Read an Excerpt
Slave The Study Guide
The Hidden Truth about Your Identity in Christ
By John MacArthur
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2010 John MacArthur
All rights reserved.
One Hidden Word
The young man said nothing else as he stood before the Roman governor, his life hanging in the balance. His accusers pressed him again, hoping to trip him up or force him to recant. But once more he answered with the same short phrase. "I am a Christian" (p. 7).
The early martyrs were crystal clear on what it meant to be a Christian. But ask what it means today and you're likely to get a wide of variety of answers, even from those who identify themselves with the label.
For some, being "Christian" is primarily cultural and traditional, a nominal title inherited from a previous generation, the net effect of which involves avoiding certain behaviors and occasionally attending church. For others, being a Christian is largely political, a quest to defend moral values in the public square, or perhaps to preserve those values by withdrawing from the public square altogether. Still more define their Christian experience in terms of a past religious experience, a general belief in Jesus, or a desire to be a good person. Yet all of these fall woefully short of what it truly means to be a Christian from a biblical perspective (p. 10).
What do people around you think the word Christian means?
Based on John 10:27, how do Jesus' expectations of His followers compare with the world's understanding of "Christian"?
In addition to the name Christian, the Bible uses a host of other terms to identify the followers of Jesus. Scripture describes us as children of God, citizens of heaven, and lights to the world. We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, members of His body, sheep in His flock, ambassadors in His service, and friends around His table. We are called to compete like athletes, to fight like soldiers, to abide like branches in a vine, and even to desire His Word as newborn babies long for milk. All of these descriptions—each in its own unique way—help us understand what it means to be a Christian.
Yet, the Bible uses one metaphor more frequently than any of these. It is a word picture you might not expect, but it is absolutely critical for understanding what it means to follow Jesus. It is the image of a slave (p. 12).
What are some characteristics you normally associate with the term slave?
How do these characteristics compare to the concept of "Christian" mentioned in question 1?
Early believers knew that following Christ was synonymous with being a slave. Why is the concept of slavery offensive to some believers today?
Many contemporary Christians act as though Jesus came to fulfill their ambitions and make their dreams come true. But that egocentric attitude is at odds with the true gospel. Biblical Christianity is all about Christ. With that in mind, where are you on the continuum below?
It's all about me. <-> It's all about Jesus.
Where would you like to be, and what changes do you need to make to get there?
In the Bible, the word slave is almost invisible. Yet it permeates the pages of Scripture, masquerading as servant. For many people, the term slave is offensive, and understandably so. Yet the Bible clearly teaches that we were purchased by God—we are His possession. What are the implications of that truth for our daily lives?
True Christianity is not about adding Jesus to my life. Instead, it is about devoting myself completely to Him—submitting wholly to His will and seeking to please Him above all else. It demands dying to self and following the Master, no matter the cost. In other words, to be a Christian is to be Christ's slave (p. 22).
When Christ says, "Follow Me," what level of commitment is He calling for? What priority should He be in our lives?
How can we guard against viewing our relationship with Christ as just something else on our schedules?
How do you determine your priorities each day? What practical steps can you take to ensure that the Lord is central in your daily routine?
Does your day automatically include time for God, or is your time with God optional? Explain your reasoning.
Our world tends to view faith as a hobby or a social activity. Today many churches shy away from holding people accountable for the commitments they made when they first accepted Christ. Too many churchgoers are more concerned about getting a good parking spot, having child care, and finding a comfortable place to worship than they are about serving God with their lives. The result is churches that are spiritually weak.
When you go to church, what are your primary concerns? Are they more about you or about God?
What does your attitude at church say about your understanding of what it means to be a slave to Christ? How about your attitude at home or at work?
What are some activities, interests, or passions to which you might be considered a slave? How should you view those things in light of your slavery to Christ?
Where does your relationship with Christ rank in your list of priorities?
__ Absolutely first.
__ Somewhere between _________________ and _________________.
__ God gets my leftover time.CHAPTER 2
Ancient History, Timeless Truth
Slavery was a pervasive social structure in the first-century Roman Empire. In fact, it was so commonplace that its existence as an institution was never seriously questioned by anyone. Slaves of all ages, genders, and ethnicities constituted an important socioeconomic class in ancient Rome. Roughly one-fifth of the empire's population were slaves—totaling as many as twelve million at the outset of the first century AD. Not surprisingly, the entire Roman economy was highly dependent on this sizable pool of both skilled and unskilled labor (p. 25).
