Slave, or child?


Translated and adapted by Grant Swart from the original work of Johannes de Koning 


– the all important truth in understanding Christian freedom

Is your relationship with God that of a slave, or a child? It is an important question and one about which Galatians 4:1-10 makes one ponder.

“1. Additionally, I need to state the following: While an heir is still a minor, his position does not differ markedly from that of a slave, even though the inheritance belongs to him.

2. Until such time as determined by his father, he will remain under the supervision of guardians and his possessions will be controlled by his managers.

3. That is how it is with us as well. While we were yet spiritually immature, we were slaves of legalistic religious rules.

4. Once the time which had been determined by God had arrived, He sent His Son to us. He was born of an earthly mother and from the time of His birth, He was subject to the Law,

5. in order to pay the penalty for our freedom from the Law and so that we could become adopted children of God.

6. Because we have become His children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son to our hearts, and He calls out from us, “Abba!” which means, Father!

7. You are therefore, no longer a slave, but a child of God, and because you are His child, God has also made you His heir.

8. There was time when you did not know God during which you were slaves of useless idols.

9. However, since you have come to know Him, or rather, since He now knows you, why would you revert back to those inferior and pitiful legalistic religious rules? Do you want to become slaves of them once again?

10. You continue to celebrate special days, months, festivals and years.”

Slave, or child?

There is an enormous difference. In times of old it was common to have slaves in the home. They formed an actual part of the household and in certain instances they were well treated. Nevertheless, there a far deeper distinction remains. What is the intrinsic difference between a slave and a child?

The slave is only temporarily a part of the home as he could have been sold at any time, whereas a child is a permanent member of the family.

The slave is caught up in a system of duties and rules, whereas the child forms part of a relationship.

The slave had value only in his usefulness, in tasks he could perform. In contrast, the worth of a child in the family cannot be measured in monetary value, rather it is about kinship! What price do you charge for your child? It is about unconditional love!

The slave must address his owner as “Sir” or “Master”, as opposed to the child’s privilege to call him Father, Dad or Daddy.

Many people who think they are Christians are actually only (religious) slaves!

They might officially form part of the church and be religiously active, but have never understood or experienced what it is to be child of God. Paul wrote very earnestly about these matters, because there were people in the Galatian church who wanted to return to a system of legalistic slavery. (Mosaic Laws such as circumcision and the observance of the Jewish feasts). This highlights a frightening possibility: Even the true children of God run the risk of falling back into a slave mentality and thereby lose their inheritance.

boss vs leader

Jesus leads and enables the sheep, He does not need the sheep to drag Him along

Are you a slave? (Test the possibility)

The life of a slave is regulated by duties and rules and there is very little joy. Many religious people experience this. You might be constantly trying to live a perfect life, always watching your steps very carefully; you might always be attempting to do the right things… you go to church, you read the Bible, you pray, but the joy of being in Christ is absent!

A slave is controlled by fear and uncertainty, he is constantly afraid of being punished for mistakes. The religious beliefs of many are the same: You might be unsure of whether God you, or unsure of whether He has forgiven you and therefore you are scared of dying, scared of judgment and scared of eternity! Maybe you cannot really look forward in anticipation and joy to the coming of Jesus, because what if you don’t make the grade? What if you aren’t good enough?

The slave knows only a worker-employer relationship, and nothing of a Father-child relationship. To him, religion is hard work and not a relationship. It is a heavy burden of duties which leaves him despondent and psychologically exhausted.

We have a very good example of a slave mentality in the parable of the Prodigal son, as depicted in the character of the eldest son. At first glance, it seems as if all is well with him; he did not leave the home, he did not squander his father’s money on whores, he carried out all his tasks and duties… but, nevertheless… When the father held a celebration for the son who had returned, an outburst a dark secret was revealed: “Look these many years I have served you!” (Luke 15:29). What does this tell us? All the time there had been an unexpressed bitterness in the elder son. Even though he remained in the home of his father and had never abandoned the home, he never had a relationship with his father. He acted exactly like a slave, while externally obeying the rules of the home, in his heart he never had any love for, or understanding with his father!

Friends, think carefully: You might be religious, maybe even deeply religious, but are you truly a child, or are you simply a slave?


How does one become a child?

Well, this is exactly the reason for God having sent His Son to us as man. We are all slaves by nature. We are under God’s laws, but because we are sinners, we break those laws. Due to this we have a guilty conscience, the law condemns us, it frightens us because we know that we deserve punishment. For this reason Jesus came to us in Person, as a man who like us, was under the law. But He paid our ransom to free us from the Law. How did He do this?

