The latest Grace To You newsletter arrived in the mail this morning and as always, I was eager to read what pastor John MacArthur had to say. This edition dealt with his new book, Slave and I would encourage you to pick up a copy of this important book. Anyway, here is what MacArthur had to say in the newsletter.
“I want to ask you an important question: What does it mean to you to be a Christian? For the moment, set aside the evangelistic implications of your answer – this isn’t a test of your ability to share the gospel with others. I want to help you think seriously and biblically about your identity in Christ.
Today there is a wide variety of familiar phrases and clichés commonly used to describe what it means to be a Christian. You probably hear a few each day without giving them much critical thought. But on closer examination, some of the most common ways believers identify themselves are inadequate, misleading, or (in the worst cases) biblically unsound.
For example, I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about having “a personal relationship with Jesus.” That expression is really too vague to be helpful. Every creature has a personal relationship with its Creator. Even Satan has a personal relationship with God – it’s not a good one, but it is personal. Saying you have a personal relationship with the Lord doesn’t set you apart from the rest of the world, and it doesn’t begin to explain the true significance of the believer’s relationship with the Lord.
Another phrase I hear used a lot these days is “Christ-follower.” While it may sound more biblical, it is likewise too ambiguous to express what it means to be a Christian. Even during Jesus’ lifetime, multitudes followed Him without trusting Him and being transformed by Him. That’s what John 6 is all about. By the end of that chapter, multitudes who had been following Jesus turned away completely because they didn’t like His teaching. They were not true believers at all. So calling yourself a “Christ-follower” still barely hints at the biblical reality of what it means to be a Christian.
In fact, most of the language used in churches today to describe what it means to be a Christian falls far short of the biblical reality. Too many people talk about salvation as if it were all about entitlement and prosperity. According to them, Christianity is about God’s loving you as you are, fulfilling your dreams, or boosting your self-esteem. That kind of talk reduces God to little more than a genie in a bottle. It falls fatally short of an accurate depiction of the saving Lord of Scripture. In short, it’s blasphemy.
You and I cannot afford to be lazy in the language we use when talking about faith. We can’t settle for half-truths or shopworn clichés to speak of our relationship with the Lord. Our identity in Christ is a precious thing – in fact, it’s the most important thing about you. We need to both understand it and describe it as biblically as possible.
It’s not as though God’s Word is unclear about that relationship. The fact is, it’s perfectly clear. More than 120 times throughout the New Testament, the writers of Scripture use one specific word to depict and describe our new status in Christ.
The word is slave.
It’s a potent term – one that triggers controversy in virtually any setting. But God’s Word is never careless or inexact, and the language God Himself uses should not be rewritten to accommodate individual preferences or prejudices. God’s Word says what it says, and the New Testament authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit did not choose that word lightly.
Flip through your New Testament today, however, and no matter which English translation you read, you won’t find many places where the word slave is still intact. Instead, the meaning and implications of the original Greek text have been muted, disguised, or obscured – in some cases accidentally, while other instances were intentionally omitted or toned down because the concept of slavery is so repugnant to the human mind. Often the word for slave has been translated as “servant” or “bondservant,” but neither of those words captures the full meaning the original authors intended.
Put simply, you and I are not servants who were hired for a task. We’re not volunteers. We are slaves, bought and paid for at a high price – the highest possible price, in fact. Understanding that is a fundamental part of the gospel, and it dictates and informs how you and I are called to live and serve.”