Slavery offered a certain amount of social and economic protection to those whose masters were kind and well respected. Slaves did not have to worry about where their next meal would come from or whether or not they would have a place to stay. Their sole concern was to carry out the interests of their owner. In return, the master cared for their needs. Moreover, if a master was a prestigious or powerful member of the community, such as a government official, his slaves would also be respected because of their relationship to him. A great deal of honor would be given to the slaves of someone highly regarded by Roman society (p. 27).
In reading the description of what it meant to be a slave, what do you consider to be the benefits of slavery for the slave?
A slave's experience depended upon the goodness of his or her master. Since God is our master, what kind of experience should we expect as His slaves?
Slavery in the Roman world was as diverse as the number of masters who owned slaves. Whether slaves worked in the fields or in the city; whether they became farmers, household managers, or something else; whether or not they eventually gained their freedom; and whether the quality of their daily existence was positive or negative—everything rested in the hands of the master. Each slave owner defined the nature of his slaves' lives. For their part, slaves had only one primary objective: to please the master in everything through their loyal obedience to him (pp. 28–29).
A slave's objective was to please his master in everything he did. Therefore, as slaves to God, we are to please Him in everything we do. What are some areas of your life in which you are not pleasing the Lord as you should?
The conditions under which slaves worked were often affected by their attitude. A hardworking, submissive slave would be rewarded; an obstinate, grumbling slave would be punished. Describe a time when you have reluctantly done what you knew God wanted you to do.
How would the end result of that situation have been different if your attitude had been more positive?
The exodus from Egypt did not give the Israelites complete autonomy. Rather, it issued them into a different kind of bondage. Those who had once been the property of Pharaoh became the Lord's possession. Read Exodus 19:1–8. How would you have responded if you had been there at the foot of Mount Sinai?
From the Exodus through the Exile and beyond, Israel's corporate identity as God's slaves was an integral part of the nation's history. Many of Israel's heroes, including Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Elijah, and the prophets are specifically referred to as His slaves. How does that fact affect your understanding of what it means to be a slave of God?
To be a slave is to be under the complete authority of someone else. It means rejecting personal autonomy and embracing the will of another. Explain why this concept is so offensive to those who live in a society like ours. In what ways does the slave metaphor emphasize the countercultural nature of the gospel?
When the apostle Paul referred to himself as a "slave of Christ" and a "slave of God," his readers knew exactly what he meant. In the cities to which Paul wrote, personal freedom was prized, slavery was denigrated, and self-imposed slavery was scorned and despised. But for Paul, "slave" was a fitting self-designation. His life revolved around the Master. Nothing else—including his own personal agenda—mattered.
Prior to his conversion, Paul (then called "Saul") had arrogantly and hypocritically viewed himself as religiously superior to others. What happened that allowed him to view himself as a slave? See Acts 9 for the account of his conversion.
Describe your conversion experience. How did God change your heart, purpose, and priorities?
Read James 1:1. Even though he could have referred to himself first as Jesus' brother, James chose to call himself a slave. What does this say about his perspective on the Christian life?
Read James 4:13–15. How does this passage fit within the slave metaphor? In what ways does it describe the attitude of genuine believers?
How does your attitude toward life compare to that of James?
When we survey the New Testament, we quickly find that the term "slave of Christ" was not reserved for low-level believers or spiritual neophytes. The apostles eagerly embraced the title for themselves and also used it to refer to others in ministry. It is not surprising, then, to find slave imagery used frequently throughout their epistles in reference to the Christian life (p. 37).
Our present and future relationships with God are set in the context of slavery. We are to be His slaves now and we will be His slaves in heaven (see Revelation 22:3–4). What should our response to be our God-given role as His slaves?
It's easy for us to see the first Christians as spiritual giants. Yet, they saw themselves as slaves. What effect did that have on their lives? What would happen to the vitality of your Christian life if you embraced the idea of being a slave to Christ?
A slave had no right to his life. He was at the complete mercy of his master. Is the idea of being at God's mercy comforting or frightening to you? Why?
For the slave, there was no area of life outside the boundaries of the master's control. In what areas of life do you need to fully submit to God's control? What would happen if you did that?
