The relationship between Jesus and His followers is described in many different ways. Sometimes these descriptions seem a little contradictory. Jesus called His followers friends (Jn 15:15), but the Apostles call themselves slaves or bondservants (Rom 1:1, James 1:1, 2 Pet 1:1). So, which is it? Are we friends or slaves? The answer is a simple one! We are certainly both!
We are Slaves of Christ
The idea of being a slave has such negative connotations because of the atrocities that come with it. It is interesting that the Lord Jesus neither advocated nor denounced the institution of slavery as it existed in His day, but actually found it as an apt analogy to illustrate certain truths about the gospel and the relationship that exists between Christ and His followers. There are particularly five parallel images from the first-century slave that can be used to describe Christians (Slave, John MacArthur, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2010, pages 43-53).
As slaves we belong to Christ. He is our Lord and Master and we are to lovingly submit to Him. Slaves are those who are under the total control of their owner. When we were born physically, we were born as slaves to sin having inherited an enslaved state from Adam (Rom 5). But as believers we have been purchased by Christ through His death on the cross (Rom 5:18-19, 1 Peter 1:18-19). We were bought with a price so that we are no longer under the authority of sin, but are under the exclusive ownership of God, Christ being our new Master (Rom 6:17-19). As believers we are part of a people who were purchased “for His own possession” (Tit 2:14) and “belong to Christ” (Gal 5:24).
As slaves we are called to complete submission to Christ. Being a slave means that we are always summoned by our Master to obey Him in every way. It is the slave’s sole duty to do what his Master tells him to do. Slaves no longer have rights of their own and must give unquestioning obedience to their new Lord. Submission to the Lord must come from the heart and is a certain mark of those who are genuinely converted (1 Jn 2:3). As believers we are expected to obey Christ and to “present our bodies as living and holy sacrifices, acceptable to God which is our spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). It is the new believer’s heart to do the things that are “pleasing in His sight” (1 Jn 3:22). Since we have been bought with a price we are commanded to “glorify God in [our] body” (1 Cor 6:20). Those who claim to be Christians and yet continue to disobey God’s Word have deceived themselves (1 Jn 1:6).
As slaves we are also called to a life of singular devotion to Christ. The life of a slave is really simple. The slave’s purpose in life is to please his master and to carry out his wishes by steadfast obedience to him. Since slaves are singly devoted to their masters, it is impossible for them to serve another master. The same is true for those who are slaves of Christ. Such exclusion to Christ makes it impossible to serve both God and money or worship God and serve idols, or live according to the Spirit and the flesh (Matt 6:24, Rom 7:5-6).
As slaves we are completely dependent on Christ. Every slave is completely dependent on their master for everything including the basic necessities of life. As believers the same should be true of our dependence on Christ. He has promised that He will provide all that we need in life (Matt 6:31-33). As slaves of Christ we must not be anxious for anything but by prayer make our requests known to him (Phil 4:6) knowing that God alone will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19). Christ will not only keep us from falling spiritually (Jn 6:39, Rom 8:35-39), He will also provide grace to sustain us in all of life (2 Cor 9:8, 12:9).
Lastly, as slaves we will be held accountable to Christ. Every slave gives an answer to his master. Faithful slaves were rewarded, while evil slaves that were disobedient were punished, sometimes with extreme methods. Because our sins have been completely paid for by Christ, He will not punish us (Rom 8:1). But believers must realize that we are all going to stand before our Master to give an account for our lives and be rewarded for our works accomplished (Rom 14:12, 2 Cor 5:10). We should all desire to hear the precious words, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master” (Matt 25:21, 23). Our motivation should be to please our master in all things. There is a day coming when every slave of Christ will be recompensed in full.
We are Also His Friends
Yes, we are slaves, but we are also called the “friends of Jesus.” In the last hours of his life, Jesus told His disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). This imagery is beautiful. Friends have an intimate communication with one another. Friends share ideas, and communicate on a deep level. Friends get to be part of the inner circle. Being friends with Jesus means that Jesus discloses to us the intimate deals of His purposes, plans and heart.
But, being the friend of Jesus doesn’t mean that we become trite with Jesus and forget that He is God. The New Testament calls Jesus Lord more than 700 times. So, while we are His friends, He is still our Lord. Being the friend of Jesus does not put us on the same level like human friendships. Rather being the friend of Jesus means that He is sharing with us intimate information, particularly the words that His Father has given to Him (John 8:32, 17:6-8).
More specifically, Jesus has granted for us to know the mysteries of God. Mysteries that were once hidden in heaven, but that Jesus has revealed to us since we are His friends. The Apostle Paul tells us that one of the revealed mysteries is our great salvation (Eph 1:3-14). The mystery of God’s will has been revealed that God chose and predestined us in eternity past before the world was created. What is revealed is that God had a plan to save some through the blood of His Son according to His purposes which he “set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (v. 9-10).
Take Advantage of Friendship
Since we are friends, Jesus continues to reveal His perfect will to us through His Word. As friends we must take advantage of the opportunity that we have. The Word is not revealed to the world, but hidden from their eyes. The mysteries of God’s word are only revealed to His friends (Matt 13:10). The Holy Spirit who permanently indwells us also illumines Scripture for us, helping us learn what the Word and the mysteries of God are. In order to have this deep friendship with Christ and understand what He wants us to know, we must be reading and studying the Bible on a regular basis listening to the intimate plans, purposes and will of God for our lives!
Always Slaves, Always Friends
So true believers in Christ are both slaves but also friends of Jesus. We must keep these identities in balance never allowing either one to overshadow the other. While we are still slaves of Christ we strive to obey Him. But on the other hand, as friends we experience the intimate communication from Jesus through His Word. We are a blessed people because our Master is good and our friend is loving!