You Can’t Induce Desire, Or Are We Slaves To Jesus?

Recently I caught the tail end of a radio program by John MacArthur, an evangelical pastor near San Diego (I’ve actually visited his church years ago, I was surprised to find people in Mennonite-ish clothing in Southern California). After he polished off his sermon he inserted a promo for what he claimed is the most important book he’s ever written (noteworthy because he’s written well over 50).

The promo claimed he’d found a startling truth that shattered his understanding of Christianity – that a Greek word traditionally translated as servant in the New Testament should only be translated as slave. Instead of seeing ourselves as servants, MacArthur suggets we should see ourselves as slaves to Jesus. He even claims it’s a cover-up that all of the English translators made this switch*.

Yes I’m making the now classic mistake of analyzing a book by it’s promo (I have no immediate plans to read the book). MacArthur is suggesting that we need a monumental shift in our identity as Christians, as the difference is not a subtle one. 

I don’t doubt he’s right about the Greek. I’m no scholar. But it screams of legalistic, unintentionally manipulative religion at it’s best.

It brings up some complicated questions: Are we indebted to Jesus, or is his gift grace? Are we obligated to him because of what he’s done for us? Or are we free? Do we belong to God in a possessive way or in a paternal/relational way? (feel free to answer those questions in the comments!)

How can we be free slaves to God?

Ultimately I don’t think there’s any good way of getting Christians to see that they should be slaves. You can’t tell them what they should be – it has little power to make them what they should be. Instead I think it’s up to individual person to move toward’s seeing themselves as a slave. I think they had to reach that conclusion on their own.

You can’t tell someone they should be a slave to Jesus. They have to want to be one. They are so moved by Jesus and his sacrificial love that they want to be his slave. And so this could be the fatal error MacArthur makes – by telling people what they should be he could help capture them in the chinese-finger-trap world of legalism and religious bondage.

What do you think it means to be a slave to Jesus? Does the phrase sound a bit odd to you? What are it’s implications? 

*This isn’t totally fair, as he suspects some translators changed it because of the connotation the word slave has today – likely quite different from the ancient Jewish understanding.

This entry was posted in Christians Are Redeemed Yet So Very, Very Fallen, Questions I Don't Have Answers To. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to You Can’t Induce Desire, Or Are We Slaves To Jesus?

  1. David says:

    The word is doulos, and it means bond servant. The term is to be indebted to a master. In other we serve him because of what he has done for us. in fact this is on of the meanings of salve. The problem is American slavery in the 17 and 1800s which was not a bond servant. It was like being owned like a piece of livestock.

    The bond servant or bond slave simply feels that Jesus has done so much for us in giving us unfettered blessings; which start with salvation, that we cannot repay the debt. Let’s say some Christian that Charlie had no relationship with, no fellowship; in fact you didn’t even know them, and they saved the life of your wife and child after a car accident in which they would have died without his help. Then they and they drop $5o million on your kitchen table.. buy your parents a retirement home in Florida, and you on a cruise. How would you respond? That is the essence of the word doulos.

    McArthur is simply an intellectual who denies the power of God. In order to sell another junk Christian book he is pulling the controversial slave card out. Rob Bell knows Jesus better I am sure.

    I love Jesus and I would do anything for Him. Period. If that’s being a slave, then I love it.

    • I found your explanation helpful. I think why I took issue with calling us slaves is how slaves are treated (like animals, as you say) – as it is quite obviously the antithesis of freedom – something central to being a Christian.

      and while your words sparked a new firestorm David, well done :p, I think I do get what you were trying to say. Oddly enough I have a post planned on marketing Christian books that “Will change everything!” which is exactly how JMac portrayed “Slave.” I will also say that in my experience of hearing his sermons all the time on the radio he tends to be more on orthodox side, with not much emphasis on orthropraxy (and what emphasis there is on orthopraxy seems like law). But that’s my experience of hearing him on the radio.

      • David says:

        I suppose I could have avoided the RB comment. Most evangelicals think he is heretic. But if you watched a few dozen Nooma videos, you’d know where his heart is. I think both authors are in it to sell books – me I give mine away for free! (Seriously, if you want a PDF of the latest, just let me know.)

        The irony of all this is that it is only in the last few hundred years that we have had theology that denies the spiritual gifts (which started in America!); for which there is a tremendous amount of ink by Paul (Rom 12, 1 Cor 12, 13, 14 and Eph 4 just to name a few) – and tons of anecdotal evidence! In fact one ministry has seen so much healing that they have a doctor documenting it with x-rays, blood work and other tests etc. I am in fact one of those people.

        In the end it is unfortunate that J Mac not only teaches this error, but takes aim at both Charismatic, and Pentecostal theology and ministries (along with Catholics and a few other “liberal” denominations). Although he makes an intricately woven case of “bible proofs” spinning a web of Greek and conjecture in the face of factual evidence, people still buy it. RB on the other hand is only talking about Hell which no one can prove anymore than creation, so you may proof text away ad nauseum.

