Review: Slave

John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson, 2010, 225 pp. 3 of 5 stars

What is the most unforgivable notion in today’s world? Slavery is good.

In Slave, John MacArthur explores the paradox that people never stop being slaves. Pre-conversion, we are slaves to sin. Post-conversion, we are slaves to Christ. “Although you used to be slaves of sin…you became enslaved to righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18, HCSB).

MacArthur calls the mistranslation of “slave” to “servant” a centuries-long cover up by English NT translators, much of it owing to the historical stigma of slavery. But there is a difference. A servant is hired. A slave is owned. Surprisingly, the latter is the most common metaphor for a Christian in Scripture. It speaks of absolute commitment as a requirement for all Christians, not an add-on for extra-spiritual Christians. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Jn. 10:27).

This book is really MacArthur’s contribution toward the doctrines of grace from the perspective of total surrender to Christ. After skillfully weaving Scripture with church history (e.g. Luther and Newton), MacArthur uses chapters 8-11 to unpack TULIP (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints).

He closes with four compelling paradoxes about slavery: it brings freedom (to do right), it ends prejudice (since all are slaves), it magnifies grace (we’re undeserving) and it pictures salvation (slavery is the central message of salvation).

This volume is not as popular as The Gospel According to Jesus or perhaps as helpful as the explicit Lordship volume Hard to Believe. Still, it is a message that is rare in today’s churches and invaluable for sinners and saints to ponder.


  1. “The one slavery is terminated precisely in order to allow the other slavery to begin” (140, quoting Murray Harris).
  2. “True freedom begins when slavery to sin ends. And slavery to sin ends only when we have become the slaves of God” (142).
  3. “To my great astonishment I found that the [Scripture] passages which speak decidedly for election and persevering grace, were about four times as many as those which speak apparently against…” (151, quoting George Müller, who had once called election a “devilish doctrine”).

3 thoughts on “Review: Slave

  1. Slavery is the central message of salvation? The premise sounds interesting enough, I’m not saying I wouldn’t enjoy reading the book or whatever, but do you think that’s bit of a stretch?

    • Bethany, I understand your point, but if we understand MacArthur to say the slavery metaphor points to Christ’s lordship, he is accurate.The lordship of Christ is essential to the biblical gospel.

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