When we call ourselves Christians, we proclaim to the world our identity which is found in Jesus Christ because we have denied ourselves in order to follow and obey Him. The world identifies a Christian as someone who follows Christ. Ironically, the scripture uses different word to identify the believers in Christ. The new Testament writers -Paul, James, Peter, Jude and John, they all identified themselves as ‘slaves of Christ’. According to the scripture, a Christian is someone who had been set free from sin; yet having bought with a price and become a slave of Christ. So, the biblical description of believers’ relationship to Christ is the Slave/Master relationship.

The fundamental confession of Christians is, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” If you say that you are a Christian, the very first thing that you would confess from your mouth is ‘Jesus is Lord’ – Not Buddha, not Shiva, not Krishna. You can’t even be a Christian unless you confess Jesus is Lord. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you’ll be saved” (Romans 10:9,10). And Paul says that no one can confess ‘Jesus is Lord’ without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3). It is an essential required confession and belief to be a Christian, and it demands the total heart submission. Christ is both our Savior and our Sovereign Lord.

The Word Lost in Translation

The Greek word for ‘Lord’ kurios (κύριος) refers to a person exercising absolute ownership rights. It means “one who has power, ownership, and absolute authority” -that is the Christian confession. The Lordship of Christ is clearly declared throughout the entire New Testament. He is kurios, sovereign, absolute ruler. So when I say, “Jesus is Lord,” I am not identifying Him merely as deity. I am saying, “Jesus is the Master with absolute power and absolute dominion.” That word “Lord” used to describe a slave owner. If I am a Christ follower, I have died to myself (Luke 9:23). I am not in charge anymore. I am not in control anymore. My ambitions, desires, possessions, relationships, plans and goals all set aside. When I say “You are Lord” I must understand the cost of my confession. This is slave talk! When there is a ‘kurios’ (Lord), there are ‘doulos’ (Slaves). If Christ is my kurios (Lord), then I am a ‘doulos’ (Slave). If Jesus is Lord and I call Him Lord, then He has a right to ask me the question, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord,’ and do not do what I command?” (Luke 6:46).

The Greek word for slave, ‘doulas’ (Strong’s 1401: δοῦλος) appear about 150 times in the New Testament but translated in to English as ‘slave’ only few times. The New Testament translators only translate the ‘doulas’ to “slave” when it is referring to an actual physical slave, or when it is referring to an inanimate object, like “slaves of sin” or “slaves of righteousness.” In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for ‘Slave’, ebed (Strong’s 5650: עֶבֶד) appears 1100 times in all forms, but in English bible, it’s translated as ‘Slave’ only once. Whenever these words refer to a believer, almost all the translations except Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), they are translated as “servant” or “bond-servant”. So, when we read scripture casually we get the idea that we are servants of God.

Why have modern English translations mistranslated doulos?

One of the strong explanations is that, given the stigmas attached to slavery in Western society, translators have understandably wanted to avoid any association between biblical teaching and the slave trade of the British Empire and the American Colonial era. In order to avoid both potential confusion and negative imagery, modern translators have replaced slave language with servant language. – John MacArthur

The word ‘doulas’ means ‘slave’

The word ‘doulas’ doesn’t mean anything else but “slave’. If the Holy Spirit wanted to use the word ‘Servant’ there are other six different Greek words, but the word doulos is not one of them. It does not mean ‘servant’. A slave is someone bought for a price and owned by a master. Slave does not have any personal rights or legal rights. He does not own any property, he has no freedom, no autonomy. But the servant is different. The servant is defined by its functions. But the slave is defined by its position. In the Roman world, slaves were considered property, and in the eyes of the law they were regarded as ‘things’ rather than persons. A servant is someone hired to do something. The slave is someone owned. That’s a big difference! Slavery is what God is communicating through those words because it is what describes our relationship to Christ.

We are not bond-servants or bond-slaves

The term bond-servant or bond-slave refer to someone who voluntarily served. Christianity is not a voluntary enterprise. No man volunteered to be a Christian (John 15:16; John 6:44). Christian is someone who was picked out from the slave market of sin, and bought with the price of Christ’s precious blood. This is sovereign election of God. In order to enter into His kingdom, Christ requires our complete submission to His Lordship (Matthew 7:21). We must deny ourselves (Matthew 16:24). Christ wants us to obey all the commands He taught to His disciples (Matthew 28:20).

Now, am I really free?

When I said, “Jesus is Lord,” I have yielded up unconditional, unrestricted submission to the control of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Now, my freedom is defined by Christ. My duties are defined by Him. My convictions are defined by Him. My words are defined by Him. My actions are defined by Him. My relationships are defined by Him. Everything in my life is defined by Christ.

When I yielded to His Lordship, my old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20). When I died, my old identity is removed, and a new identity is given (Corinthians 5:17). My DNA has changed, and now I bear the name of Christ. Now whatever I do, it will affect Christ’s name. Every holy and righteous act will bring honor and praise to His name (Matthew 5:16), while every wicked and unrighteous behavior will bring dishonor and shame to his name (Rom. 2:24). Through our lives Christ’s name can be praised and Christ’s name can be blasphemed, because a Christian carries His identity.

Jesus is Lord and I am His Slave

Leave aside others, many Christians have hard time accepting this biblical truth, the same way they refused at the beginning to accept that they were wretched sinners. This is the mark of the fall -the ugly pride! What do we have to lose anyways? Christ is the one who lost everything for us. Christ is the King of heaven who became a slave in order to save us. We are slaves who become intimate friends of God. Christ is the Son who had all the glories in heaven yet emptied Himself and came down to earth to become a slave! I am a slave who will receive all the glories of heaven when I realize the inheritance promised to His sons.

Humility is a necessary and vital part of the life of every Christian. The supreme example of humility in the Scriptures and in all of history is Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says in Philippians 2:7 that He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave. He became a slave of God in His incarnation. He shows us what the slavery looks like: “I came to do what the Father wants me to do” (John 6:38). Scripture is clear, “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Phil 2:8).

The Invitation To Become Slaves

The message of the cross is, “Jesus is Lord and Master; and the redeemed who receive the forgiveness of sin, and confess Christ as Lord, become His slave.” Bible nowhere condemns slavery as a social structure. It condemns every abuse of it as it condemns every other unrighteousness. Rather, scripture recognizes it as a spiritual structure that defines redeemed sinners relationship to the Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father” (V14,15). Redeemed people are slaves of Christ who become His friends. And there couldn’t be any more wonderful life than the life of a slave chosen, purchased, cared for, loved, protected, provided for, secured, rewarded by a perfect master who become more than a brother to the slave (Hebrews 2:11; Romans 8:29; Mark 3:34).

I am blessed beyond description to be a slave of Christ. One day, I want to hear Him saying, “Well done, good and faithful slave”(Matthew 25:23). Then, I will receive my promised inheritance and rule with Christ in the City of God. “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His slaves will serve Him” (Rev. 22:3). The gospel is not simply an invitation to become a Christ follower; it is a command to become His slave.

Recommended Reading

Slave: The Hidden Truth about Your Identity in Christ, John MacArthur
Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ, Murray J. Harris
A Better Freedom: Finding Life as Slaves of Christ, Michael Card