The Slave of God



D. L. Stephens




Published August 2019


The prevalence and evil of slavery

The evil of slavery has lain as a curse on the nations of the earth throughout history. At the time of Christ the greater part of humanity lay bound in the appalling conditions that attended the ownership of a man by another man. Even in what were called civilized nations—Greece and Rome—the slaves were more numerous than the free-born and the free men.

The slave-owners also held shameful attitudes toward the slaves. The greatest of the ancient philosophers vindicated the system of slavery as a natural and necessary institution. Aristotle declared that all barbarians are slaves by birth, fit for nothing but obedience.

Schaff wrote concerning the legal conditions of slaves in the Roman Empire,

Slaves were held pro nullis, pro mortuis, pro quadrupedibus[1] [2]; nay, were in a much worse state than any cattle whatsoever. They had no head in the state, no name, no title, or register; they were not capable of being injured; nor could they take by purchase or descent; they had no heirs, and therefore could make no will; they were not entitled to the rights and considerations of matrimony, and, therefore, had no relief in the case of adultery; nor were they proper objects of cognation or affinity, but of quasi-cognation only; they could be sold, transferred, or pawned, as goods or personal estate, for goods they were, and as such they were esteemed; they might be tortured for evidence, punished at the discretion of their lord, or even put to death by his authority.[3]

Schaff also remarks that “Hadrian, one of the most humane of the emperors, wilfully destroyed the eye of one of his slaves with a pencil. Roman ladies punished their maidens with sharp iron instruments for the most trifling offenses.”[4]

Further to illustrate the Roman attitude toward slaves was the saying of Cicero, “The slave is the instrumentum vocale, as distinguished from the beast, which is the instrumentum semi-vocale, as distinguished from the ordinary tool, which we might call the instrumentum mutum.”[5]

In other words, a hammer or saw is a tool that cannot talk; a horse is a tool that makes a sound, and a slave is the tool that talks.

Such was the regard for slaves under the Roman Empire. In the later years of Rome the treatment of slaves was ameliorated. But could the slave obtain his freedom? The answer to this question is, “Yes,” but the answer must be qualified. The release of a slave from his slavery involves the idea of manumission. There were several ways in which a slave might be freed: a good deed toward the owner, friendship with the owner, self purchase by the slave (this was seldom done because few slaves had the money to pay), or by the last will and testament of the owner. Yet even though a slave might be freed certain limitations remained.[6]

The Hopeless Condition of the Slave.

Man cannot free the slaves.

About seventy years before Christ a slave named Spartacus owned by the Roman Lentulus Batiatus led a revolt of gladiators at Capua, a city of Rome. Spartacus was a Thracian, and as Plutarch said, "...a man of not only high spirit and bravery, but also in understanding and gentleness superior to his condition." Spartacus issued a call to the slaves of Italy to rise in revolt; soon he had an army of 70,000 men hungering for liberty—and revenge. He taught them to make weapons, and to fight with order and discipline. And fight they did. For years they defeated every Roman army sent against them. Spartacus’ army eventually increased to 120,000 at which point he stopped accepting recruits because he could not feed them all.

Finally, the Roman General Crassus came against him with 40,000 legionnaires, and many of the nobility. Spartacus held them off for a year. Then Pompey returned from Italy with his legions and the Romans defeated Spartacus and the slaves in a decisive battle. It is said that Spartacus killed two centurions, and then they struck him down. Unable to rise he continued to fight on his knees until he was killed. Most of his army of slaves perished. Six thousand were crucified along the Appian Way from Capua to Rome. The Romans left them hanging there as Durant says, " that all masters might take comfort, and all slaves take heed."[7]

·         The story of Spartacus illustrates the hopeless condition of the slave.

The record of Israel in the Old Testament teaches us that man does not win his freedom by his own strength. For Israel, either God provided the victory, or they were defeated. Freedom that the slave gains in the world by his own strength is tenuous and brief and is frequently restricted.

The Psalmist wrote,

Psalm 108:12 Oh give us help against the adversary, For deliverance by man is in vain

The Psalmist wrote concerning the redemption of one’s brother,

Psalm49:7 No man can by any means redeem his brother

Or give to God a ransom for him—

     8 For the redemption of his soul is costly,

And he should cease trying forever—

     9 That he should live on eternally,

That he should not undergo decay.