        Again, my apologies for the sarcasm, but none for the obvious errors in teaching.

        One of my pet peeves is Christians that have comments about ministers, books, and churches that they have never personally experienced – an worse, have only seen a 1 minute clip of on YouTube.

  2. I think the idea goes back to what Jesus told Peter, “He who has been forgiven much, loves much.” Instead of being there, working hard, slaving away, out of bondage or by being strong-armed, you are there because you want to be. There is no where else you would rather be simply because your love much.

    • i’m with you there. I think for a while I read that “he who has been forgiven much…” verse and been like oh man I need to start forgiving (ie I read it as a law) and didn’t realize that someone who is forgiven naturally forgives.

  3. At the risk of “starting something” I do take issue with the way David has characterized J Mac. He is not an intellectual who denies the power of God, nor is he pulling out the slave card to sell another Christian junk book. And I personally doubt RB could hold a candle to J Mac’s knowledge of Scripture. While I do not agree with all he has written or preached, I respect J Mac as a biblical scholar. I have his book but have not read it. A bondservant was an under-rower, someone who functioned in the belly of a ship as a slave. Yes he was mistreated. Yes, he was underfed. Yes, he worked (slaved) for hours on end. But that is a pretty good description of one who chooses to follow Jesus. We are to be servants/slaves/under-rowers, not expecting earthly rewards of “health and wealth.”

    • ultimately I think what I’m concluding from this is that there is a greater implication that you summed up at the end, and that I shouldn’t get too caught on the language (which is obviously loaded these days).

    • David says:

      Bill – you may have issue with where I am coming from. Where you and I differ, is that I am not impressed by J Macs knowledge of Scripture. In my personal opinion he has crafted some pretty dangerous personal doctrines. Although his salvation theology seems just fine, I believe that he is missing it when it come to the spiritual gifts. I don’t care how many degrees the man has, or how many books – it is just wrong. You cannot just snip out half of 1 Corinthians as not happening anymore.

      Truthfully, some of Rob Bell’s Nooma videos are quite good – he has some things right. I totally disagree with his salvation theology, and this last round has pretty much turned me off.

      I wouldn’t endorse either author regardless of how pure their sales motives for books are.

      In the end we are not saved by what we know, but who we know. I am after the Knowledge of God, not the Scripture.

      Blessings to you, sir.

  4. Darius says:

    First of all, David is dead wrong and has wrongly attacked a brother in Christ. Shame on him! Like Bill said, Rob Bell couldn’t hold a candle to J Mac’s knowledge of Scripture or his exegesis. J Mac isn’t perfect and doesn’t always get it right in his books, but he is a servant of God who has helped lead the Church well for many decades.

    “You can’t tell someone they should be a slave to Jesus. They have to want to be one.”

    Charlie, I hear what you’re saying and I think there is something to be said for it, but at the same time, Paul did this very thing (in calling us slaves of righteousness and of God). So was he wrong? We’re no longer slaves of sin, but slaves of righteousness. On the other hand, in Galatians we’re told that we are no longer slaves but sons. So one has to be careful in how one reads and exegetes that terminology. I don’t know how exactly J Mac explains it since I haven’t read the book, but a bond servant is one that chooses to become a slave. So unless J Mac instead equates the term “slave” to a 19th century understanding of the word, I don’t know that you and he are in much disagreement… or maybe you are. 🙂

    • I think calling us slaves was a use of hyperbole – in trying to explain the deep devotion. It also made a nice contrast – slaves of sin to slaves of righteousness – and Paul was big on contrasting images (darkness to light, etc). So I think instead of me trying to figure out if we are to be slaves I think I should take the greater picture he was trying to paint – of being people who’ve been transformed and that deep change has instilled deep devotion. I found your mentioning the Galatians passage very helpful Darius – thanks for that!

  5. David says:

    I am wondering why it is not OK to say the J Mac is wrong, He flatly denies the gifts of the Holy Spirit which a pretty serious error. I have sent him emails which he did not respond to. How you you just write off chapter after chapter of the Bible is beyond me. It is intellectualism that is not connected to any sort of power.

    Here is a link regarding that.

    I have read some of his J Macs works, and Rob Bells too. This is not a blind sided comment about things I have not experienced. I have a problem with faulty teaching and I am tired of of religion that continues to deny the power of God. There are people that I disagree with, and most of them engage the conversation. He did not. I happen to think that his teachings on the gifts of the Holy Spirit are as damaging as Rob Bell regarding the fact that everyone gets to go to heaven regardless of what they do or believe.

    If you think it’s wrong to call out false teaching (not teachers) that’s fine. But I cannot promote someone like that. J Mac makes a living selling books that have errors with consequebces. Every wind of doctrine – it is sad.

