Being a slave of Christ

I heard an interesting sermon from John MacArthur this week. It got me thinking. It was about being slaves of Christ. You can read, listen to, or download this sermon here. He said that a believer's true position in Christ has been diluted by the translators' choice of the word servant and bond-servant for the Greek word doulos. They have consistently translated the word doulos which means slave, as servant. Doesn't that change the flavor of service to the Lord? Being a servant indicates that we can and do serve Him at our own will and pleasure, and slave means we submit our will to an alien will and then the matter is out of our hands.

The bible is clear in its description that believers are slaves, not servants.  In every case where the word doulos is used it means slave, and the New Testament uses it 130 times. We are not servants of Christ, we're his slaves. Even emphasizing the point in using the word minister, in 1 Corinthians 4:1 Paul said they were ministers of Christ but the Greek word is under-rower. The Roman trireme had three levels and the slaves chained to the oars at the lowest level were under-rowers.

Now, that notion is unpalatable in this "you can do anything" liberated free culture. It is anathema to the promotion of Christianity as a free-ing religion. It is certainly revolting to this generation of ego-driven self-gratification seekers in the secular world. But it is what it is.

The forehead
I am reading the bible through and I notice that a well-known phenomenon that will happen at the end of days also happened from the beginning. In the end, Revelation tells us the antichrist will place a mark on the hand or forehead of all who worship him. (Rev 13:15-17). The mark allows people to buy and sell, but its reason for being is not the economy, it is a mark of allegiance and worship of the beast. That the mark allows a person to also participate in the economy is a by-product of its placement on the person.

Jesus also sends an angel to place a mark on the forehead of His 144,000 who evangelize the world. (Rev 7:3-4).

Who brands his slaves? The master. Who puts a mark of ownership on his slaves? The master. Jesus is the ultimate Master and we are His ultimate slaves. That He puts a mark on us should not be surprising. We happily read language in the bible that says 'we are His'. But when you look at the Greek word for 'His' it really means slave, and that's when people balk. Did you know that ancient Romans marked runaway slaves on the forehead with the letters FUG (for fugitivus)? The notion of marking ownership of those who belong to Him was shown in the bible to have happened from the beginning. And here comes the use of the word forehead again.

In Exodus 28:36-38 we see the LORD instructing Aaron to order a gold plate made, "You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO THE LORD. And you shall put it on a blue cord, that it may be on the turban; it shall be on the front of the turban. So it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD."

Deuteronomy 6:7-9 "Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." The symbols mentioned here are phylacteries, a set of small cubic leather boxes painted black, containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, with leather straps dyed black on one side, and worn by observant Jews during weekday morning prayers. They were in use by the third century BC.

In the bible, forehead is used a lot to show identification with God (or with the antichrist.) We think of forehead as the exterior part of the face above the eyes and under the hairline. But in the bible forehead was used also to indicate what was inside the head. Wayne Blank explains it well. The Bible doesn't just use the term "forehead" to describe what is physically foremost inside the head, as not just a bodily location, but also what is consciously a heart condition, much more like the term "heart and mind" is used today.

In Ezekiel 9:4: "The LORD said to him, "Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst." A mark - literally, "Tau," the name of the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The old form of the letter was that of a cross.
Summary of our true position
A slave was exclusively owned by one master. He was expected to demonstrate complete and constant obedience and availability to that master. He was subject to one alien will (because no man can be a slave to two masters) and was completely dependent on his master for everything. All discipline and reward came from that master. Are you uncomfortable with this lifestyle? Well, did you ever pray,  "not my will but thine be done"? (Luke 11:1-2; Mt 26:42). Do you love the book of John, reading it well and recommending it heartily? It says in John 5:30 "I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me." There are many other examples of Jesus reiterating that His will not be done but the Father who sent Him, and as an example to His children to do the same. Yes, we are His children, we are His beloved, we are His bride, all nice, but we are also His slaves.

We use that term so casually today. Teenagers sneer, "What am I, your slave?" We say we slave away at the sale mines. We are slaves to things, like "I'm a slave cream. We slaved over a hot stove all day. But when we read of our true position in Christ, slave, we balk. "No, not me", you think.

But we will be slaves to Him throughout all of eternity: Revelation 22:1-4: "And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads."

May His will be done.


  1. Hi Elizabeth,

    I love your blog, but don't think I've ever commented. I agree this new emphasis on "slave" hits me wrong. I think it totally ignores the scriptures that say we are children of God, His heirs and ultimately His bride and will rule and reign with Him. Slaves do not rule and reign. There must be some way to harmonize all of this.


  2. Hi Liz!

    thank you for reading and also for your comment.