The New Bible Commentary says of the meaning of the words the Psalmist employs here,

Redeemransom, the first word emphasizes finding the price, the second, covering the need. But no payment is sufficient to buy eternal life. The Hebrew says ‘even a brother’, i.e. even in a case where love would hold nothing back.[8]

Walvoord commented on the Psalmist’s admonition, He says that the Psalmist noted,

… that the proud and arrogant cannot redeem another person’s life. Life is too costly for a man to ransom, even by great riches. Wealth cannot prevent death.[9]

Matthew wrote that Jesus said,

Matthew 16:26 “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

Adam and Eve and the Fall into slavery.

In the beginning, God created man, and man was free. In a way we can neither understand nor appreciate Adam was free on his own responsibilitywith the Garden, and with himself.

Genesis 2:16  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17  but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die." 

     This command of God—a righteous command that was subverted and disobeyed—became the basis of enslavement of the human race. Satan took the command, and through his seduction and temptation of Adam and Eve placed them in bondage.

The Power that Enslaves.

The Apostle John wrote concerning the power of Satan,

1 John 5:19  We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

·         The power of Satan is worldwide.

Jesus said of Satan,

John 12:31 “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.

·         Satan is the ruler of the world.[10]

The writer of Hebrews said,

Hebrews 2:14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

·         Satan rules the world through the fear of death.

·         Men are in slavery to Satan because of the fear of death.

The Apostle Paul described the condition of man in the following way,

Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

In the passage quoted above the Apostle told the Ephesian Christians that they—before their conversion to Christ—were “dead in trespasses and sins;” that is, they were separated from God, and under the power of Satan. Their manner of life followed the dictates of Satan and they were under his power. For this reason their characters were such that they deserved the wrath of God.

·         It is a most foolish man who thinks he can escape the snare and bondage of Satan outside of Christ; for there are only two masters to serve, Christ or Satan.

·         Today Satan keeps people enslaved through the fear of death.

The Spiritual condition of man

The physical slavery of ancient Jews was typical

The spiritual condition of man, however, is much like the Jewish people under Egyptian bondage. In Exodus the Scripture says,

Exodus 1:8  Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9  And he said to his people, "Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we." 10  "Come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply and in the event of war, they also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us, and depart from the land." 11 So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12  But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out, so that they were in dread of the sons of Israel.13  And the Egyptians compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously; 14  and they made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar and bricks and at all kinds of labor in the field, all their labors which they rigorously imposed on them.

·         The Israelites suffered under cruel bondage from which they could not deliver themselves.

God, however, delivered the sons of Israel from Egyptian bondage.

Exodus 13:3 Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the LORD brought you out from this place.

Present condition of Israel outside of Christ

Paul wrote to the Galatians explaining the condition of the children born to Sarah, the wife of Abraham and Hagar, the handmaid of Sarah.

Galatians 4:23 But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24 This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.

The sons of Israel are as it were enslaved under the Law of Moses and may be set free only by becoming children of promise. Children of promise are those who are born again in Christ.

The present condition of Gentiles outside of Christ

John in his gospel tells of a statement Jesus made to His disciples,

John 8:34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”

Expositor’s, commenting on this passage, says of the meaning of Jesus’ statement,

Every one who lives the life of sin is a slave.’[11]

The two choices

Some years ago in Los Angeles a man walked down the street with a sign on his shoulders. The front of it read, “I am a slave for Christ.” The back of it read, “Whose slave are you?” [12] He might have been the only one in Los Angeles who realized that the question was relevant to the present condition of mankind.

Regardless of whether a human being is considered to be a slave or free by human standards, by the Apostolic Doctrine, and even that of Christ, a man is in one or the other of two conditions. He is either the slave of sin, or the slave of righteousness.

Paul wrote to the Romans,

Romans 6:16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

   See also, 2 Peter 2:19.

Before the Apostle Paul was born the Roman Empire had a law stating that no freeborn man could be enslaved. Therefore, a man could literally sell himself into slavery, collect the proceeds, then have a friend come and attest to his status as a freeborn man, and he would have to be released at once. This caused havoc with the Roman economy, which was well oiled with slave labor. Because of this, just before Paul's day, the Roman government enacted a new law whereby any man who sold himself into slavery could no longer claim free status after the sale. The previous law could no longer help him. It was clear, therefore, to Paul's readers in Rome when he said, " whom you present yourselves as slaves for obedience, his slave you are."[13]

·         Men are slaves of the one they obey—Satan, or Christ.