    So my apologies to the commenters. Feel free to delete my comments Charlie.

  6. Darius says:

    David, thanks for the clarification. I may have been unduly harsh in my response.

    If J Mac teaches cessationism, then yeah, I would agree that is wrong. However, many Charismatic churches abuse and overemphasize the spiritual gifts in an equally unbiblical manner. I’m sure J Mac is largely reacting against that. I’ve been in churches where people start speaking in tongues. That’s not Biblical if there is no interpretation. Paul had more to say about that. Paul clearly emphasized the fruits of the Spirit over spiritual “gifts.”… clanging cymbals and love and all that, you know.

    • David says:

      Darius – NP, I am unduly harsh – I used to think that was a spiritual gift. 😉

      There are a lot more gifts than tongues, though in the service (1 Cor 14) they get a lot of the attention along with prophesy – we came for a message, right?! I know there are lots of folks who have their own little corner of the Christian universe. I have been involved with many denominations over the years, and I was a missionary in Norway and Brazil. There is lots of error out there. Unfortunately, we can get people to read their Bibles all the time.

      Have you noticed that most of the miracles happen in 3rd world countries? There are two reasons for that: need and lack of religious education.

      I am with you on the fruit, but if we humanize God, he can’t be supernatural. Most Christians want to be blessed, and have their prayers answered. A human God can’t do that. Through the gifts we are able to love each other like God does. Without them, we get to love them like we do. I would venture to say most Americans have never seen a demon cast out, a loaf of bread multiply or a cancer fall off. I have. So when we get all religious ad theological about how God will do those things, we are very likely to miss it all together.

      I once went to a meeting where the guy preaching asked everyone to pray in tongues – my first thought? Bad theology. It went on for a few minutes and no interpretation. Then he asked anyone that needed to be healed of anything to come forward. There were a dozen healings that night. One girls who was deaf was now hearing. Another man that was due for a lung transplant was running around the sanctuary without the oxygen mask shouting “praise God.” I know that guy with the lung issue, so that was for real. That was 10 years ago. He is still fine. My point? None, I enjoyed seeing God at work. That is the God I have faith in.

      We often hear about balance, but the Bible does not speak of it. It says do what you see the Father doing. Every meeting can be vastly different, yet we have packaged them to pretty much look the same. I am not sure that is good – well unless you just want religion.

      I have written a short book about the gifts. Here is a link to the blog it is available on:

      There is a lot more to be said — blessings!

  7. Larry Hughes says:

    Charlie, David, and all:

    I think the word slave is meaning what it refers; A slave under ownership of another with out any benefits and subject to harsh treatment to perform. The Southern era in the 1800’s, Nazi Germany in the 30’s and 40’s using labor from concentration camps to build their war machine, and other times in history.

    Being a slave to GOD is entirely different. It is our will to be a slave or not. We have a choice and there are benefits.. Thus it is not slavery to the extent we think of slavery. God is our father and Jesus is our saviour. We are His children and His creation that he dearly loves ( some people there may be a question about).

    I am sure these fellows write books to get sales and pass along some truthful facts along with some errors in doctrine. Most theologist do try to impose their beliefs on the un educated. However, an intimate relationship with God and hearing His voice can certainly offer you the wisdom to discern what is truth and what is false techings.

    One theologist Jack Deere in his book “Surprised by the Spirit” went on to be a faithful proponent of the spiritual gifts and backed it up by scripture and theological research with strong evidence supporting the proof of gifts in these times. If one studies the bible, one will find evidence and statements by Paul that the gifts are to be practiced until Jesus returns to claim His church.

    Of course I desire the Spiritual Gifts as any one who believes in them but I am reluctant and feel I am not worthy of such an honor. However, at times God does allow me to experience the ramnifications of the Gifts and for that I am honored.

  8. theoldadam says:

    Good post and good comments here.

    I think that we belong to Jesus, now. We ARE His. He paid for us (His blood) and now He is free to do with us as He chooses. He chooses to set us free. (not from Himself, but from religion and the law – for righteousness sake)

    I’m not too crazy about John MacArthur. I was driving into work and heard some awful sermons he gave…steering people back into themselves and their obedience to the law, at one point saying that “it was NOT hard to do” (followong the law).

    Where’s Jesus?

    Anywho, thanks much.

  9. Pingback: How To Make Your Christian Book A Sensation, Or Religious Hangovers | Charlie's Church of Christ

  10. Barbara says:

    May I suggest you research the referenced sources in SLAVE? They are important because nearly all of the endnotes lead 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 homosexual scholar cited by Macarthur wrote a blasphemous book which attempts to prove that Jesus was a homosexual. (Sex and the Single Savior) Other liberal 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. For documentation on these and other sources referenced in SLAVE, please read this critical review:


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