    I'm sorry if I didn't write this clearly enough, because I'm *not* hit wrong by the emphasis on the word slave. We are slaves. It is stated so 130 times in the NT. We were bought with a price, remember. (1 Corinthians 6-20)

    Slaves did rule and reign: Joseph was a slave who ruled ALL of Egypt with only one above him. In the New Earth we rule and reign: with Jesus placing a name on our foreheads. Only Masters do that. We will rule and reign, but at HIS pleasure. Not ours.

    The translators were squeamish about using the clear word meaning slave and used the near synonym servant or bond-servant instead. It is also unpalatable to today's proselytizers who focus only on the liberating aspects of Christianity, and the political loadedness of saying "come, repent and be a slave to Christ" has its difficulties when sharing the Gospel. But the clear truth is that we are His slaves.

    I ended the essay by saying May His will be done as an indicator of my personal acceptance of my position in Christ.

  3. Hi Elizabeth:
    I find the real trouble is that we are slaves
    to Jesus ONLY as we submit ourselves to Him -
    He will not keep us slaves if we change our
    mind - which we can do at any time - we have to
    freely and joyously serve Him - we have to
    each moment choose to serve Him - otherwise He
    will not accept it - we can pray to Him telling
    Him we choose to serve Him and ask for power to
    do this and I have found that I need to do this
    daily - hourly - moment by moment - I think this
    is what Paul meant when he said "I die daily"

  4. Hi Elizabeth,
    Good post!
    Romans 6:17-20
    17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. 19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.
    Romans 8:14-16
    14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[a] And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
    1 Peter 2:15-16
    15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.

    We are either a slave to sin or a slave to God for we are created beings and we have a master. If we make God our master by free choice we are still a slave to Him but by freedom of choice. We are heirs with Jesus through the gift of Jesus but like a child will alway be under the control of the parent we too are under the control of God and willingly serve Him because of love.

    God Bless,

  5. Jackie, thank you. That was extremely well said.

    Child of God, thank you for that great comment. I think you, me and Jackie are in harmony that though we are bought with a price, we submit to that price voluntarily. It is the major difference between the slavery shown by the antichrist and the slavery necessitated by Jesus. In Rev 13:16 the antichrist forced all to receive the mark of worship. I voluntarily surrender my will to His.

    1. "he antichrist forced all to receive the mark of worship. I voluntarily surrender my will to His."

      dont worry we all know you mean jesus :)

  6. we are slaves to christ when we choose to COMPLETELY submit to Him and it doesn't happen to everyone immediately we get saved but The Holy Spirit puts that desire in our hearts. I'm a new christian and God has had to break me (The Holy Spirit gave me the desire but I made the decision to ask The Lord to do it) and I have had to go through valleys to realize how I cannot survive, have peace or joy without completely submitting to Christ and being a slave to him. It inherently has a negative connotation if I think with my mind but the FREEDOM that I experience when I completely surrender to Christ and become his slave is....unspeakable. I'm still in the process of becoming a total slave to Christ and I thank my God for never giving up on me, never leaving nor forsaking me.

    Alot of Christians (not you all though!) seem to think we are either slaves OR we are fellow heirs, children of God but it seems we are meant to be both because it's all God desires us to be. They are both in His divine word, we don't get to pick and choose what makes us feel more comfortable.

    I bought McArthur's book but might return it, I'm still not sure if I want to read it.

  7. I agree anonymous, that we are both, slaves and heirs.

    Don't return MacArthur's book. Read it. The Holy Spirit will help you with the emotional part.

  8. Hi, Elizabeth,
    Funny you should post this. I heard Mac Arthur's sermon on this as well and was contemplating a post on my blog about it. I'm considering buying his book as well. I have often been stopped by the holy spirit when reading the Bible and coming upon the phrase "slave for Christ" often used by Paul in his writings. As I have pondered this message, the spirit has shown me that as I surrender to his will, I become, for lack of a better word, his "slave". My body which he bought at a high cost, becomes his to use at his discretion for his purposes, and because I do this voluntarily knowing that he is the creator of all, my redeemer, and my friend; I will be rewarded at the end of my physical life by being able to remain "in Him" who is "all in all" for eternity. Slavery is a most distasteful word these days because of man's evil use and manner of ownership. Man's ways and God's ways are not the same. Man used slavery for ill and God uses slavery for good. I really think bond-servant is a better word because you are owned by the one you serve (and I think Paul used that term once or twice if I remember correctly). I was trying to explain this to my husband and his question was "how many slaves to Christ do you know"? It is a phenomen unknown to the masses these days. God bless...great post!


  9. Hi Kim,

    You captured the thought I'd had but did not write: man (satan) perverted slavery into something evil and terrible. But slavery to Him simply means submitting to the One Will in the universe who knows us best and has plans for our good. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jer 29:11

    It means perfect trust that He will use us well and for His glory. Not many people have that deep kind of trust, as you pointed out. How many slaves for Christ do we know? It is likely why there will be many who say "Lord, Lord..."


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