He did it in two ways. He kept the law for us, perfectly and on our behalf. Therefore, if I accept Jesus, I am regarded as one who has been fully obedient to the law. (Because I am in Christ!). However, Jesus went even further than that. He accepted the punishment prescribed by the law on our behalf. (Isaiah 53:5,6) The punishment demanded by the law for sin, is death. Jesus took our sin upon Himself and died in our place. In a manner of speaking, the law has been satisfied and the sentence has been served. Those who have accepted Jesus should know that their own personal sins have been paid for. No longer is it necessary to live in fear and uncertainty, you can now live as a child in the Father’s house.

The source of our freedom as a children of God, is established in the radical fact of our acquittal, our justification.

God no longer holds anything against us, in Jesus He accepts us completely and our relationship with Him is in no way dependent on our achievements! Now we can love Him without reservations.

Because Jesus paid the price, every person who trusts in Him is adopted as a child of God! God gives us irrefutable proof of our adopted position in our hearts! What is the proof?

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus lives in our hearts and initiates an intimate relationship between us and the Father. We can now truly say to God: “Father, Dad”. This truth is stated clearly in Romans 8:15: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

No longer slaves who fear, but children who love!

This relationship between you and God as your Father now regulates your life and forms the basis of your Christian freedom!

In practice that means: We are now living a Holy life, not because we are afraid of rules and punishment, but because we want to honour and love our Father. We attend church regularly, not because it is a set rule, but because we enjoy our Father’s Word and presence. We no longer read the Bible out of a sense of duty, but because we enjoy hearing the voice of our Father. Of course, the child still adheres to certain rules and performs certain tasks. However, the motive, the relationship is different.

Does religious duty represent a burdensome duty to you? Maybe then you are simply a slave? Quite possibly you have never understood what Jesus came to do among us, and possibly you have never understood or accepted salvation through Jesus Christ!

Only a child of God can truly experience the joy of Christian freedom, and of course, along with that, also the responsibility which accompanies that position. To be truly set free and to serve and obey our Father through a willingness of heart, without abusing that freedom and thereby displeasing our Father, or disadvantaging our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Apostle Paul was very clear about these things.

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:13-16)

The fundamental freedom of the Christian, as well as the far-reaching charity of the Christian which originates from this freedom, was strikingly summarized by Martin Luther: “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.”  This seeming contradiction is addressed by Paul and formulated as follows: “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” (1 Corinthians 9:19)

The child of God must live freely under the constant guidance of the Holy Spirit, without which we can so easily be derailed by our giving in to our sinful desires.

freedom from slavery rope hands


I will be able to live abundantly according to my Christian freedom, if I keep the following in mind (Take particular note of 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and 8)

Is this thing which I want to do conducive to being beneficial in my relationship with the Father, and is it to His glory? I could argue that it is permissible, but is it beneficial?

Do my actions attest to the fact that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?

When making choices, have I taken into account that in my entirety, body and soul, I have been freed by the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ and therefore no longer do I belong to myself, but to Him? Do my choices show that I am thankful for this?

How do my choices affect other weaker Christians? Will my choices hurt them or cause them to stumble?

The measuring stick of my freedom as a child will be the love I portray to the Father, and the love I have for His children!

The practices of a sinful nature clearly work in opposition to this love (Galatians 5:19-21), while the fruit which the Holy Spirit produces in the child of God (Galatians 5:22), clearly bears the stamp of approval of this love. Additionally it fulfills the original reason for the existence of the Law.

The child of God finds himself in an exciting relationship: The Father has forgiven us of all of our sins, He has freed us and removed us from our guilt. He has given us a wonderful opportunity to love Him voluntarily.

Why be a slave any longer? Accept wholeheartedly the atonement of Jesus Christ and be reconciled as a child! Being a child opens up a brand new future! If you are a child of God, a heavenly eternity awaits you.

freedom 4


Johannes de Koning’s blog:


9 thoughts on “Slave, or child?

  1. Notwithstanding the undeniable fact that I regard the well beloved teacher, Dr John MacArthur, as one of the foremost Biblical teachers of our times, there is simply no way that, as a Christian, I can agree with his conflicting ideas, portrayal and understanding of Lordship Salvation. That, which he offers in this regard in his recent book, Slave, places us back under the Law. His new position is simply quite shocking when compared to his brilliant work of the past. And, notwithstanding the fact that so many of his respected and educated supporters have attempted to downplay and explain away his publicized new stance on man’s self-proclaimed “Holiness”, I simply cannot regard it as anything other than a capitulation to secular humanism. John Piperism! What?

    Why, when he has so eloquently and most effectively preached salvation by grace, without works, and for so many decades, he feels it necessary to refute his own prior Biblical convictions by preaching salvation by works, I fail to grasp. Yes, I know he says it is only partially so (unbiblical), and after the fact (worse), but coupled to his terrible, legalistic understanding of church discipline, it makes for very confused congregations and heart-broken children of God.