All of us are slaves to one or the other of two masters—sin or righteousness. We have no other choices. And since sin is personified in the Devil, and righteousness is personified in Christ, those are our only two personal choices. By the very nature of our humanity, we are made to serve and to be controlled by forces beyond our power. It is well to recognize this fact of our existence.

The Apostle John wrote concerning Christians in contrast to the world,

1 John 5:19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

Therefore, Christians are of God; the rest, the world, are of the Devil.

And Paul who used the metaphor of slavery extensively in his letters wrote the following to the Romans,

Romans 3:9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10  as it is written,







The phrase, “faustian bargain,” is from the medieval legend of Faust, who made a contract with the Devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. One of the fundamental problems with this legend is that Faust, like all other men, did not own his soul. The Devil already owned it. This basic truth has escaped the notice of the majority of mankind. It is, truly, as Paul wrote to the Romans,

Romans 7:14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.

The man of flesh is “sold in bondage to sin.” He has no title to his own flesh much like the slaves under ancient Roman law.

The Apostle Paul also said concerning the spiritual condition of man,

Romans 8:9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.

After hearing this one should ask himself: then to whom does he belong? There are only two choices: If one does not have the Spirit of Christ then he does not belong to Christ. One might argue, “I am sovereign. I belong to myself!” But Christ has already said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”

Think about it.

The Entrance of Sin.

Sin brings about death.  Death brings about bondage.

Romans 5:12  Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned--


Romans 5:14  Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of Adam's offense, who is a type of Him who was to come.  (Rom. 5:14)

·         There are no exceptions. All men die.  All men are sinners.

·         As a result all men are in slavery.

Death reigns over man.

Sin and Debt.

In the N.T. the word opheilē[14] means debt, that which is owed.

The Unmerciful Slave and his unpayable debt.

Matthew 18:23  "For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24  "And when he had begun to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents. 25  "But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment be made. 26  "The slave therefore falling down, prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything.' 27  "And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28  "But that slave went out and found one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' 29  "So his fellow-slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' 30  "He was unwilling however, but went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31  "So when his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32  "Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. 33  'Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow-slave, even as I had mercy on you?' 34  "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35  "So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

·         The debt owed by the Unmerciful Slave is analogous to the debt a man owes to God for sin.

·         Man by his own effort cannot repay the debt.

The Lord's Prayer,

Luke 11:4  ...and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

·         In the Lord’s Prayer sin and debt are equated.

The reason a man cannot pay the debt of his own sin is that he does not have the means of payment. The Bible in the Old Testament lays down the principle on which sin may be forgiven. In Leviticus we read,

Leviticus 17:11 ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’

·         Atonement; i.e., forgiveness of sin, is obtained by blood sacrifice which God has approved.

·         There is no other way. Doing good will not atone for sin because doing good is what is expected.

Speaking to His disciples, Jesus said,

Luke 17:10 “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’ ”

·         There are no works of merit; i.e., good deeds to perform that will atone for sin.


The Ancient Custom.

The Temple of Apollo at Delphi is inscribed with numerous ancient records of manumission. These records have endured for nearly two thousand years. They are the principal records by which we may learn of the ancient custom. The custom involved a fictitious purchase of the slave by some divinity. The transaction occurred when the owner brought the slave to the temple where the slave was sold to the god. For payment, the owner of the slave took money from the treasury of the temple. In most cases the slave had paid the money into the temple treasury out of his own savings. The custom provided that the slave then became the protege of the god—not the slave of the temple. A protege in this case is one who is under the special care and protection of the god. Against the world, and especially against his former master, the slave becomes completely free.

The sale of the slave always took place before witnesses, a record was taken, and the result frequently cut in stone. The usual form of the document is shown in the following example:

Date. Julius (the owner) sold to the Pythian Apollo (the god) a male slave named Demetrius at a price of 10 minae--for freedom (or on condition that he shall be free).   Witnesses, Conditions, etc.[15]

"Manumission" is the act of emancipation. The word comes from "manumit" meaning: "to release from slavery." Manumission was widely practiced among the ancient Greeks. It was also practiced among the Jews.

Paul's Use of the terms.

The Apostle Paul refers to this custom when he speaks of our being made free by Christ. The idea of a slave being freed for the payment of a price was a vivid reality to the people of the First Century. So when the Apostle wrote to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 6:19 are not your own? for you were bought with a price...   (1 Corinthians. 6:19,20)

 They fully understood that they had become the slaves of Christ, transferred from the ownership of Satan, by the fact that Christ had bought them. He also alluded to this principle when he wrote to the Colossians:

Colossians 1:13  For he delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son. 