Write a prayer asking God to help you become a slave to Him in every area of life.CHAPTER 3
The Good and Faithful Slave
The truth of God's Word is always countercultural, and the notion of becoming a slave is certainly no exception. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a concept more distasteful to modern sensibilities than that of slavery. Western society, in particular, places a high premium on personal liberty and freedom of choice. So, to present the good news in terms of a slave/master relationship runs contrary to everything our culture holds dear. Such an approach is controversial, confrontational, and politically incorrect. Yet that is precisely the way the Bible speaks about what it means to follow Christ (p. 41).
Jesus used slave language to define the reality of what it means to follow Him. Discipleship, like slavery, entails a life of total self-denial, a humble disposition toward others, a wholehearted devotion to the Master alone, a willingness to obey His commands in everything, an eagerness to serve Him even in His absence, and a motivation that comes from knowing He is well pleased. Though they were once the slaves of sin, Christ's followers receive spiritual freedom and rest for their souls through their saving relationship with Him (p. 43).
What does it mean to go from being a slave to sin to being a slave to Jesus Christ? How is your life different because of that transformation?
If Jesus, our heavenly Master, were to evaluate your life right now, how pleased would He be with your attitude toward loving God and loving other people?
__ not pleased at all
__ sometimes pleased
__ pleased more often than not
__ always pleased
Throughout the New Testament, believers are repeatedly called to embrace the perspective of those who belong to Christ and therefore lovingly submit to Him as Master. That kind of perspective has serious implications for how we, as believers, think and act (pp. 43–44). Read
Romans 6:17–18 and the discussion of Exclusive Ownership on pages 44–45. What is the difference between being a slave to Christ and being an employee of Christ? Why is that distinction important?
Read 1 John 2:3. Heartfelt obedience to Christ is evidence that we have come to know Him. Based on your own obedience to the Lord, can you say with confidence that you have come to know Him? Why or why not?
Slaves had only one primary concern, to carry out the will of the master. In areas where they were given direct commands, they were required to obey. In areas where no direct command was given, they were to find ways to please the master as best they could. Read Colossians 3:17, 23. What elements of your life fall outside the boundaries of these verses?
As believers, we can focus on the things God has called us to do, trusting Him to meet our needs. Read Matthew 6:31–33. What are some things that cause you to worry?
Read Philippians 4:6. What should be your attitude regarding the aspects of life mentioned above?
In everything they did, first-century slaves were entirely accountable to their owners. Ultimately, the master's evaluation was the only one that mattered. If the master was pleased, the slave would benefit accordingly. A lifetime of faithfulness might even be rewarded with eventual freedom. But if the master was displeased, the slave could expect appropriate discipline, often as severe as flogging (p. 51).
Read Romans 14:12 and 2 Corinthians 5:10. How do these verses make you feel? In what ways should they motivate us toward greater faithfulness? In what ways do they make us thankful for God's loving forgiveness (see 1 John 4:15–18)?
In serving our earthly masters, we also serve the Lord. What should be a believer's attitude at work?
According to Colossians 4:1, Christian masters were to reflect godliness in their attitudes and actions toward slaves. By extension, that same principle applies to all who are in authority over others (such as employers, managers, leaders, and parents). What are some things you can do to better reflect Christ to those under your supervision?
Remembering the Master in heaven was a powerful force for the earliest Christians—whether slave or free. It should motivate us as well. Whether or not our faithfulness is rewarded in this life doesn't really matter. One day we will stand before Christ to be recompensed in full (p. 52).
Are you living more for earthly rewards or eternal rewards? Why?
It is easy to live for the praise and adoration of others. What happens to your spiritual fervor when you focus on being accepted by people?
Many believers resist the idea of accountability. They prefer a version of faith that suits their lifestyles and their interests. Many believers attend churches, expecting to receive VIP treatment. How would you evaluate these kinds of attitudes and behaviors in light of the slave mentality presented in the New Testament?CHAPTER 4
The Lord and Master (Part 1)
To this point, we have considered the biblical metaphor of slavery to Christ from the standpoint of the slave, focusing on the word doulos and its implications for the Christian life. In this chapter, we will turn our attention to the other side of the slave/master relationship—seeking to understand what the Bible means when it calls Jesus Christ our "Lord" and "Master" (or kyrios in Greek). We will begin by considering the truth that He is the Lord and Master over His church (p. 57).
Excerpted from Slave The Study Guide by John MacArthur. Copyright © 2010 John MacArthur. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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