality. John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” had not only been the captain of a slave ship, he had also been subjected to slavery himself as a young man – he writes, “I was destitute of food and clothing, and became depressed to the lowest degree of human wretchedness.” Ultimately, Newton, in conjunction with his friend William Wilberforce, helped the abolitionist cause in Britain reach its goal – just ten months before Newton died in 1807, the British Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act. Newton’s past experiences helped him understand what it truly meant to be a slave of sin – to be hopelessly oppressed and exploited by a wicked master. Throughout his letters and hymns, Newton repeated contrasted bondage to sin with the redemption he received through Jesus Christ. He portrayed himself in his lost condition as “the willing slave of every evil” and “Satan’s blind slave” who, if Christ had not rescued him, would have “been a captive still.” In the following words penned by Newton – pause at each “dash.” John Newton new that unbelievers are:
By nature how depraved – how prone to every ill, Their lives to Satan how enslaved – how obstinate their will. Satan reigns – and keeps his goods in peace. The soul is pleased to wear his chains – nor wishes a release. Jesus being stronger far than he – in His appointed hour, Appears to set His people free – from the usurper’s power. He sees us willing slaves – to sin and Satan’s power; But with an outstretched arm He saves – in His appointed hour.
Newton also understood the ethical implications of his “liberty in Christ.” Though he had been rescued from the evil oppression of sin, he now had a new Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. But unlike sin – the most wicked and cruel of all oppressors – Christ is the perfect Master, being righteous, just, gracious, and good. Therefore, Newton could exclaim:
Farewell world, thy gold is dross – Now I see the bleeding cross. Jesus died to set me free – from the law and sin and thee. He has dearly bought my soul – Lord accept and claim the whole. To Thy will I all resign – now no more my own but Thine.
Having been rescued from the slavish bonds of sin, Newton was eager to obey Christ with all of his heart. He compared the Christian’s deliverance from sin to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Like Pharoah, sin is the harshest of taskmasters. But Christians, like the Israelites, can rejoice in being rescued by God’s grace.
Beneath the tyrant Satan’s yoke – our souls were long oppressed; ‘Till grace our galling fetters broke – and gave the weary rest. Jesus, in that important hour – His mighty arm made known; He ransomed us by price and power – and claimed us for His own. Now, freed from bondage, sin, and death – we walk in wisdom’s ways; And wish to spend our every breath – in wonder, love, and praise. Ere long, we hope with Him to dwell – in yonder world above; And now we only live to tell – the riches of His love. (99-114)
Sin is a cruel tyrant – it is the most devastating and degenerating power to ever afflict the human race, such that “all creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom 8:22). It corrupts the entire person – infecting the soul. . . polluting the mind. . . defiling the conscience. . . contaminating the affections. . . and poisoning the will (Jer 44:15-17; Jn 3:19-21; Rom 1:21; 2 Cor 7:1; Tit 1:15). Sin is a life-destroying disease that grows in every unredeemed heart like an incurable gangrene. But unbelievers are not just infected by sin, they are enslaved by it. Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (Jn 8:34). Peter described false teachers as “slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved” (2 Pet 2:19). Paul reminded the Romans that, before their salvation, they were “slaves of sin” (Rom 6:17). Every human being, until the moment of redemption, is under the domain of darkness and the dominion of sin – completely incapable of freeing himself from it. The very notion of such absolute enslavement is commonly known as “total depravity.” Motivated by pride, the depraved mind thinks itself much better than it really is, but God’s Word cuts through that deception by declaring sinful humanity as being incurably sick, and incapable of any spiritual good (Jer 13:23; 17:9; Rom 3:10-12; 8:7-8; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:1; Col 2:13). The Bible teaches that unbelievers whole-heartedly love their sin (Jn 3:19-20; 2 Tim 3:2) – they not only are utterly incapable of freeing themselves from its corruption, they are obstinately unwilling to do so (Mt 19:26; Jn 1:13; Rom 9:16). Left to his own natural reason and volition, the unredeemed sinner will always choose slavery to sin over obedience to God. Until the Lord intervenes, the sinner is neither able nor willing to abandon his sin and serve God in righteousness. Both his will and his reason are utterly corrupt.
