Flunking Sainthood

Flunking Sainthood

Christians Should Be Slaves: Guest Blogger John MacArthur

All your childhood, when people asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, I’m guessing you didn’t say “slave.” But according to evangelical writer and pastor John F. MacArthur, that’s what every Christian should aspire to. It’s only because of a consistent mistranslation of the New Testament that we don’t know who we really are.

In his new book Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ, MacArthur says that we’re not “servants” of Christ; we’re his slaves. We come into the relationship — a permanent one — with nothing.  You can watch the book trailer on YouTube. –JKR


Slave hi res.jpg

Slave: A Vital Truth That’s Been Lost in Translation 

by John MacArthur

Have you ever thought about your relationship to Jesus Christ in terms of being His slave?

At first glance, that may sound shocking, especially in twenty-first century American culture. But for those in the early church, it was a fundamental part of their identity as Christians. They saw Jesus Christ as their Master (or “Lord”), and viewed themselves as His slaves.


We are familiar with many of the terms the New Testament uses to describe us as Christians. It depicts us as aliens and strangers, citizens of heaven, and lights to the world. We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, members of His body, sheep in His flock, ambassadors in His service, and friends around His table. We are called to compete like athletes, to fight like soldiers, to abide like branches in a vine, and even to desire His Word like newborn babies long for milk. All of these descriptions–each in their own unique way–give us greater understanding into what it means to be a Christian.

Yet, there is a metaphor that the Bible uses to describe believers more often than any of these. It is a word picture we don’t hear much about, yet it is absolutely critical for understanding what it means to follow Jesus.


It is the image of a slave.

So why don’t we hear about this concept in the American church today? The answer to this question is as simple as it is surprising. The Greek word for slave has been covered up by being mistranslated in almost every English version–going back to both the King James Version and the Geneva Bible that predated it. Though the word slave (doulos in Greek) appears 124 times in the original text, it is correctly translated only once in the King James. Most of our modern translations do only slightly better.

Instead of translating doulos as “slave,” these translations consistently substitute the word servant in its place. Ironically, the Greek language has at least half a dozen words that can mean servant. The word doulos is not one of them. Whenever it is used, both in the New Testament and in secular Greek literature, it always and only means slave.


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. The idea of servanthood maintains some level of self-autonomy and personal rights. Slaves, on the other hand, have no freedom, autonomy, or rights. In the Greco-Roman world, to be someone’s slave was to be his possession, bound to obey his will without hesitation or argument.

For believers, the implications are clear. We were the slaves of sin. But when God rescued us, we became slaves to righteousness and slaves of Christ. We now belong wholly to Him. We are no longer our own. We are, as the apostle Paul says, a people for His own possession. But this kind of slavery is radically different. It is not drudgery, but delight. It is motivated by love, and it is the essence of true freedom. Moreover, it signifies the highest privilege possible. For God has not only made us His slaves, but also His adopted children and heirs.


Needless to say, something significant is lost in translation when doulos is rendered as “servant” rather than “slave.” Rightly understood, the slave metaphor represents a major paradigm shift, especially for many in the contemporary church. The gospel is not simply an invitation to become Christ’s associate; it is a mandate to become His slave.

  • nnmnns

    You can subject your self to slavery to an imaginary entity, with the orders transmitted by real preachers with real needs for bigger houses and bigger cars and better hair but I opt out.

  • Carl Youngblood

    I think slavery is a concept that made sense to early Christians because it was so commonplace, but I don’t think it is or should be fundamental to Christianity. As civilization advances, so do our conceptions of God, a trend which I welcome. If slavery worked then, it doesn’t work now, and I prefer the narratives that have replaced it, such as brotherhood and friendship with deity over servitude.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    As MacArthur points out in this excerpt, being Christ’s “slave” is not the only metaphor used to describe the saints who follow Christ. In many cases being his children or the children of the Father, and joint-heirs with Christ, is also a description of our relationship. the commonality between the two conditions is both submission to the authority of another person, and our utter dependence on that other person for sustenance and direction.
    What makes being a “slave” of Christ different is that (contrary to Luther and Calvin and perhaps even MacArthur) (1) we have a choice about whether we will enter that relationship, and (2) those who do so are motivated by Christ’s example of being a “slave” on our behalf, condescending and humbling himself to perform the most demeaning service of all: to suffer and die on our behalf, in order to rescue us. This is a different kind of master, one who calls us to take up a burden that is lighter than the one we bring with us, because he is carrying the heavier part of the load. This is a special master, who sends us on errands for the purpose of helping others, not aggrandizing himself.
    Probably the closest modern analogy to the relationship we are called to have with Christ is to enlist in the military. Once we do so, we cannot casually lay aside our obligations. Going AWOL is a punishable crime. We must obey the orders of our superiors. We may be called on to sacrifice all we have, including our very lives. But (at least in the view of most members of the all-volunteer American military) we are confident in the integrity of the organization in which we serve, and in the great majority of our leaders. And we are rewarded in many ways for our service, not only with sustenance and housing, but also with opportunities for education and travel, for accomplishment of important things, to learn and do things we could have never done outside the brotherhood of arms. The greatest military leaders can lead from the front, just as Christ has done.