As God delivered Israel from bondage down in Egypt, so the Son of God delivers us from bondage in the Egypt of the world.

Peter said:

1 Peter 1:18 were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ."

The word "redeemed" is translated from a Greek word which means: release for a ransom, deliver, or liberate. [16]

 The servants of Christ have been "liberated" by the payment of blood, innocent blood--the blood of Christ. When Christ shed his blood on the Cross he did it to effect the only means of payment possible which could pay the debt of sin. There is no other currency that can be used. The debt could only be satisfied by the offering of innocent blood in payment.

Slave of Christ.

Christ buys His disciples.

In Acts Luke tells what Paul said to the Ephesian elders,

Acts 20:28  Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.  

Please do not think that the “church” is a building. The “church” is the called out of God, an assembly of Christians. Christ purchased the elect people of God with His own blood.

And in his letter to the Ephesians Paul said,

Ephesians 1:7  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, 8  which He lavished upon us. 

The principle at work in the shedding of Christ's blood is the same as mentioned in Leviticus, the Lord told Moses:

Leviticus 17:11  For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.

"Bloodshed" means death; especially does it mean loss of human life. Christ laid down his life by going to Calvary. It was an act of divine love. It was God Who gave Adam the command not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and pronounced the punishment for disobedience as no less than death should he eat of the tree. Adam ate. Now, true to His loving and gracious nature, God takes the punishment of the command upon Himself. Where man is condemned to die, God has interposed Himself for man and died in his place.

Paul said to Titus that Christ,

Titus 2;13 ...gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

Christ sets you free.

Luke 4:14 And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district. 15  And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all. 16  And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. 17  And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,







          20  And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Christ has set us free. He has liberated us from bondage to sin and death through His suffering in the flesh and His death on the cross. Paul, accordingly, advises,

Galatians 5:1  It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

Having gone to great lengths to pay the debt of His servants and to redeem them from the bondage into which they had fallen, Christ then sets us free!  He said: 

John 8:36  "If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed..."

And in Galatians,

Galatians 5:13  For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Therefore, in view of the two choices open to us, let us choose Christ and the freedom He offers.




Romans 8:6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,

7  because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,

8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.

10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.

11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—

13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

14  For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.

15  For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”

16  The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,

          17      and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

Quotations taken from the NASB95.

New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ro 8:12–17). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[1] Collins Latin-English, English-Latin Dictionary: held as worth nothing, as the dead, as the four-footed beasts.

[2] John Francis Maxwell, Slavery and the Catholic Church, p. 26. Maxwell wrote, “A slave was a mere nullity at civil and praetorian law. He was denied the juridical (justice; or legal, DLS) attributes of personality. He was reduced to mere property to be used up or disposed of at will or treated like an animal by his master who had absolute power over him. Convert Christian slaves in Apostolic times possessed none of the religious and other human rights which had belonged both to Israelite and to foreign slaves under the Mosaic law.”

[3] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1, p. 445, 447.

[4] Ibid., p. 445.

[5] Howard Fast, Spartacus, p. 31.



[7] Will Durant, The Story of Civilization-Caesar and Christ, Simon and Schuster, p. 136-138.

[8] Motyer, J. A. (1994). The Psalms. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 517). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[9] Ross, A. P. (1985). Psalms. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 830). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[10] Matthew 25:41 indicates that the Devil is destined for the eternal fire; however, that final judgment awaits. In the meantime he rules. ἑτοιμάζω: to prepare, make ready, is used of the eternal fire for the Devil and his angels. Vine, W. E., & Bruce, F. F. (1981). Vine’s Expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (Vol. 2, p. 204). Old Tappan NJ: Revell.

[11] The Expositor’s Greek Testament, The Gospel of John, Marcus Dods, D.D., p. 777.

[12] Michael P. Green, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, p. 348.

[13] Michael P. Green, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, p. 423.

[14] Vine, W. E.,  ὀφειλή, debt:


[15] Deissmann, A., & Strachan, L. R. M. (1910). Light from the ancient East, (p. 327). London: Hodder & Stoughton.

[16] Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 487). New York: United Bible Societies.   λυτρόομαι; λύτρωσις, εως f; ἀπολύτρωσις, εως f: to release or set free, with the implied analogy to the process of freeing a slave—‘to set free, to liberate, to deliver, liberation, deliverance.’