Gospel: An Invitation to be a Slave

The Gospel According to Jesus (Zondervan, 2008).

All men and women are either slaves of Satan or slaves of Jesus Christ, there is no in between.

The following is an excerpt from John Macarthur’s revised 2008 20th anniversary edition of The Gospel According to Jesus -Zondervan, 2008.

“Understood correctly, the gospel is an invitation to slavery. When we call people to faith in Christ, we need to stress that fact in the same way Jesus did. On the one hand, the gospel is a proclamation of freedom to sin’s captives and liberty to people who are broken by the bondage of sin’s power over them. On the other hand, it is a summons to a whole different kind of slavery: “Having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). As the apostle Peter wrote, “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God” (1 Peter 2:16).

Both sides of the equation are vital. There is a glorious freedom in being the slaves of Christ, because “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). On the other hand, being a true follower of Christ means the end of human autonomy. And that is as it should be, because self-determination turns out to be nothing more than an illusion anyway. The only kind of liberty it offers is “free[dom] in regard to righteousness” (Romans 6:20)—and that is the very essence of bondage to sin. Its inevitable end is death and destruction. If we want true liberty from sin and all its fruits, it’s not autonomy that we need, but a different kind of bondage: complete surrender to the lordship of Christ.

In other words, everyone serves some master. No one is truly independent and self-governing. We are all enslaved in one way or the other. In the words of the apostle Paul:

Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. (Romans 6:16-21)

No message can rightly be called the gospel if it glosses over or denies those truths. The gospel according to Jesus calls sinners to give up their independence, deny themselves, submit to an alien will, and abandon all rights in order to be owned by and controlled by the Lord. By confessing Jesus as Lord (Kurios), we automatically confess that we are His slaves (douloi).

What does this mean in practical terms? To borrow the words of Edwin Yamauchi,

It means that we have been captured, beaten, and enslaved. We discover, however, that our captor is a Despot of love and mercy. Neither is there anything slavish or servile about our slavehood, for we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear but the spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15). Nor has our reduction to slavery been a debasement or an abasement. . . . We have been elevated to serve in a heavenly court and have been invested with a higher nature.

. . . [It also] reminds us of our ransom from another master at an incredible price. It was not with the fabulous sums of all the royal estates we were bought, nor was it for handsome features or some prized skill we were purchased. But rather unlovely, without any merit, rebellious at heart, we were redeemed with the precious blood of the Master Himself.

Having thus been bought by Christ we are entirely His.

There’s no other possible way to view it.”


The following are selective quotes from  John Macarthur on The Gospel According to Jesus from Shepherds’  Conference 2008. Please note that  these are excellent but unofficial transcript excepts from  live blogging effort done kindly by Ding:

“I want to make two points… One, Jesus is Lord. Kurios. This word is used 747 times in the NT. In the book of Acts, 92 times. Soter (savior) is used twice. Kurios means “one who has power, absolute authority, total right to command.” It is a synonym with despotes, from which we get the word “despot.” If we could come to the finest point where these words have different nuance, we’d say kurios is “sovereign lord” which means he is at the pinnacle, where despotes refers to “absolute lord” meaning he’s over everything and there is no other lord. Both words are part of the vocabulary of slavery. Both words are essential to the world of slavery.

Both words are used together in Jude 4: “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master (despotes) and Lord (kurios), Jesus Christ.” It’s not used to identify Christ as deity. It’s to acknowledge Him as absolute, sovereign ruler. In the culture to say someone is Lord, means he owns slaves. You’re not the absolute lord or ruler of no one. You’re not the sovereign over people with an option. Any denial of that aspect of the Lord Jesus Christ is heresy. The church, including all pastors, elders, deacons and people; is an assembly of people who have confessed Jesus as Lord (Ro. 10:9). Our life is not defined by our own will, wants, desires, ambitions, self-conceived purposes, dreams, hopes. As true Christians our lives are defined as subjected to, submitted to, under the total power & control of our Lord. That is why Jesus could say in his invitations, “let him deny himself.” You give up all control if you want to follow Jesus. That’s absolute lordship.

Who would really imagine that this great glorious truth, most basic to the Christian gospel, would be lost in the so-called church and we would have people getting Jesus’ phone number and getting connected to him on their terms? These are strong words, and bold words. Let me make the obvious connection. There’s no such thing as a kurios without a doulos – a slave. This is all part of slave language. One word axiomatically, self-evidently implies the other. If He is Lord, He has slaves. And those who call Him Lord are necessarily His slaves. He makes the obvious comment in Luke 6:46: “Why do you call me Lord and do not what I tell you?” It is the defining simple world-dominating idea. The numbers stretch out to the millions of slaves in that time, who understood what Jesus meant.

The second point: Christians are slaves. You might have a hard time buying into that. Doulos is used 130 times in the NT, and with other forms up to 150 times. And in 1 Cor 7:22 we are called Christ’s douloi. This word means one thing: “slave.” It’s all it ever means, nothing else. It’s a person owned, a person with no rights, no freedom, no standing. A slave could not own property, give testimony in a court of law, could not seek reparations from a civil court of law. No autonomy and no freedom. Doulos means that! There are 6 other Greek words that can be translated servant; doulos is not one of those words.”