    John MacArthur of old, himself spoke so clearly against the error of the Pharisees, yet now he would have that we be freed from slavery to sin, simply to become slaves to our own legalistic abilities, once again. It rocks the evangelical and reformed Christian right out of his roots, it leaves the sinner with very little hope. “Slave” by MacArthur is as disheartening as it is misrepresentative of Christian freedom and reality. However, most assuredly, you can read and appreciate almost all of his earlier work, which thankfully he wrote before he was intimidated by …


  2. Good evening, Grant! I have read and listened to a lot of Pastor Macarthur’s sermons, and I have always understood he preached Lordship salvation. I don’t believe I remember his preaching salvation by grace. And I know we can go back and forth with scripture, so I won’t get into that. What I understand Macarthur saying is our good work is the outward evidence of our salvation. He always quotes the book of James to back this up. I don’t consider good works as being legalistic at all. After we are saved we are to do good works, because we love Him and out of thankfulness. And we are all slaves to somebody. We are slaves to Christ. A willing slave, not a slave by 1700’s definition of slave. As far as his new stance on self-proclaimed holiness, we are no longer classified sinners. Jesus wrapped His cloak of righteousness around us. We are no longer condemned, and that is the willing slave’s freedom. When God sees us, He sees the righteousness of His Son. Yes, we are His friend, and we are also a slave/servant, just like He was a servant to His Father for 33 years. I hope I didn’t misread what you wrote. If I did, I’m sorry. I have been reading your articles for a while, and I am learning from them and I love them. Blessings, my brother!


    • Pastor MacArthur has written and preached salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, more times and possibly more effectively, than I can remember. As a matter of fact, we have referred more people to his work on this subject than to anyone else’s. In that regard he was always rock solid.

      The way you explain Lordship salvation by saying that “our good work is the outward evidence of our salvation”, is correct. It cannot be any other way, and I fully agree with you on that. On the other hand, what MacArthur originally wrote and has subsequently highlighted in his further works, does not leave one with that understanding, he takes it a little further. However, we are not made to be slaves of Christ after salvation, we are set free from our bondage to slavery (sin). We become His children by adoption. My children are not my slaves.

      This issue has had far reaching consequences, and has been the cause of the greatest controversy surrounding Pastor MacArthur’s work. Thank you for commenting, but as you say, it is not at all worth us trying to find a unique understanding of what MacArthur was trying to say, or not say. Between us we will sort it out.

      Lovely having you here! Thank you, and grace to you.


      • Dalia,

        In my previous comment I meant to say: “Between us we will never sort it out”. Apologies for the mistake and misunderstanding, if it caused any.


  3. John MacArthur is a good sreward of God’s Word..He teaches,and preaches the whole counsel of God…Salvation by Grace,through Faith alone..After one has been accepted by Christ,through the Holy Spirit who called us,for it is not of ourselves..
    As we are now a Child of God,thru His love and Grace,we are taught by that same spirit,and by sound teaching of His word(especially thru the baby stage) who have been called to teach,thru years of study,to show them selves approved.
    I am willingly a working slave for Christ,in bonds till my days on earth are over,when I see Him as He is and be like Him…I love working for Him,I want to do the things He requires of me to show myself approved also…it is willingly done….a slve for Christ,what more loving thing can I do for someone I love with all my heart,soul,and mind,and love my neighbors.because He first loved me…what praytell is better than serving almighty God…It is a priviledge,you see…Although,I am quite sure that He does not look upon me as a slave,I am His Child…Father God,looks upon me,and sees Jesus in me..but I am a sinner still,because of my nature..there is a remnant of it within me…I will work out my my own salvation with fear and trembling,by doing His will,By telling others of the way,by prayer.and by working,and doing good works,abstaining from all appearances of Evil,guarding my heart and mind,and soul by wearing the full armour of God daily,as He wills us to do…so you see to be a slave is the best we have for Him,even with a hatchet raised above my head,I will fullfill His purpose for my life..And this is what the good steward of Christ’s Gospel,John MacArthur teaches, Thank you Jesus My Savior,for if not For JOHN,and your guiding me 2000 miles to live in Milwaukee Wi,where I first heard the Truth,I would still be trapped with in the teaching of pentecostalism’s very false doctrin…


    • Thank you for commenting. I agree with you that John MacArthur is a good steward of God’s Word, and he stands courageously for what he believes. That is admirable, and his work has been confident, caring and tireless.

      A few verses to consider in this regard, and why true followers of Jesus are no longer slaves, even though, as you say, we feel as if we would certainly have no complaints about acting as such for Him:

      (John 8:34) Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.(John 8:35) The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.(John 8:36) So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

      (Galatians 4:7) So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.


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