As the twenty-first-century Christian downgrade continues at a blistering pace, those without roots don’t stand a chance in the face of strong cultural headwinds. Cultural issues produce fault lines between faithful Gospel teaching and popular false teaching that derives its legitimacy from the approval of the world. Pastor John MacArthur, author of Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity In Christ, wrote his work on the identity of believers as slaves (doulos) to Christ prior to the popularization of Critical Race Theory in churches and denominations. The slave-master metaphor was the most frequently used metaphor in the New Testament to describe a believer’s relationship with God. MacArthur highlighted the significance of this fact in his book.
As followers of Jesus, we call ourselves “Christians,” but the fact is this word only appears three times in the Bible. In the New Testament, you’ll find a host of terms that identify the followers of Jesus, but there is one metaphor used more frequently than any other. Slave. That’s right. The first Christians, having been galvanized by the words of Jesus, gave up everything, and called themselves slaves of Christ. Now you can learn why this word best described early Christ-followers- and you’ll see how an understanding of this truth changes the way to follow Him now. This discovery will unveil the riches of your salvation in a radically, new way.
MacArthur recognized that slavery in early America taints the Western understanding of slavery, making it difficult for believers to understand the context of slavery in the New Testament. American slavery was the form of slavery strictly forbidden by the law of God and punishable by death.
Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.
However, in the context of the New Testament, which was written in the Roman world, slavery was a much different institution than the chattel slavery of the United States. In the Roman empire, ten to twenty percent of the population owed allegiance to a master. Doulos became subservient to masters for various reasons. Some became slaves to escape destitution, as their new master was able to give provisions in exchange for service and devotion. Some chose slavery as a means of lifestyle, while others found themselves enslaved as a result of indebtedness or warfare. Slavery was a part of the societal structure of Rome, and the apostles drew heavily on the metaphor. James begins his epistle by identifying as a “slave (doulos) of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” MacArthur explains:
It should be said that the Bible never condemns slavery – never – and if Jesus and the apostles came to abolish slavery, they failed miserably – they didn’t come to do that. The Bible never condones slavery, it simply recognizes that it exists, and it just happens to be the best way to describe a believer’s relationship to Christ – and that’s why it becomes this dominant paradigm. If you think that this is a problem – if you think this is a problem for us, with a distant memory of what slavery was – if you think that’s a problem for us, think of what a problem it was in the New Testament time.
There are about 12 million slaves living in the Mediterranean world. To any free Greek, or free Roman, slavery was viewed with disdain; it was a despicable way to live. The supreme virtue for a Greek or a Roman was freedom; freedom. They despised slavery. Why? Slaves had no freedom; slaves had no rights. They could not defend themselves in a court of law, nor could they go to a court of law to seek justice. They couldn’t give testimony in a court of law. They couldn’t be citizens. They couldn’t join the military. They could not own property.
And in pagan religion, no follower of any deity ever called himself a slave of his God. The Greeks referred to their relationship as philos, not doulos. Philos means friend – they were a friend to the God. The idea of being a slave to anyone, even to a deity, was despicable in the Greek world, so here is another component in what Paul in 1 Corinthians talks about, the foolishness of the cross, the stumbling block that it was to the Greek mind.
We’re trying to convey a gospel of a crucified Jew who wants to make you His slave. You couldn’t have come up with a more difficult message to communicate to people who honored freedom and had nothing but disdain for slavery, and yet it’s in that kind of environment – and I’ll just give you a quick little run down…Listen to this – Romans 1:1: “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus,” this says – there’s no such word in the Greek.
“Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus” – and that’s the launch point – “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus” – not “Paul, an apostle and preacher, incidentally, also a slave” – “Paul, a slave.” In Galatians chapter 1, verse 10, he says, “I am – am I now seeking the favor of men or of God?” Now you’re getting to the heart of slavery, right? It’s not about seeking the favor of men, it’s about seeking the favor of God. “Am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a slave of Christ.” Why?
Because one principle of slavery, everybody understood; Jesus put it this way: “No man can be a slave to two masters” – that is an impossibility. Paul says, “I can’t therefore be the slave of man and the slave of God.” In Philippians, again he identifies himself this way, only with his companion: “Paul and Timothy” – right off the starting point – “slaves of Christ Jesus.” “Epaphras” – you remember Colossians 4:12 – “slave of Christ.” James 1:1: “James, a slave of Jesus Christ.” “Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ.”
That’s what we’re working with here.
Eager to distort the truth of scripture and the teaching that MacArthur derived directly from God’s word, Rick Pidcock of fake news site Baptist News Global wrote a hit piece against MacArthur’s teaching on slavery as a scriptural metaphor. Pidcock, has been fighting against the patriarchy for several years, writing a song to encourage Beth Moore to “Please Don’t Go Home”, and encouraging his followers to “re-imagine deconstruction.”
Pidcock uses bits and pieces of MacArthur’s teaching separated from context to create the narrative that MacArthur is a rabid white supremacist and promoter of chattel slavery as a societal good.
For MacArthur, slavery appears to be more than simply a secondary issue Christians can disagree about. He believes slavery is central. In fact, he believes slavery is the gospel. So for MacArthur to reject slavery would be to reject the gospel. In The Gospel According to Jesus, MacArthur said, “The gospel is an invitation to slavery.”
Julie Roys, who operates in much the same way, promoted Pidcock’s story.
Julie’s Twitter post contained a heavily edited excerpt of a Grace to You short video by Pastor MacArthur on the metaphor of slavery as the model for a Christian’s relationship to Christ. Julie’s video is less than a minute and a half, while the Grace to You video is less than three minutes. One might ask why it would be necessary to edit such a short video. Of course, Julie has never been a big fan of reporting on the whole truth in context. Shortly after posting her slander, Roys made the claim that GTY had taken the video down in an effort to cover Pastor John’s tracks.
Despite Roys’ claims, the full video remains up on the GTY Youtube channel. Perhaps it was really Julie who didn’t want her followers to see the true context of the whole video.
Discontent with being left out of the leftist MacArthur-bashing Twitter party, Dr. Michael Bird, a so-called “New Testament Lecturer” who is best known for his “scholarly” speculation on the erections of Jesus, should know better than to attack MacArthur on this point joined the failed journalist/songwriter Pidcock and half-truth reporting Roys in a leftist twitter pile-on.
Believers would do well to note those who participated in the foolishness of clearly mischaracterizing the statements of MacArthur. Note them and avoid them like the plague, because their reward, the approval of carnal men is a clear sign of where their treasure lies. They are slaves to the opinions of this world.
Men like MacArthur are slaves to the Lord Jesus Christ.