“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, Everyone practicing sin is a slave of sin'”. – John 8:34; The Interlinear Bible
This statement from Jesus comes in the middle of a discussion between Jesus and some Jews who had recently believed in Jesus as a Messiah. He tells them, quite effectively, that if they continue in Jesus’ teaching, they will know the truth and the truth will set them free (8:31-32). The Jews are incredulous at this claim, stating that they have never been enslaved to anyone (v. 33).
Then comes the punch from Jesus: they are sinners, they practice sin; therefore, they are a slave to sin.
This concept never stuck with me.
Since hearing about and receiving Christ, I understood that I was a sinner saved by grace. I knew the concept of being set free, but I never fully grasped what it meant to “be set free”.
To my mind, the only freedom I experienced was freedom from eternal damnation and separation from God.
Not until very recently did I realize the reality of being a slave to sin and what that really looks like.
As Christians, we understand that all of humanity is under a curse: the curse of Adam and Eve’s first sin, the curse of death. We understand and believe that everyone on this earth is a sinner, no matter who they are or what their accomplishments in life may be (Romans 3:23).
We also understand that Jesus came to save us from the curse and forgive us of our sins.
So far so good.
One thing we never seem to fully grasp is the idea that, before Christ, we were slaves to sin. After Christ, we are slaves to God.
I want to look at the word used in the New Testament for “slave” and what exactly being a slave entails.
Now, when Jesus uses the word “slave” in the John 8:34, the Greek word there is “doulos”, which, of course, translates to the English word “slave”. This same word is used by Paul in his introduction to the church in Rome (Romans 1:1) as well as describing the relationship between humanity and sin and humanity and Christ (6:12-20). He tells Titus that, apart from Christ, we are “enslaved to various lusts and pleasures” (3:3) and he tells the Galatian church to not be subject to the yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).
Each of these were various renderings of the word “doulos”.
To Paul, and the first-century Church, the idea of slavery is well-known.
According to Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest, the term that Paul and other biblical writers use for slave, “doulos”, denotes the lowest possible rank of servants in a household. A “doulos” is “one who was bound to his master in chords so strong that only death could break them, one who served his master to the disregard of his own interests, one whose will was swallowed up in the will of his master.” (Wuest’s Word Studies: Romans in the Greek New Testament for the English Reader)
In other words, a “doulos” had no identity of his or her own. Their identity was gone and was now that of the master they served.
The mind of a “doulos” was like this:
- I serve where he wants.
- I serve when he wants.
- I serve how he wants.
- I serve who he wants.
- I serve only if he wants.
- I serve him no matter what. (Everyday Ministry by Dave Earley and Ben Gutierrez)
A slave did what his/her master wanted, when and how his/her master wanted it to be done, and they did it with no regard to their own welfare. If serving their master meant death, they served.
To be a “doulos”, you are at the beck and call of your master. You have no choice but to answer.