  • Glenn

    I love how some of us use what we see other Christians doing as an excuse to NOT do what THEY are supposed to do. That is exactly why we are told over and over again that we should always keep our eyes on God, NOT man. man will always fail you. An example of this is a post I see here that says something about how some preachers have grand houses and because of that this person feels that he can simply disobey Gods word and HIS direction as to what WE need to do. That person with the big house is accountable to God for his actions. You are also accountable to God for YOUR actions. If a Ministry is feeding you spiritually then you must Tithe to that Ministry. Since I have been following Gods instructions and paying my obligated 10% my finances have seemed to grow without explanation. That 90% leftover After I tithe to God seems to go much further than it ever did before. Of course the things of God appear as foolishness to the godless. It used to make no sense to me until I accepted Jesus as the savior and master of my life. Now things have become so much clearer. This is very real people. Unless one has experienced it for themselves they simply cannot imagine what the all encompassing Love of God is like.

  • Bob Johnson

    John Macarthur conditioning Christians to be slaves. Jesus Christ said that we are not his servants, but his friends. We are also the bride of Jesus Christ. In stating falsely that the word “doulos” only means slave, John Macarthur is lying and setting Christians up for failure. Macarthur’s “slave” teaching ties in with his unbiblical “Lordship salvation” teaching. To learn more about John macarthur’s evil intentions, then read the article here:–slaves.html

  • Barbara

    Nearly all of the sources cited in John Macarthur’s SLAVE lead the reader to heretical works of modernist and postmodern scholars who deny the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. Some of these “scholars” are in fact rabidly anti-Christian, and their works, which Macarthur recommends as authoritative, are filled with slander and blasphemy of the Lord Jesus Christ. One liberal scholar quoted by Macarthur wrote a book which claims that Jesus was a homosexual. Other scholars quoted by Macarthur claim that Christians in the early Church, including the Apostles, not only condoned the institution of slavery but were abusive and immoral slave owners and slave traders just like Roman slave owners/traders. If anyone doubts that John Macarthur is a false teacher, the information in this review will settle the matter:


  • JohnStefanyszyn

    Mr. Macarthur

    In an article (by ERIN BENZIGER ∙ 4 JULY 2012) you are quoted as saying…”As shocking as it is profound, God’s Word teaches that true freedom can only be found through slavery to Christ. Though they think they are free, all unbelievers are in reality slaves to sin…”.

    True that we are free when we serve, as bondmen / as slaves, the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the One and Only God.

    ….yes we are free from condemnation, from punishment, from eternal non existence…for we do , in obedience and love, the Will of the One Creator.

    Then you mentioned that all unbelievers (i.e. as slaves to sin) “think” that they are FREE.

    ….yes…man believes that he is free to do what is right in his own eyes

    …………that he is free to justify and embrace his self-claimed and self-justified RIGHTS….ie freedom of rights, human rights

    …………that he is free (religious freedom) to worship ANY ‘god’ as per his self-desires

    …………that he is free to justify and embrace his self-defined happiness, his sexual lifestyles, etc

    Man believes that this FREEDOM (this god of fortresses) will not die…and through it that he / his spirit will not die…that somehow each has the self-justified right, entitlement, and freedom for eternal existence.

    Mr. Macarthur , you said that obedience to the Lord and Master Jesus Christ is “true freedom”.

    That being the case, and it is the truth, then the FREEDOM (ie freedom of rights, freedom of religions) that mankind / unbelievers worship and live by is a FALSE FREEDOM…as a false light….which man glorifies.

    Mr. Macarthur, you speak of God but is FREEDOM (freedom of rights-your rights, freedom of religion-your religion) your first love or is it the servitude to the Son of the One Creator?

    Mr. Macarthur, one does not need FREEDOM in order to serve the One Creator, in order to do good to the fellowman or to his enemies.

    Mr. Macarthur, Jesus Christ did not die for FREEDOM…he died in servitude to the One God and in servitude to man, for those that will repent and serve the One Creator.

    ….for which He was resurrected and will return to rule the earth in power as the One King according to the Will of the One Who gives existence to All that Exists and NOT according to man’s first love for ‘his freedom’, for his desire to serve and magnify oneself (XES).

    John Stefanyszyn

    …a bondman of the Lord and King Jesus Christ, Son of the One and Only God

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