Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 12/14/2010 by John Bird.
Recommended. Discover the depths of the crucial word you will rarely see in a modern translation: slave.
There remain a few pastors and Bible teachers who give the Word of God its proper place; a few who believe that, through the Word, we can know truth about God, Jesus, and salvation; and a few who are willing to fearlessly defend the Word and the truth it conveys. Of these few, there are perhaps none more fearless or faithful in teaching and defending the Gospel than John MacArthur.
The release of John MacArthur's new book, Slave: the Hidden Truth about Your Identity in Christ, interested me for several reasons. First, whether we agree with him or not on every point of doctrine, anything that MacArthur writes is worth consideration. Second, his writings on the Lordship of Christ, specifically The Gospel According to the Apostles, have had a big influence on me. And last, I have heard him speak on the word "slave," which is the proper translation of the Greek word doulos. Unfortunately, he says, most of our English translations use the words "servant" or "bond-servant" instead. While servant is a good word, it doesn't carry the full meaning of the word "slave." MacArthur's comments interested me, so I was eager to read more on the subject.
MacArthur says that doulos is used in the Greek New Testament 124 times, usually in describing the believer's relationship to Christ: "Paul, a bond-servant [doulos] of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God..." (Romans 1:1, NASB). At the same time, the Greek word kyrios, translated as "master," is often used for Christ. In first century Rome, where the slave/master relationship was well known, there was no avoiding what these terms signified.
Not only do most of the New Testament writers describe themselves and other believers as slaves of Christ, but Jesus, through his choice of words and his parables, uses the concept of slavery to illustrate a believer's relationship to Himself and to God. MacArthur fully explores how believers are slaves to Christ. His arguments, as usual, are strictly based upon Scripture, the use of which features heavily in this book:
Do you not know...that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
What does this mean in the life of a believer? MacArthur again: "As those who confess the Lordship of Christ, believers are duty bound to obey Him in everything." But, since believers have a good and perfect master, it also means that they will have all of their needs met. It is comforting to be the slave of such a great master. It is also an honor:
...If it was considered an honor to be the slave of one of the Caesars, it is infinitely more so to be the slave of Christ - the King of kings and Lord of lords! Is it any wonder that the New Testament writers eagerly attributed the title 'slave of Christ' to themselves and others? It was not only an affirmation of their complete submission to the Master; it was also a declaration of the privileged position every Christian enjoys by being associated with the Lord. No affiliation could be greater than that.
MacArthur reminds believers that they are slaves to Christ because they have been redeemed from their old master sin, that "cruel tyrant." All are born in bondage to sin, but God redeems His own people, those who were "purchased with [Christ's] own blood" (Acts 10:28). MacArthur goes on to say that "we are not just the slaves of God. We are also His citizens, friends, and family members." From that point he explores the theme of adoption and all that it means to be a member of God's family.
Subjects like the bondage of sin, redemption, and adoption lead MacArthur to dwell long on the doctrines of grace (total depravity, election, particular redemption, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints.) His discussion of these difficult and controversial doctrines is thorough, balanced, and convincing, ties in perfectly with the overall theme of the book, and makes a great introduction for those who aren't familiar with Reformation Theology. And, since Thomas Nelson is the publisher, I'm confident that this book will reach many who aren't familiar with these doctrines, or at least who aren't convinced.
In this new book, MacArthur, the untiring foe of "easy believism," presents a very un-watered down version of the Gospel. Believers should remember that they are not just saved by grace, but "slaved by grace": "Freedom in Christ...is not freedom to sin but freedom from sin - freedom to live as God intends, in truth and holiness." In these times of what Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace," times when few live as though Jesus is truly their Lord, we need men like John MacArthur who, like Spurgeon in a previous century, will preach the truth even if all of earth and hell stand against him. I hope that this book is widely read. Such attention is both needful and deserved.