It is from “slavery to sin” that God saves us, rescuing us from the domain of darkness and transferring us into the kingdom of His Son (Col 1:13). Our redemption in Christ results in both freedom from sin and forgiveness of sin. Not only are we liberated from bondage to our former master, we are also exempt from sins’s deadly consequences – namely, the eternal wrath of God. Paul writes, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2). Because we are now in Him, all our sins – past, present and future – have been forgiven for His name’s sake (1 Jn 2:12). Hence, we should no longer fear our former master, nor fear the wrath of God. Christ defeated sin at the cross. Note the contrast between slavery and freedom – when we were slaves to sin, we were “free in regard to righteousness” (Rom 6:20); but now that we have been redeemed we are slaves of righteousness and “free with regard to sin” (Rom 6:18, 22). One of the classic paradoxes of the Christian faith is this – “one slavery” is terminated in order to allow “another slavery” to begin. Sin is the cruelest of masters. . . and Christ is the most loving and merciful Master. Charles Wesley wrote more than six thousand hymns, many of which we still sing today. The fourth verse of one of his best known hymns, “And Can It Be,” summarizes the glorious reality of God’s redemption from sin, along with the believer’s subsequent duty to follow and obey his new Master:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay – Fast bound in sin and nature’s night; Thine eye diffused a quickening ray – I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free – I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
The hymn concludes with the resounding truth of the glorious hope that all believers in Christ share –
No condemnation now I dread – Jesus, and all in Him, is mine; Alive in Him, my living Head – and clothed in righteousness divine, Bold I approach the eternal throne – and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Having been bought with a price – the blood of Christ – believers are now “Christ’s possession.” As the redeemed, we are now not only His slaves but also His friends (Jn 15:14-15), citizens in His kingdom, and adopted children in His family. The very idea of adoption is filled with ideas of compassion, kindness, grace, and love (Jn 1:12; Rom 8:15-17; Gal 3:26, 29; Eph 1:5; Phil 2:15; Heb 12:5-11; 1 Jn 3:1-3). In ancient Rome, the act of adoption immediately granted the former slave his freedom, permanently placing him into the family of his master. So also, as the adopted children of God, we have been set free from slavery to our old master (sin and Satan) – he no longer has control over us. Once adopted into God’s family, we become a child of God forever (Jn 6:39-40; 10:27-29; Rom 8:35-39; Phil 1:6; 1 Th 5:24; 1 Pet 1:5); hence, we are simultaneously sons and slaves forever – forever we will be in His glorious servitude (Rev 22:3). (145-176)
Jesus compared the “kingdom of heaven” to that of a man who went on a long journey; in doing so, he entrusted the management of his estate to his slaves – he gave responsibilities to each of them according to their individual abilities (Mt 25:14-30). When he returned, he inspected their work – those who were faithful in their duties he rewarded, and those who were not he disciplined. Jesus likened this parable to Himself and His slaves (believers) – Jesus would be leaving them for awhile, but would one day return and “settle accounts with them” (Mt 25:19; Mk 13:33-37; Jn 14:2-3; 1 Cor 3:8). The central message of this parable is that of “being faithful” with what God has entrusted to us, and to look forward to hear-ing our Master one day say, “Well done!” (Mt 25:21) and then be welcomed into His heaven – that is the greatest reward we could ever receive! This parable specifically refers to our Lord’s judgment at His second coming (Rev 11:18). As Christ’s slaves we are ultimately accountable to Him (1 Cor 3:12-15; 4:3-4; 2 Cor 5:9-10; Eph 6:5-9; 2 Tim 4:7-8). Our obedience and sacrificial service in this life will not go unnoticed or unrewarded by our sovereign Lord (Mt 5:12; 10:42). Even if our faithfulness to Him is costly and painful, we can rejoice in knowing that “this momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17). The apostle John, in his final description of the “eternal state,” expands on the glories that await us as believers –
The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in [the New Jerusalem], and His bond-servants [douloi / slaves] shall serve Him; they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign [with Him] forever and ever (Rev 22:3-5).
Our study of slavery has reminded us that we were once the “wretched slaves” of the cruelest master imaginable – sin, and in the midst of our helplessness and hopelessness, God intervened and redeemed us through the blood of His Son (Eph 2:13; Phil 2:7-8). As Christians, we have become “slaves of Christ” – we no longer live for ourselves and sin, we now live for Christ and righteousness (Mt 6:33; Gal 2:20; Phil 1:21). Every person is a slave – either to sin or to God. Slavery to Christ not only means freedom from sin, guilt, misery, and condemnation. . . it also means freedom to obey and please God, and to live the way our Creator intended us to live – enjoying intimate fellowship with Him.
Though as Christians we do fall into sin from time to time, we are never again the “slaves of sin” as we were before – sin no longer has dominion over our souls. Having been redeemed by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the believer has everything he needs to gain victory over temptation and sin. So God not only calls us to be dutiful slaves, He also enables us to serve Him with loving, joyful, faithful obedience (Jn 14:15; 1 Cor 15:10; Eph 2:10; Phil 2:12-13; 1 Th 5:24). Augustine when writing of the salvation of the Lord said, “You awake us to delight in praising You, for You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” (177-212). In closing, reflect upon the words to Stuart Townend’s hymn, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” –
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure;
That He would give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.
Behold the Man upon a cross,
My guilt upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life,
I know that it is finished.
I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no powr’s, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart,
His wounds have paid my ransom.