“If you come to someone and tell them that He is commanding you to bow your knee to him, confess Him as Lord and become His slave… that’s biblical evangelism. You’d better think about the gospel: self-denial, counting the cost. Once you understand this concept, the whole NT opens up like a flower. Then when you read, “You’re not your own, you’re bought with a price,” you understand it! Listen to Peter: “False prophets… denying the master who bought them.” Any denial of the Lordship of Christ is a damning thing. Any denial of slavery on my part is a horrendous misunderstanding of what Christ asks of the sinner. You were bought, purchased with His blood (Acts 20, 1 Peter 1:18). Put yourself in the position of the early church. They’re going out to evangelize. They’re going to preach Messiah is God, who is killed by the Jews using the Romans as the executioner. This is a very hard message for any Jew to believe. That’s why it’s a “stumbling block.” You’re trying to convince Jews that God died on a cross. Killed by Gentiles, that’s ludicrous. Then you’re trying to convince Gentiles that a crucified Jew is the God of the universe, which is “foolishness!” Then you’re telling them that they need to become slaves of this God and submit their entire lives to an alien will, giving up everything and denying themselves to follow him even to the death. That’s counter-cultural evangelistic strategy!”

“The Bible doesn’t damn the institution of slavery, but it says masters should treat the slaves right. For some it was good especially with a benevolent master. Jesus didn’t come to abolish slavery, because if He did, He failed. He simply borrowed the metaphor because it’s so perfect! In fact, when the gospel began to move out into the world, the apostles understood it. In Acts 2:18, God is referring to His people as slaves. In Acts 4:29, when persecuted, they said, “Grant that your slaves.” They lived in a world of slaves, and understood it very well. That pastor was concerned about 5 generations ago, but these folks in the NT understood about it in the immediate generation. A slave was like a tool, you could kill your slave if you wanted to! To say that this crucified man is asking you to become his slave is beyond absurdity. Everyone who is free wanted to stay free; most slaves wanted to be free.

In Acts 16:17, there’s a slave girl with a spirit of divination. “Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are douloi of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” Even the demons knew it. This is how it goes.

Col. 4:12, “Epaphras, who is one of your number, a doulos of Jesus Christ.”

2 Tim 2:24, “The Lord’s douloi must not be quarrelsome…” That’s how we’re defined.

1 Peter 2:16, “Act as free men, do not use your freedom as a covering for evil. Use it as douloi of God.” Again, the general statement, he recognizes he’s a slave, demons’ recognize it, and here all believers are slaves of God.

Revelation 1:1, “which God gave him to show to his slaves… to his slave John.”

Revelation 7:3, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the slaves of our God on their foreheads.”

Revelation 10:7, “but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished, as He preached to His slaves the prophets.” Preachers are slaves. Servants take their money and go home. Slaves are bought and work only for their master.

Revelation 19:2b, “He has avenged the blood of his douloi on her.” Even in heaven we’ll be slaves.

Revelation 22:3, “… and His slaves shall serve Him.” V. 6, “to show to His slaves the things which must soon take place.”

Romans 1:1, “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus.” Or Php 1:1, “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.” Or James 1, “a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Or 2 Peter, “Simon Peter a slave..”, or Jude, “Jude a slave of Jesus,” or Revelation, “John a slave.”

How do you think that flew in a slave world? This is so missing from Christian vocabulary. But once you get it, when the Bible says you were chosen, you say, “You mean like when a master went into a slave market and chose a slave? And then you were bought like when a master paid a price for the slave? And then you were owned, subjected, called to account; but also protected, provided for and rewarded.” That’s all slave talk! The gospel is a call to slavery. We just have to decide whether you’d rather be a slave to Jesus Christ or the devil.

The Gospel is an invitation to be a slave of Jesus Christ

“You were a slave at the highest level. And we have no honor for ourselves other than that honor that comes to us because of who our master is, right? And that’s why the apostles could say, “I’m a slave of God, I’m a slave of Jesus Christ.” That’s where the honor came from. And I submit to Him for all my needs, I’m dependent on Him as my protector and my provider and I submit to all His discipline of my failures and my disobedience that He might conform me more to His will and I submit to Him some day for that reward which He determines is suitable to give to me when I come before Him and hear, “Well done, good and faithful slave.” Let Him give me what He will.

And by the way, you’re going to be a slave to someone. Being a slave to Jesus Christ is beyond any kind of slavery that anybody ever knew because this master, listen to this one, makes us sons and gives us all the rights of His own sons. He adopts us into His family, calls us joint-heirs with Christ, takes us to heaven where we rule and reign from His own throne and pours out all the lavish riches in His possession forever and ever and ever for our own unmitigated joy and His own glory. Who wouldn’t want to be a slave under that master? What a joy to be a slave of Jesus Christ.”Slaves for Christ by John MacArthur, Copyright 2007

See related post Slaves for Christ

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